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Man United didn’t rule Britannia.


Stoke City 1 Manchester United 1

Man United started the New Year as they had ended the last one by only managing a draw away from home.

The last time we visited the Potteries was a 1-2 loss back in February. How times have changed. New manager and new players, third in the league and unbeaten in the last nine games. Things were definitely looking up for the Red Devils as we entered 2015.

The Britannia Stadium has always been a tricky place to get results and today was no different, as the wind blew across the pitch making high balls hard to defend. Former United favourite Mark Hughes had the extra height of Peter Crouch in attack to cause havoc with the ball in the air. This was going to be a real test for United’s defenders

Man Utd’s starting eleven brought a recall for Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling to the starting line up in place of Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair. The team: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Carrick, Young, Rooney, Mata, Shaw, Falcao, van Persie.

When the team was announced I cringed at the thought of Smalling, Jones and Evans together at the back, as something usually goes wrong, and after only 1 minute 45 seconds it did just that.

From a corner Crouch, unchecked in the box, rose to head towards goal, it was smacked into the net by Shawcross. The worst possible start for United as the defenders were found napping in the box. Van Gaal had said before the match that he wanted his players to dream of matches beforehand, here they were actually sleeping during play.

United must have known about the threat Stoke posed from set pieces, why they had so many players in the box doing nothing was totally unacceptable. I guarantee van Gaal, the perfectionist, was seething on the touchline that his side had conceded such an early goal in that manner.

It took 8 mins for United to win their first corner, but the delivery by Mata was not good enough, and Begovic collected easily. The second corner from Mata had exactly the same result. He again took the responsibility to take the third corner, which again was poor.

When you have an opposition keeper as tall as Begovic, what is the point of lofting crosses into the box that he’s going to eat up all day. I remember a time when Robin van Persie was taking the corners on the right in his first season with better results.

The uneasiness in the United side was summed up on the quarter hour by an over hit pass down the wing from Young which was meant for Falcao. Young is best suited playing on the left as has been proved with this match and the away match at Villa. he is quite simply wasted on the right.

United won a free kick on the edge of the Stoke area which Rooney took control of, but his effort was high and and not so handsome. You began to get that feeling it clearly was going to be one of those unfortunate days. Not much was going right for the team in blue.

The first mistake from Evans was on 18 minutes. He was out hustled and bustled off the ball by former red Diouf. Luckilly for Evans, Diouf pulled his effort wide when he should have done a lot better. Maybe David de Gea’s performances made him panic into shooting too early. That was big let off for Evans and the team. This is not the first time Evans has put the team in danger this season, and I have to question his reliability.

United’s equaliser came in the 26th minute when a Rooney corner from the left was heade on by Carrick’s through to Falcao, who swept the ball into the net. A goal from nothing but welcome all the same. That was Falcao’s third goal for United, and it came at a perfect time in the game.

After the goal United started to take control of the game more. The only real threat from Stoke came from the height of Crouch, and that unforgiving wind. Stoke had a slight chance as an inswinger from their left confused all in the penalty area until Shaw miskicked the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

The Stoke keeper Begovic angered van Persie by showing his studs as he kicked out his leg in the Dutchman’s direction. Van Persie was rightly incensed, but the referee Michael Oliver and his assistant didn’t see what happened. On closer inspection Begovic was lucky he didn’t make contact with the forward or it could have been very nasty indeed.

The away fans were in fine voice out singing the home fans who had long given up booing United’s every touch of the ball.The first half ended all square at 1-1.

The second half got under way with no changes in the United side. With Young still on the right and Shaw on the left you got the feeling that United were going to struggle to create chances. Stoke were closing down quickly and our midfield trio of Carrick, Rooney and Mata failed to stamp their authority on the game. Poor passing and dwelling too long on the ball gave Stoke a self belief, and they started to play the better football.

United had a look of uncertainty about their play and really needed to have a spell of keeping the ball, but Stoke were not giving them any time to settle into a rhythm. Just after the hour mark, van Gaal made a double change. Bringing on Ander Herrera and Adnan Januzaj for Falcao and Shaw. I totally understood the confused way Falcao looked as he was substituted. Not sure why he was the fall guy when others around him were just as equally under performing.

There was a moment of controversy after Jones had headed behind from a Stoke cross. From the resulting corner the ball struck Smalling on the arm, as the home fans screamed for a penalty the ref waved play on. A minute later the same thing happened to Smalling again, once more Michael Oliver angered the locals by showing no interest in their claims for a penalty.

From the resulting clearance, United  broke down the left only for Januzaj opting to shoot when a cross would have been the wiser choice. Shortly after, van Persie nearly managed to convert a lobbed shot, but sadly for him pulled it wide.

Crouch was causing all sorts of problems for United. In a two minute spell Stoke hit the post and Diouf had a blast from the edge of the box, which only just flew over the crossbar.

This was proving to be a tough New Years Day for the visitors. There was no urgency in our play and no chances were being created. Then, as Young galloped away on a counter attack, he pulled up sharply with what looked to be a hamstring problem. This meant that Rafael made it on in Young’s place. Another injury to add to the list.

In the last 20 mins United had their own appeal for a penalty waved away, when Rafael looked as if he had been impeded. Maybe the referee was addressing the balance. When Januzaj did deliver a cross from the left, van Persie just couldn’t quite convert it at the near post.

United finished the match on the attack with a flurry of corners and crosses, which in the end didn’t result in any clear cut chances to grab a winner. It ended all square. Our poor performance made Stoke look the better side in the second half.

This was not the type of start to 2015 that everyone expected from Manchester United. It meant that van Gaal was still waiting for his ‘perfect’ match. From the look of things it will be a long time before he gets it. The side were short of ideas and lacked the balance from the last few weeks.

Valencia was missed today, as when he and Young played out wide there was a cohesion in the side. Now that Young and Valencia will be missing for the foreseeable future the need for other players to return is imperative. We desperately need Di Maria and Blind to make a speedy return and start winning again. On a positive note, United are now unbeaten in the last ten games.

The transfer window opens this weekend and as I’ve said many times this season the defence is our biggest problem area. We desperately need someone at the back with the experience to bring stability. How many points have been dropped by our inept defenders? To say that Smalling was the best defender on show today doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Smalling, Jones and Evans are our own ‘Bermuda Triangle’ as strange things happen when their together.

Next up for United is the 3rd of the FA Cup in which they will face League 1 outfit Yeovil Town. The main hope is that van Gaal approaches the match differently to the loss against MK Dons back at the start of the season. I’m hoping for a good cup run as it could be our only realistic chance of silverware this season. The last time we lifted the old trophy was back in 2004, so it’s well overdue.

United have faced Yeovil twice before, both matches in the FA Cup. The first was at Old Trafford in the 1937-38 season in the 3rd round that was won by United 3-0. The second match was in the 1948-49 season. This time it was in the 5th round. United played the match at Manchester City’s ground, Maine Road. United netted 8 goals without reply. Incredibly the attendance that day was 81,565, amazing.

The first match of 2015 has ended rather disappointingly, but there is still a lot to look forward to, I’m sure.

Thanks for checking out my thoughts.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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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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Rooney pulls the strings for United.


Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1

Welcome, and I would like to start by wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas.

After being given a day off on Christmas Day by Louis van Gaal to enjoy the festivities with their families, it was back to business at Old Trafford. United welcomed Newcastle United on a day that has been kind to the Red Devils over the years. In fact the last time United lost a fixture on St.Stephen’s Day was against Middlesbrough back in 2002. United have won a total of 53 points on the 26th December, 15 more than the nearest side.

The team news saw no place for Angel Di Maria, being left out completely, possibly being saved for the Spurs match on Sunday. Once again Fellaini and Herrera were absent. Darren Fletcher was demoted to the bench after his average performance at Villa Park in the last match. This is how United lined up: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Young, Van Persie, Falcao. The second start in a row for Falcao to give his partnership with van Persie another try.

The atmosphere inside the stadium was jovial, as it normally is for matches during the festive period, with the home faithful in fine voice.

The first half started rather sluggishly as both teams looked to shake off their Christmas Day celebrations. Falcao seemed to be the liveliest player for United making a few intelligent runs, one in which saw him clatter into the advertising boards, but thankfully he picked himself up unhurt.

The three United defenders McNair, Jones and Evans started nervously at the back yet again, especially Evans. Almost gifting a belated present to Newcastle, which fortunately they didn’t accept. There was also a legitimate penalty claim by the Magpies after Yoan Gouffran and Juan Mata clashed in the penalty area, which was waved away by the referee.

Ashley Young was providing the best outlet down the left with some smart crosses, which were close to being converted by the strikers. Yet, as so often this season some of the breaks were halted by continuous back passing, which doesn’t do anything for the nerves given the quality of our defence.
De Gea was on hand, not for the first time this season, to pull off a smart save after 19 mins to palm the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

On 22 mins some magic from Rooney, as he collected the ball in his own half, laid a pass to Mata, then continued his run into the penalty area, where Falcao unselfishly hooked the ball from Mata’s cross into the captains path, who did the rest. A great move started and finished by an in form Rooney.

Rooney’s and United’s second came in the 36th minute, when the lively Falcao won the ball which released Mata, he gave a lovely pass inside to an unmarked Rooney, who had the simple task of finishing, which he gleefully did.

Half time and United led 2-0. Mata had been involved in both goals but it was Falcao who impressed with his energy and never give up attitude. He played a huge part in both goals even though he and van Persie were battling against a five man Newcastle defence, who were trying to play the offside trap at every opportunity.

Going forward the Magpies posed a threat with their pace against United’s trio of centre halves, especially the talented Perez, who United would have to keep an eye on. Generally, United had been comfortable and deserved their half time lead.

The second half had United attacking the Stretford End of a rain soaked Old Trafford.

The fans didn’t have to wait long for a third. Again Rooney was the inspiration on 52 minutes, with a delightfully judged chipped pass into the area, which was met by van Persie who headed across the goal into the net. Great skill and vision from Rooney who made it all look so simple.

With United enjoying a three goal lead and the players facing another match on Sunday, changes were inevitable. On the hour mark Fletcher entered the match in place of Carrick, who once again had a solid performance in the middle. Shortly after that Falcao was replaced by James Wilson. The home faithful showed their appreciation to the Colombian for his 100% effort towards the cause.

This in no way affected the rhythm of the team as United continued to enjoy the majority of possession. The only downside came when van Persie picked up a yellow card for a late and totally needless challenge, which he immediately acknowledged.

Again, Perez continued to be a pain for the United defence, calling on David de Gea to block a shot at his near post after the diminutive striker had confused a couple of defenders. Once he was substituted the main threat of the visitors had vanished with him.

It was great to see the return of full back Rafael, who came on for Valencia for the last quarter of the match to gain some valuable game time after a long time out.

With five minutes left to play Phil Jones gave away a penalty, which Cisse converted past a helpless de Gea. This meant that there would be no clean sheet for de Gea and United today. That was about the last action of the match as both teams didn’t create anything of any note in the closing minutes.

This was a game that was controlled and won by man of the match and captain, Wayne Rooney. With his brace and assist he ran the show from his midfield position. Always the playmaker, everything came through him. He is looking more and more at home in the position van Gaal has entrusted to him. He seems to enjoy the responsibility the deeper role involves as it allows him to have more of a say in the tempo of the game.

Something that was good to see was the team play of United today. A good example of this was Van Persie, who was the designated centre-forward, unselfishly peeled off into wide positions at times for Rooney to run into the space from deep. a tactic which paid off especially in the first 45 minutes.

The next match on Sunday is away to Spurs. It brings down the curtain on United’s year, a turbulent twelve months to say the least. But a year that is at least ending on a high, and gives us great hope for 2015.

It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, van Gaal buys in the January transfer window. Many names have been bandied around, and it will be fun to see which gossip turns out to be true. My wish list wish would be for a central defender and a midfielder. Vlaar and Strootman would do for a start, at least until the Summer.

Hope you all are having an enjoyable Christmas.

Thanks once again for reading.

Miles Dunton.

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