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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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Man United held by ten man Villa.


Aston Villa1 Manchester United 1

Villa Park is a stadium which holds fond memories for the United team and the fans. Throughout our history it has been a happy hunting ground, as we have enjoyed many glorious matches there. Who can forget the scenes that followed the ‘goal of the century’ by Ryan Giggs in the FA Cup semi final replay against Arsenal in 1999, on the way to the historic ‘treble’

You have to go all the back to the opening day of the 1995-96 season, for the last time Villa won against United at home. That day Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, featuring youngsters such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, went down 3-1 in a result which prompted BBC pundit Alan Hansen to famously utter this classic comment: “You don’t win anything with kids.” How wrong he was proved to be.

The Manchester United team news, which didn’t include any kids, had Louis van Gaal giving a start to Falcao up front, but more surprising was the choice of Darren Fletcher in midfield. This was due to undisclosed illnesses to Fellaini and Herrera.

Michael Carrick started the match in the middle of a back three along with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in front of recent hero David de Gea. Then there was Young and Valencia out wide with Fletcher and Rooney in the middle, Mata sat in the hole behind the strikers Falcao and Robin van Persie. On the bench were two players coming back from injury Angel Di Maria and Da Silva.

United enjoyed the majority of possession in the early exchanges without creating any clear chances, but unfortunately Villa took the lead on 17 minutes, when from a free kick Benteke chested down in the penalty area, then without a serious challenge from the United defence, shimmied and curled a left footed shot across three United players and past de Gea, who to be fair didn’t stand a chance. A goal against the run of play, but a warning that this wasn’t going to go all United’s way.

Villa showed that they had the pace up front to worry the United defenders and on one such break their forwards were bearing down on goal, but without a brilliant tackle from Jonny Evans it could have been a lot worse for United.

On the half hour, Young nearly shoved the boos back down the Villans throats, when his curling shot come cross almost sneaked in at the far post if it hadn’t been for Villa keeper Guzan managing to palm it to safety.

United’s attacking play cried out for some invention as it was all so predictable, lots of the ball but no imagination, it was crying out for someone to work some magic. Sadly not many magicians were on show.

Falcao’s first chance came on 23 minutes when he was played through by van Persie, in the end he shot tamely under pressure. The best play was coming from United’s right flank via Valencia, but the Villa defence dealt with any crosses that came over. It was a poor first 45 minutes for the Red Devils, and even though they had the ball in dangerous areas they had nothing to show for it.

At the start of the second half it was no great surprise to see van Gaal make a change by bringing on Tyler Blackett for Fletcher. This meant that Carrick moved up into his preferred midfield role.
Right from the off the United back three, without Carrick marshaling them, were in trouble as the trio of Blackett, Jones and Evans struggled to deal with Benteke, Jones just managing to block his shot. From the resulting corner de Gea made an important tip over from a Benteke header.

On the 50th minute van Persie forced a save from Guzan as United tried to convert their chances. The main objective, apart from equalising, was to keep the ball away from United’s defence.

The pressure paid off in the 53rd minute when Young made a surge down the left and delivered a superb pinpoint cross, a cross which Falcao met with his head to give the keeper no chance. In a rare show of emotion van Gaal punched the air with delight as Falcao raced to share his joy with the away fans. After the equaliser came a push by United to find a quick goal and van Persie came closest with an overhead attempt.

On the hour mark came United’s second substitution with Di Maria, making his return from injury, replacing van Persie. Straight away Di Maria was pressing forward and had three rather tame shots on goal, unfortunately all were easily dealt with by Guzan in the Villa goal.

Then on 64 minutes the match heated up as Agbonlahor was red carded for a foul on Young. He had a case for protesting as the replays showed it was a 50/50 challenge, but the referee decided he had gone over the top on Young. This not only left Villa down to ten men, but the boos for Young reached new decibels every time he touched the ball.

The 73rd minute saw another change as James Wilson was brought on for Antonio Valencia. Young was switched to the right and Di Maria patrolled the left wing. A decision I didn’t understand as the balance of the team would have been better served with Valencia staying on as he had been performing well down the right flank. In contrast to Young who was having a torrid time with the Villa fans, and to take him out of that atmosphere would have made sense. This was proven by the numerous opportunities he had to put in crosses from the right wing, but his deliveries on many attempts were below standard compared to his cross for Falcao’s goal.

United had a flurry of corners and saw one cause confusion in the Villa box, but Falcao just couldn’t reach the ball in time before it was put out of play by the Villa defence. Towards the end of the match Villa came the closest to snatching the winner with a strike from Bacuna that just flew over a relieved de Gea’s crossbar. At the other end Wilson had a lovely effort in the last minute but it lacked any power, how sweet that would have been for the youngster to grab the winner and the headlines.

Once again United toiled in a game that they should have won fairly easily bearing in mind Villa’s injury list, and the fact that they were playing against ten men for the last twenty minutes. Only getting into their groove after the half time change, which saw Fletcher depart and Carrick moved into the middle. Carrick showing once again how brilliant the new vice captain has been since returning from injury. He adapted so easily to the change in the system during the match. It’s no great surprise that the team has still not lost this season when he has been in the side.

Darren Fletcher looked out of sorts in the middle of the park. and he didn’t help himself by giving away the free kick that led to the Villa opener. Having been stripped of the vice captaincy in favour of Carrick you have to wonder how he fits into van Gaal’s future plans, if at all. He only started the match as both Fellaini and Herrera were not well enough to play. Fletcher has given the club great service over the last ten or so seasons, and has overcome a serious illness to get back into the team; however, in all fairness to him, if all the midfielders were fit he probably wouldn’t get a look in.

This was a case of two points dropped at the end of the day. A few months ago I never thought I would be saying this, but our midfield missed Fellaini’s presence, and I thought Mata had his first poor match for a while. Having said all that, after six straight wins, a draw away from home is not the end of the world, and compared to when things were not going United’s way at the beginning of the season this has been a good few weeks for the red devils. We are now unbeaten in the last seven games. The team, under van Gaal’s leadership, is still moving in the right direction and remain in third place.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Newcastle United on Boxing day quickly followed two days later by United’s last match of 2014, an away trip to the capital to take on Spurs. I fully expect United to end the year with two more wins that will send us flying into 2015.

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and thanks for all your continued support by reading my pages.

Miles Dunton.

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