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Man United replay joy.


Manchester United 3 Cambridge United 0

After the anti-climax of the transfer deadline day it was back down to business with the visit of Cambridge United in the 4th round FA Cup replay.

Following United’s disappointing performance in the first match it was time they stamped their authority on a tie that they should have settled first time around.

For the visitors it was a no lose situation as they expected a financial windfall from their well earned replay. The Cambridge players were certainly enjoying their final as they took ‘selfies’ from inside Old Trafford before the match.

Louis van Gaal showed his intent by choosing a strong line up made up of De Gea, McNair, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, Di Maria and Van Persie. Interestingly van Gaal seemed to have chosen his tallest players, excluding Mata, to counter the height advantage in the opposition.

Fellaini would be used up front alongside van Persie but once again there was no starting place for Ander Herrera who was joined on the bench by Valdes, Jones, Falcao, Young, Valencia and Wilson. Herrera’s omission once again sparked debates between fans as to why he had been overlooked again.

The kick off was delayed for 20 minutes due to heavy traffic but when it did start it was almost a dream beginning for the lowest ranked team left in the competition. Elliott hit the outside of the post after only 1 minute following an uncharacteristic mistake in midfield by Blind who stumbled while attempting a back pass.

Elliott was winning all the early balls knocked up to him as Cambridge started full of confidence and were clearly enjoying their big night out.

It took United ten minutes to get into their stride and to start to make in roads into the visitors defence mainly via Di Maria from the inside left position and youngster Paddy McNair filling in as wing back on the right. Fellaini, playing in a forward position, utilised his height to great effect when balls were played up front.

United got the breakthrough their play deserved after 25 minutes following good work by McNair who brought the ball out of defence then fed a fine pass to Di Maria out on the left. Di Maria in turn lofted the ball to the far post where Fellaini rose to head the ball back into the penalty area for Mata to pounce and flick the ball home. 1-0 ahead after an excellent move with Fellaini using his height to great effect.

Mata almost grabbed his and United’s second but miss hit his shot which then rebounded out to McNair who fancied his chances from outside the box. He connected well with the ball but his shot was well blocked for a corner.

On the half hour mark defender Marcos Rojo claimed his first goal as a United player by heading in a wonderful chip into the box by Robin van Persie after he had collected the ball from Fellaini’s attempted shot. The way van Persie dinked the ball onto Rojo’s head with the outside of his left boot was sublime.

By this time Fellaini was causing all sorts of problems for the Cambridge defence with his presence inside their box. At 2-0 the tie was virtually over and it became a damage limitation exercise for the away side. However, to their credit they kept going and Donaldson had a shot across goal when he should have done better.

Chris Smalling provided a rare moment of class with a superb through ball for Di Maria but as quick as the Argentinian was the keeper managed to get to the ball before him on the edge of the box. On another break forward Di Maria played a great weighted cross field ball aimed for Rooney who met it on the volley but fired well off target.

Half time and so far so good from United. It was refreshing to see the team using the wide areas when on the attack, something that has been lacking in recent games. Di Maria is so much more effective out on the left, as he proved in the first 45 minutes in this match. Paddy McNair was also putting in a mature performance as the right sided wing back.

At the start of the second half Rojo’s debut goal had clearly gone to his head as he ventured forward down the left and attempted two crosses which both ended up way too high and behind the goal. At least he was trying. McNair was making a better go at crossing than Rojo with one nice cross to van Persie who headed wide.

The Dutch striker had a chance again after a lovely ball over the top this time from Mata, but was disappointed with his weak header. After 53 minutes Rooney had a shot well saved by keeper Dunn, as the ball spilled out van Persie just couldn’t tidy up the leftovers.

The fans enjoyed seeing the tricks and flicks on show by van Persie and Di Maria, the latter trying hard to score direct from every corner he took. You got the feeling as though it was not going to be van Persie’s night and so did van Gaal who replaced him with James Wilson on 66 minutes. The striker headed straight down the tunnel, maybe he had a prior arrangement that he was desperate to get to.

Two minutes later Di Maria had a powerful effort pushed over the bar by the keeper for a corner. If it wasn’t for Dunn in the visitors goal the score would have been a lot higher. That was the last action for Di Maria as in the 70th minute he was replaced by Ander Herrera. The midfielder got his chance to impress the manager, who for some reason doesn’t seem that enamoured by the Spaniard.

United’s third and final goal came in the 73 minute through James Wilson with a fine left footed strike from just outside the box. A well taken goal from a player who is growing in confidence with every game. It was a shame RvP wasn’t there to see it.

Another youngster who was having the match of his career playing down the right was Paddy McNair. He continually delivered some fine balls into the danger area especially to Rooney who unfortunately couldn’t take full advantage.

The last change of the night for United was the substitution of Rojo for Ashley Young who came on to make his 100th appearance for the Red Devils after being out injured.There was still time in the match for Smalling to make a customary mistake and give the ball away in a dangerous area, which thankfully led to nothing.

The visiting Cambridge supporters kept on singing until the end and nearly got their reward as the visitors had the last effort at the death.

The match ended with a 3-0 win for the home side who in the end were too organised and purposeful and fully deserved their win with quality performances from most of the players against opposition that would not lie down. They will now face Preston in the 5th round at Deepdale.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish Darren Fletcher all the best for his future after leaving United to join WBA after almost twenty years on United’s books. A true gentleman of the game and one of the most generous personalities in football. On the same day Anderson returned to his native Brazil and Fergie’s last signing Zaha rejoined Crystal Palace. The only player in was on loan defender Andy Kellett from Bolton.

Before United face West Ham over the weekend it will be a time for reflection on Friday the 6th as it will be the 57th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in which our club, country and football lost the majority of a team that was on the brink of European glory, a team made up of young men who were doing something that they fully enjoyed, playing football. There can be no bigger incentive for the present team to qualify for a competition that half a century ago the pioneers gave their lives for.

The Flowers of Manchester. Never forgotten.

 

Roger Byrne, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Geoff Bent and Duncan Edwards.

Thanks for reading my thoughts.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

 

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Man United edge past gritty Yeovil.


Yeovil Town 0 Manchester United 2

 

The last time Manchester United won the oldest cup competition in world football was back in 2004. On that day only one player from the present United squad collected a winners medal, Darren Fletcher. Other players in the side have won it with other teams including Robin van Persie (Arsenal 2005 vs Man Utd) and Juan Mata (Chelsea 2012)

So, for most of the players facing Yeovil Town today this was new territory. A walk around the museum at Old Trafford would enlighten the players as to how United hold this cup close to their hearts. Sharing the record with Arsenal of 11 wins. Sure the Champions League has taken over as the most prestigious cup competition in football, but there is something special about the FA cup that will never die.

The romance of the competition continued this season as United were picked to play away at Yeovil Town from League 1. David versus Goliath.  However, on this occasion David failed to defeat the giant that is Man United.

The last time these two teams met was also in the FA Cup in 1949. The match was played at Maine Road, Man City’s old stadium, as Old Trafford was still undergoing refurbishment after the WWII bombings. United won comfortably 8-0 with Jack Rowley scoring five in front of over 81,000 spectators.

The team news showed that Louis van Gaal was taking the match seriously. DeGea, Smalling, McNair, Blackett, Rafael, Fletcher, Herrera, Rooney, Shaw, Wilson and Falcao. A strong side with Di Maria and Mata on the bench.  James Wilson was chosen ahead of van Persie to lead the attack alongside Falcao. Rooney continued his stint in midfield alongside Fletcher. Michael Carrick was given a well earned rest.

Yeovil spent the first 10 minutes trying to bully the United players and remind them that this was an FA cup tie. De Gea was clattered in the first seconds and Luke Shaw took a blow to the head as did Rafael. This was starting out to be a bruising affair. United’s first effort came from McNair who tried his luck from outside the area but skyed his shot high.

There were 2,025 United away fans, out of around 9,000 in total, crammed into the small ground, who were continually singing and trying to spur the team on. Unfortunately to little effect.
As usual this season, United took their time getting into any sort of rhythm. After 14 minutes Rooney did try a curler but misjudged his shot after nice interplay with Wilson. Chris Smalling spent the first quarter of an hour trying to set a record of hoofing the ball out of the ground.

Yeovil’s plan was to put high balls into the United area knowing how poorly United’s defence have performed this season. A succession of Yeovil corners gave the Red Devils a few headaches, literally for McNair after a nasty clash of heads with Yeovil’s Moore, but generally they defended them well, even Falcao came back to help out. McNair needed treatment to his head wound which included staples to close the cut.

This was turning out to be a real cup tie with the United defence gifting corners, Herrera and Fletcher made some errant passes, and the side were not creating anything in the attacking third. Darren Fletcher wasn’t keen to get stuck in and his passing was that of a man who knows his career is coming to an end. Blackett was showning no urgency in his play strolling around the defence. Generally the first 30 minutes was poor from United.

Just afer the half hour Herrera played a great ball to Wilson, who should have done better with his effort. His poor shot summed up the start for United. This was confounded a few minutes before half time when Herrera himself had a woeful effort well wide of the goal.

A first half that lacked conviction from Man United. Again performing poorly away from home and making the bottom of the League 1 side look better than they are. Careless passing from the midfielders mixed with poor concentration, and again no confidence in the defence. At no point did United force the Yeovil keeper, Steer, into a save. This was an embarrasing 45 minutes in which United looked more intimidated than the home side.

Changes would have to be made at half time by van Gaal or it could turn out to be another MK Dons nightmare. The substitutions were made at the beginning of the second half, not for tactical reasons, but as we would find out after the match due to even more injuries.

Juan Mata and Jonny Evans replaced the wing backs Shaw and Rafael. This means that in one week we have lost four players who play in those positions: Young and Valencia and now Shaw and Rafael. A nightmare scenerio.

The first job Evans had to do was to clear his lines after a Yeovil cross into the box. Again rather shaky defending gave Yeovil the impetus to attack. Their forward Moore had a great chance to put the hosts in the lead, but luckily for United fluffed his shot by underhitting it straight to a grateful David de Gea, by far the best chance of the match after 55 minutes.

Another change was made by van Gaal on 58 minutes. Enter Angel di Maria for Radamel Falcao. Falcao had had a tough time and didn’t really have any chances. United needed pace up front as the Yeovil players understandably started to tire and they would have trouble keeping up with the pace of di Maria and Wilson.

Then in the 64th minute Herrera scored a wonderful goal. Rooney started the move by squaring the ball to Fletcher, who in turn nearly lost possession, but the ball came to Herrera prowling on the edge of the area, with his back to goal he turned and hit a delightful shot into the top corner from 20 yards, a brilliant strike and exactly what United needed to relax. The one downside was that Herrera was booked for over celebrating with the away fans.

The goal seemed to give United the lift they needed. Rooney fired a free kick just over. At the other end di Maria cleared an effort off the line following a Yeovil corner. It was all for one as United hung on for the win.

On 75 minutes Rooney had another chance from a McNair cross, but couldn’t do much with it. Di Maria also tried his luck from way outside the area but pulled the ball well wide of the goal.

Angel di Maria finally settled the tie in injury time, The Argentinian added the second as he raced onto a through ball and gave the keeper no chance when one on one by chipping a shot into the net. Breaking brave Yeovil’s hearts.

United were playing against a side 60 odd places below them in the league, but all credit to Yeovil for a gritty and valliant effort. In no way did they let themselves or their club down. It was definitely not a walk in the park for van Gaal’s men.

On the way back to Manchester Louis van Gaal has to convince the directors to give their rubber stamp on any new player, or players, he requires. Quite clearly some more new additions are needed if United want to move forward in 2015. Time and again I’ve said that our defence is a shambles, I understand we didn’t concede today and are now unbeaen in 11 matches, but some of our players out there were so very ordinary.

It was another disaster on the injury front with a possible fractured cheekbone for Rafael and an ankle injury to Luke Shaw. This is why they were both replaced at half-time. Both players having only returned in the last week after lengthy spells on the sidelines. I can’t remember a season that’s been as bad as this one for injuries. I hate using the word unlucky, but it is just that.

The positive from today is that we are in the draw for the 4th round tomorrow. The way our away form has been lately I’m praying for a home tie.

Next week it’s back to the Premier League as United welcome Southampton to Old Trafford. Who knows, by the time we next play we could have some new players on the books. God knows with the injury list and unconvincing performances from some players we need them.

Until next time.

Miles Dunton.

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Missed chances ends United’s 2014


Tottenham Hotspur 0 Manchester United 0

Manchester United brought down the curtain on their rather indifferent year at White Hart Lane against a Spurs team who also had a year to forget.

New management and squads for both teams, and both Louis van Gaal and Mauricio Pochettino bringing in new ideas and styles of play. The stage was set for an encounter that in the past had never failed to deliver entertaining football. The last time Spurs won this fixture was way back in May 2001.

Going into the match United had been impressively unbeaten in the last eight matches, seven of those being wins. Also, the goals for column was looking good, in the last eight matches they had managed to score 17 goals, and thanks mainly to goalkeeper David de Gea only conceded 5. The last time the Red Devils came to the capital they escaped with all the points against Arsenal.

The team news prior to the match revealed that Fellaini (rib), Di Maria (pelvis), Herrera (muscle) would not be involved, however, on a positive note Luke Shaw was included in the squad after being absent since that win over Arsenal.

The eleven to face Spurs were: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Young, Van Persie & Falcao. Van Gaal showing faith in the same players that started against Newcastle on Boxing day. It was the first time that he had been able to choose the same XI all season.

Before the first half started there was a minutes silence for former Tottenham defender Ron Henry who passed away yesterday.

Once the match was underway Spurs had the first sight on goal in the 6th minute from Mason, but the reliable de Gea collected easily. From the resulting clearance Rooney almost played in Falcao, but there were too many defenders around him.

United carried on from where they had left off on Boxing Day by controlling the opening exchanges, Mata especially looking the biggest threat. However, the first quarter of an hour was littered with free kicks as both sides tried to get the upper hand.

Falcao missed a golden opportunity to put United in the lead, when he was put through on goal by Juan Mata, only to be put off by two defenders closing him down from behind. Straight away Spurs had their own clear chance but were thwarted by de Gea.

On 22 minutes United were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area. Rooney left it for Mata, who curled it over the wall but it struck the post and both van Persie and Falcao failed to net the rebound.

A minute later mayhem in the spurs area as Jones headed towards goal, the keeper flapped at the ball and it crossed the line, only to be ruled that Falcao or Jones were offside. A harsh decision to say the least.

Mata again thread a great ball through to Falcao, but when one on one with the keeper Lloris, he shot weakly and the chance had gone. Then a brilliant ball from Carrick only needed to be converted by van Persie, but unfortunately he couldn’t bring the ball under control quickly enough before Lloris collected.

Just before half time Young tried his trademark cut inside and unleashed a shot calling on the keeper to produce a fine save. That was to be the last action of a half in which Mata had produced some lovely touches and was the main outlet for the team’s chances.

At the end of the first half it was unbelievable how United had not managed to score after all the chances they had created for themselves. The hope was those missed chances wouldn’t came back to haunt them.

The second half saw one change for United. Rafael in a straight swap for Valencia. United continued to attack, and forced a couple of early corners, which had no end result.

Another chance, another miss by van Persie, this time on 55 minutes. Good work from the industrious Mata, but the striker failed to direct his header on target.

Van Persie showed his frustration by pushing Vertonghen off the ball, and was extremely fortunate not to receive a yellow card. Had he done so he would have automatically missed the next match at Stoke City.

After the hour mark the match became rather stale with neither side creating any chance of note until Mata made his first error by blasting over when it seemed easier to score.

It was time for another change by van Gaal when Evans was replaced by Chris Smalling. Evans had a poor match and it’s obvious he is not comfortable on the left of the three central defenders. His distribution at times was awful.

Shortly after, Luke Shaw made his comeback by coming on for Paddy McNair, who had picked up a yellow card minutes before.

Spurs had a golden opportunity when Mason got goal side of Carrick, but shot over the bar from close range. At this time the home team were enjoying their best spell of the day which clearly rattled United as Falcao’s name was taken for a needless foul. Quickly followed by Rafael.

The match ended in a goalless draw with some tired legs on show at the end. A match that United should and could have won if only the chances had been taken when they presented themselves. The closest being Mata’s free kick, which struck the post, and his blast over inside the box.

Now unbeaten in nine matches at least they ended the year more positively than it was started.

There we have it the last game of 2014. Time to look ahead to 2015, and dare I say it, a successful year. To be honest, it won’t be too difficult to do better than the last 12 months.

New Year’s resolutions time. Mine are for Louis van Gaal to buy a central defender and a midfielder in the January transfer window. Who will come only he knows, but until the Summer I wouldn’t say no to Vlaar and Strootman.

Many people are saying Vlaar is not a good fit for United, but I would counter that by saying the defenders we have at the moment aren’t exactly setting the world alight with their performances.

Vlaar is experienced in the premier league and being Dutch, communication won’t be a problem. He knows van Gaal and the other players from the Holland squad. At his age, he should be available at a good price, and will add strength to a weak back four, or three for that matter.

My second resolution is for the team to embark on an FA Cup run all the way to Wembley. I hope van Gaal takes the competition seriously as it’s been too long since we last lifted the old trophy. This could realistically be our only chance of silverware this season.

Lastly, the target should be a top 3 finish, anything above that would be an absolute bonus. Don’t get me wrong winning the league in his first season would be amazing for van Gaal, but to keep our feet on the ground is wiser.

I hope you all have a great New Year, and that 2015 will turn out to be better for United than the outgoing 2014.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.

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