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United deliver Spurs a ‘knockout punch’.


Manchester United 3 Tottenham Hotspur 0

Louis van Gaal was unhappy with Rooney getting knocked out in a friendly boxing bout but was pleased that his team delivered an uppercut to Spurs.

Following the bitter disappointment of defeat in the FA Cup at the hands of Arsenal it was the turn of their North London neighbours to visit Old Trafford in an attempt to pour more misery over United.

There was a time when a victory over Tottenham was about as sure a thing as you could imagine for United. Not so anymore as prior to this match, they were without a win in five against the Londoners.

This match was the first of the last ten matches that will define United’s season and form for a run of wins needed to obtain that all important top four finish. Therefore guaranteeing a place in the Champions League.

Still without the injured striker Robin van Persie and with Angel Di Maria serving his ban for grabbing the ref’s shirt in the last match, Louis van Gaal chose a first team consisting of De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Young and Rooney. The substitutes were Lindegaard, Rafael, Blackett, A Pereira, Januzaj, Falcao and Wilson.

There were three changes for United, as Jones, Carrick and Mata come in for Shaw, Rojo and Di Maria. Juan Mata made his first start in the Premier League for Man United since January 17th.

Manchester United was led out by captain Wayne Rooney and his young son Kai as the matchday mascot.

United started the match in a 4-3-3 formation with Rooney in his favoured position up front with Fellaini just behind. Young and Mata were out wide with Carrick and Herrera in the middle and a flat back four with Blind at left back.

United’s first chance on goal came after a minute as Ashley Young tried his luck from outside the box which the keeper collected easily.

With only two minutes of play elapsed Phil Jones delivered that dreaded back pass again and almost put de Gea in trouble but thankfully the keeper managed to clear for a corner. When will they ever learn?

In the seventh minute, Rooney burst into the area chasing a great through ball from Young and pulled the ball back aiming for Herrera who just couldn’t get there ahead of the Spurs defender.

Then a minute later came the crucial early goal and what a goal. Carrick played a brilliant through ball for Fellaini who took it in his stride and confidently smashed it past keeper Lloris. A fantastic start by United with a sublime pass by Carrick add that together with the Belgian’s left-footed finish meant that this was the perfect start for the Red Devils.

In fact, it had been a high tempo start from all the team with the fans also in full voice.

This had been by far the best start by United in a game for a long time with the team attacking full of confidence and their passing was spot on. Again Young was impressive down the left and Carrick in tandem with Herrera controlled everything in the middle.

 

The second goal came in the 18th minute as a corner was swept over by Mata and was headed back into the danger area by Fellaini when it was cleared straight to Carrick who intelligently lobbed a header over all the defenders and back across goal into the far side of the net. Leading 2-0 and playing with a determination rarely seen recently this was like the United of old.

Carrick’s goal was similar if not as crucial to the important header by Steve Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday all those years ago as United headed for their first Premier League title.

On 22 minutes, Young’s run almost produced a killer pass into the penalty area but no-one was there to take advantage of his great ball. At this time, it was one-way traffic as Spurs had not even managed a shot on target.

Four minutes later a great cross from Fellaini across the area almost played in Mata but he was just unable to get to it in time. Then the stadium shouted for a penalty for a foul on Mata but unfortunately he had been flagged offside.

Chris Smalling tried to bring the ball forward and it looked like he could go all the way to the opposition box but in the end his final pass was too strong for Rooney.

Mata was the only booking of the match for United after he was cautioned for a foul on 32 minutes. That the only blight on a terrific performance by the home side.

The third goal came in the 33rd minute as Rooney collected a poor pass from Spurs and took on the defenders by himself and once in the box there was no doubt about the outcome as he slotted the ball into the corner of the net. A great individual goal by a forward totally on top of his game. And what can we say about the celebration, ‘knockout’.

36 minutes in and again it was Fellaini who caused mayhem down the left as he whipped the ball in for Rooney who scuffed it slightly. That was almost the fourth goal and great link up play between Fellaini and his captain.

On the stroke of half-time, there was still time for Rooney to try his luck from distance but he fired wide. Good job he missed as I doubt he could better his goal celebration.

This was by far the best 45 minutes played by United all season a half full of inventive play and confidence with all the team on top of their game, especially Rooney and Fellaini.

It’s truly refreshing to write positively about the side after their recent disappointments. The hope was that they could continue in the same vain in the second-half. With the type of start made by United, the biggest question was where had this team been hiding all season. Spurs had had no shots on goal that’s how impressive United had been.

United started the second half attacking the Stretford End with no changes made by van Gaal.
In the 47th minute Spurs had their first clear attempt on goal by Dembele which was high over the bar.

Rooney was on fire and once again in the 48th minute he tried to nod one down for Fellaini, but the ball deflected back into his path at the edge of the area. He couldn’t quite wrap his foot around it and strikes it over. As I have said before if only he had been used up front more often in the season who knows where we would have ended up.

United continued with their tidy passing play from the first half and Spurs hardly got a sniff of the ball and when they did United quickly snuffed it out.

In the 51st minute, Rooney tried yet again to lay off a chance to a colleague this time for Blind but the Dutchman dithered a little and the chance was blocked.

Mason should have done better for Spurs a minute later but pulled his shot well wide of de Gea’s goal. In all honesty Spurs never looked like scoring or even troubling David de Gea.

Over the next ten minutes United enjoyed a period of passing practice as they fully controlled the game none more so than in the middle of the park with the trio of Carrick, Herrera and Mata impressing.

On the hour mark, Blind almost played Herrera in on goal with a slide rule pass which was unfortunate not to come off.

Another blistering run by Young down the left wing earned United a corner which came to nothing however, credit to Young as he has shown in recent matches the old magic has returned and he looks like a player who is really enjoying his football.

64 minutes and the crowd witnessed a wonderful cross-field pinpoint pass by Rooney straight to Fellaini that started a move which ended with Herrera firing his shot into the side netting. Another move of precision by the Reds which was a joy to watch.

With fifteen minutes left on the clock United had the ball in the back of the net but the flag was up well before Rooney had tucked it away as Herrera was flagged offside, perhaps wrongly, after a long ball over the top. Shortly after the Spaniard had an effort from distance which flew wide.

After 76 minutes, there was a fully deserved standing ovation for Juan Mata as he left the pitch to be replaced by youngster Pereira. It was fantastic to see the reception given to Mata as he made his way down the touchline and towards the tunnel he really is a fan favourite and he put in a performance that merited the applause. Here’s hoping that he doesn’t have an injury problem.

The second change came in the 82nd minute when Fellaini was taken off and Falcao was given another opportunity. Fellaini, another player who had played his socks off and opened the scoring with aplomb received the second biggest round of applause of the day.

In the 84th minute captain fantastic Rooney was back clearing the defensive lines as Spurs tried to salvage something from the match.

Van Gaal’s third and final change of the match was in the final minutes which saw Rafael come on for the impressive Carrick who had fully earned his early rest.

As the match reached it’s climax Harry Kane almost squeezed the ball into the net but David de Gea made an improvised save by sitting on the ball, not his greatest save, but it kept a valuable clean sheet.

Disappointing there were no goals in the second half, but that doesn’t take anything away from the great performance by the team with no goals conceded and a huge morale-boosting three points ahead of some tricky matches ahead.

Spurs were really poor in the match but in all fairness they couldn’t have expected United to play as well as they did today and I think they were as surprised as anyone by the way the home side came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. It would seem that the players have an appetite for achievement this season, after all.

Nine to go and if the Red Devils can keep up the momentum from this match then not only a top four but dare I say a top three finish to the season is a definite possibility. But first there is the small matter of a trip to Anfield to take on our bitter rivals Liverpool.

A repeat of today’s performance would be invaluable to the team’s confidence for the run in and I fully expect a victory especially with Rooney in his current mood.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | Facebook Twitter

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Rooney at the double.


Manchester United 2 Sunderland 0

‘We cannot deny that at this moment we don’t have a striker who scores 20 goals in the season.’ These were the words uttered by Louis van Gaal prior to the match against Sunderland at Old Trafford.

Well, the truth is he does have that striker right under his nose, Wayne Rooney, who proved yet again that his best position in the side is up front where his goal scoring talents belong. His performance against Sunderland should be enough for the manager to keep him there. However, with van Gaal you never know.

After the disappointment of last weeks defeat in Wales, it was back to Old Trafford and the visit of the Black Cats from the North East. Now we enter into the last 12 matches of the Premier League so it was critical to start on another unbeaten run of matches.

There had been some bad and good news on the injury front during the build up to the match with Robin van Persie’s ankle injury expected to keep him out for the next few weeks but on the positive side Michael Carrick was training again and was to be included in the squad.

Louis van Gaal’s main headache with the team selection was who he would use in the attack as many fans were calling for a Rooney and Wilson strikeforce with others in the Rooney and Falcao corner. In the end, the manager went for the latter.

United’s starting eleven: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Herrera, Young, Di Maria, Rooney and Falcao. Subs: Lindegaard, McNair, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Januzaj and Wilson. This side meant five changes for United, with Valencia, Smalling, Evans, Young & Falcao all returning to the side and Fellaini dropped to the bench.

Ander Herrera was most definitely back in the good books as he started yet again but there was not such good news for Juan Mata who has now not started a league game for six weeks, when he was hauled off at half-time against QPR.

It would be interesting to see how United’s two center backs Evans and Smalling would perform after coming under scrutiny so many times this season

United started the match attacking the Scoreboard End and facing two former reds in the Sunderland defence Wes Brown and John O’Shea.

Ashley Young started brightly down the left trying his luck with a few early crosses which resulted in a couple of corners the last of which taken by Di Maria was met by Rooney with his head but lacked both power and accuracy.

On 5 minutes Sunderland broke through the middle with Wickham who was allowed without challenge to take the ball a long way into United’s half and let fly with a shot that David de Gea thankfully pushed away for a corner.

Shortly afterwards, Rooney gave the ball away deep in his own half and Defoe pounced and tried his luck from distance thankfully it was nowhere near the target. Yet again poor passing and a lack of defensive cohesion in the opening ten minutes made Sunderland look better than they really are and gave them a foothold in the match.

In the 12th minute Falcao made a good claim for a penalty after he seemed to be shoved to the ground inside the area but referee Roger East waved play on and as the ball was cleared Young hit a thunderous volley which went wide but deserved better.

Rooney and Falcao were simply not on the same wavelength as a couple of touches they attempted to each other came to nothing. At one point in the opening exchanges, Falcao was bustled off the ball from which Defoe was given yet another sight of goal this time he was on target but the impressive de Gea was equal to it.

The most infuriating aspect of the game in the early stages was that all the visitors chances originated from United’s mistakes and the errors were really basic in nature.

After 19 minutes, it was the turn of Di Maria to misplace a pass straight into the path of the Sunderland attackers which amounted to nothing serious in the end but that’s not the point. It’s worrying having the defence make mistakes without our world class talent joining in.

As the game evolved you could see that Wes Brown had Falcao totally in his pocket and was marshaling the Colombian well.

At last in the 27th minute a great move down the right started by Di Maria when he played the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia who in turn lashed in a wicked cross which was met at the far post by the impressive Young who let fly with a shot that O’Shea managed to get a touch on and in doing so diverted the ball onto the crossbar and out of danger.

Now United started to get going mainly through Di Maria who won a free-kick 30 yards out which he elected to take himself but ended up going too high over the bar. This season United’s set pieces have been really terrible with the record signing being the biggest culprit.

Ashley Young was the star of the half and went close with a typical right footed curler in the 34th minute.

In the 37th minute, another free-kick and this time Rooney fancied his luck but it was easily turned over for a corner by keeper Pantilimon. From the resulting corner, Rojo had a snapshot which almost found it’s way through to goal.

Five minutes from half-time and again great work from Young as he crossed low into the box to exactly where Falcao should have been but for some reason the Colombian had run backwards away from the play and the hard work of Young was wasted.

A break from Di Maria in the dying moments of the half ended with the Argentinian electing to pass to Falcao which was a mistake as he should have picked out Young who was totally unmarked inside the box, yet again a poor selection from Di Maria which has been the story of his play of late.

Brown and O’Shea must have been very pleased how the half ended after they had not allowed Rooney and especially Falcao a clear chance on goal proving that experience, not class can win matches.

Half time and at 0-0 it had been another disappointing display from United with a lack of imagination in their game. Everything smacked of desperation which led to panic moments which in turn gave the visitors more chances than they could have believed they would have had.

Falcao spent most of the first half on his backside after being brushed off the ball far too easily and his positioning play was woeful. The only positive was the performance of Ashley Young who tried to instill some urgency into the attacks and was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet.

A quiet crowd as there was really nothing to cheer about even though they did try to rally the team by shouting Attack! Attack! Attack! but that clearly wasn’t heard by the players.

Louis van Gaal decided to make a change at the start of the second half by bringing on Adnan Januzaj in place of Angel Di Maria. After under performing in his previous outings, this was a great opportunity for the Belgian to prove his worth.

Right from the start Jonny Evans put a stop to a Sunderland break in the first minute by sticking out his foot just at the right time.

Blind started a good passing move straight down the middle exchanging one-twos with Herrera and Rooney eventually the move broke down but it showed the quality that Blind has as he quietly goes about his job in midfield.

In the 52nd minute there was a move that summed up United’s lack of communication as there was a rare misunderstanding between Young and Rojo as the England international played a ball to the space on his left where he thought his colleague would be running into but Rojo had in fact stopped running completely.

After an hour of play van Gaal had seen enough of Falcao and ordered his second Belgian substitute Fellaini to warm up. As he was doing this Valencia won a free kick on the right that Rooney swung over and it was headed clear only to the waiting Januzaj who connected really well but couldn’t keep it on target, better from United.

Then in the 63rd minute the complexion of the game changed completely. As Falcao, who was about to be taken off, turned well in the area but was impeded by both Wes Brown and John O’Shea which resulted in a penalty.

Afer a comical few minutes Wes Brown was given his marching orders but took a long time to leave the pitch as he argued correctly that it was, in fact, his defensive partner John O’shea who had committed the foul, not him.

Some two minutes later captain Rooney stepped up and blasted the ball into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.

That was the last action Falcao would see as he was hooked off by van Gaal and replaced with Fellaini. Apart from winning the penalty he had done absolutely nothing of worth and I will be surprised if he is not sent back to Monaco at the end of this season unless he starts contributing more to the team.

Good old Ashley Young was still running his socks off down the left-hand side and pinging crosses over into the danger area one of which Januzaj was unlucky not to connect with properly. If any player deserved a goal or assist it was Young.

Leading 1-0 and playing against ten men United started to play with less panic and more confidence by passing the ball around well and in the 72nd minute it almost opened up for Fellaini but he blasted the ball high and wide.

In the following ten minutes, United had corners, free-kicks and crosses to try their luck with but nobody could find the direction to trouble the keeper. Both Smalling and Rojo tried with their heads but to no avail.

On many occasions, Januzaj had the chance to provide telling crosses but selected to shoot from tight angles which clearly infuriated his forwards. He should watch and learn from the likes of Young who had spent all the match trying to set up his teammates rather than chase glory.

The second goal came in the 84th minute when Wayne Rooney scored his second by latching on to a rebound off the keeper with his head from close range after one of those shots by Januzaj. 2-0 and no way back for Sunderland.

With that in mind van Gaal brought on Mata for goal hero Rooney for the last five minutes with one eye on the Newcastle match in midweek.

In the dying seconds, the whole ground thought that Herrera had added a third after Fellaini had missed a great chance but as the ball was put back into the area the Spaniard was just offside. Unlucky for Herrera as that goal would have kept up his good recent scoring record.

In the end a win and three very valuable points gained by United who temporarily moved up into third place in the league. This was a match which on paper seemed fairly straight forward but due to the home team’s own mistakes wasn’t. Until the penalty decision it was difficult to see where the goals would come from.

The United players seem shackled and lack the ability to express themselves and play with a freedom that would rip opposing teams apart. Maybe when they have the guarantee of Champions League football under their belt they will be released from the tactical responsibilities and finish the season in true style, we can only hope.

If man of the match Ashley Young and captain Wayne Rooney can keep fit and continue in this vein for the run in then United have a chance to finish in one of the Champions League places. The brace were Rooney’s first Premier League goals in 2015 and at last he’s back in the position where he is the most dangerous but for how long only the manager knows.

Next up is a tricky away trip to St James’ Park to take on Newcastle United on Wednesday evening but with Rooney firing again I fully expect United to grab all three points as he has an impressive record against the Magpies having netted 11 times in 18 matches.

Then it’s the return of the FA Cup and a big chance to pile the misery on Arsenal who looked terrible against Monaco in the Champions League. It was very pleasing to see former Red Devil Dimitar Berbatov grab a goal against the Gunners in that match.

Thanks again for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | Facebook Twitter

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United lose it at The Liberty.


Swansea City 2 Manchester United 1

There was most definitely not a warm welcome in the valleys for the visit of United to the Liberty Stadium.

Swansea had of course inflicted defeat on Louis van Gaal’s team in his first official game in charge at the beginning of the season at Old Trafford. This was a chance for United to gain revenge for that defeat and to consolidate third place in the Premier League. Going into the match the Reds had only suffered one defeat in nineteen matches and were also going well in the FA Cup.

The team selected by the manager to return to England with the three points comprised of: De Gea, McNair, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Herrera, Blind, Di Maria, Fellaini, Rooney and Van Persie. The subs were: Mata, Falcao, Januzaj, Smalling, Young, Valencia and Valdes.

Van Gaal tinkered again at the back by making two changes from the side which beat Preston 3-1 in the FA Cup on Monday, Paddy McNair replacing Antonio Valencia at right-back and the fit-again Phil Jones came in for Chris Smalling in the centre of defence.

Wayne Rooney started as a striker in the league for the first time since December. Falcao was left on the bench as Robin van Persie was the preferred choice to partner Rooney up front.

As van Gaal had kept the captain in attack there was also a first start since December for Fellaini in midfield.

The first half started with an early foul by Fellaini who was either trying to stamp his authority on the game or just plain clumsy.

Rojo uncharacteristically gave an early ball away from which Routledge tried his luck, but the Argentinian defender righted his wrong by blocking the shot for a corner.

Swansea went close to taking an early lead but Ander Herrera just, and only just, cleared Gomis’s header off the line. That was certainly an early let off for United and a warning for the visitors defence.

The stress on the United players started to show as Herrera lost his temper with Paddy McNair as a simple pass to the Irishman went out for a throw-in. It had been a bad start for United, how many times have we seen that this season.

10 minutes into the game there was another corner from Swansea and again poor marking from the visitors which allowed Gomis a free header which he totally wasted by heading over.

After patient passing from United, McNair won a free-kick on the right. Angel Di Maria lashed a ball into the middle which fell to van Persie, but the Dutchman fired so wildly from an acute angle that it went out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch.

United’s marking at the back was woeful, as was shown when Jones was nutmegged on the left then as the ball was crossed nobody was picking up Routledge who could only shoot weakly at goal which David de Gea saved easily.

Fellaini was walking a fine line with his niggling fouls, something that he had to be careful with.

Wayne Rooney started brightly with some fine one touch football around the opposition’s box and nearly latched onto a nice ball at the near post from Di Maria.

At the other end, Phil Jones inexplicably gave away a corner, another example of how poor his has performed this season. Too many times this season United’s play forward has been halted by passes that have ended up going backwards which has resulted in mistakes at the back.

On 26 minutes Robin van Persie had a good run to the byline and managed a cross which the keeper Fabianski reached before Rooney could get a foot to it, shortly afterward the Dutchman had a run and shot on goal, unfortunately, he sliced high and wide.

United finally started to turn the screw and it paid off in the 27th minute with some fantastic approach play down the left involving Fellaini, Shaw, Di Maria and Rooney that saw the ball fall to Ander Herrera who was lurking unmarked inside the penalty area. The Spaniard struck a right-footed shot into the bottom corner. That was his third goal from his last three starts in the side.

However, the joy didn’t last long as Swansea drew level within a couple of minutes as Ki ended a move by flicking the ball past de Gea far too easily in the six yard area. A soft goal to concede so soon after taking the lead, which was down to a total lack of concentration in United’s back four.

The majority of United’s attacks were coming down the left with Shaw and Di Maria heavily involved in everything. Their endeavours, just before half-time, produced another corner from Rooney, which was played much too close to the keeper again. It should be noted that United have only scored from eleven set pieces all season.

Referee Neil Swarbrick eventually lost his patience with Fellaini, who finally received his yellow card after having conceded four free-kicks.

Half-time and it was all square at 1-1. More purpose was to be expected from the Red Devils in the second half. There were some fleeting glimpses of the old partnership between Rooney and van Persie coming together up front but not enough. However, it was good to see the captain back where he belongs.

At the beginning of the second half, United’s first change saw Antonio Valencia replace McNair to add pace and experience to the right back position. Phil Jones began the half by picking up an early caution.

Ki almost grabbed his second from an identical move to Swansea’s equaliser, but this time he was thwarted by de Gea. It was good to see Daley Blind lose his temper with Shaw as that’s exactly what the defence needed, a kick up the backside. If van Gaal was an animated character he would have surely pulled out all his hair after what he was witnessing at the back.

A flurry of corners from United didn’t really trouble the home defence as they easily cleared their lines. As the half settled down United once again enjoyed some nice passing moves across the pitch but lacking any penetration.

After 58 minutes, van Gaal had seen enough and substituted Luke Shaw for Ashley Young. A positive change which nearly paid off immediately with the subs first touch as he laid the ball into the path of Rooney who in turn touched the ball to van Persie whose shot hit the side netting.

You got the feeling that if the Reds could stay strong at the back the game was there for the taking with the speed of Valencia and Young out wide. Young especially was looking lively and putting in some decent crosses from the left.

Rojo headed over a corner when he really should have gone closer with his effort. Then a second corner caused confusion in the box as nobody quite knew where the ball was until the keeper dıved on top of it.

Van Persie came close after some stunning passing in midfield, but he just couldn’t connect with his volley with any power.

With 20 minutes left in the match, United were in total control and were pushing for the winner as the away fans kept up their ’99 Anthem.

Rooney had a shot blocked resulting in yet another United corner. Everything was going the visitors way, surely it was only a question of time before they found the breakthrough.

Then out of the blue disaster struck as Shelvey found himself unmarked 30 yards out and let fly with a deflected shot that flew past the wrong-footed David de Gea. It’s not good to put the blame on a single player when the opposition score, but in this instance I feel I have to as Fellaini gave the ball away in the center circle and made no effort at all to chase down the ball after his mistake.

This is not the first time he has been guilty of this, but at least he didn’t fall to the ground clutching his neck this time. After all their promising work, United found themselves chasing the game, not for the first time this season.

United’s last change of the match came after 78 minutes when Di Maria, who had looked jaded in the second half, was replaced by Juan Mata.

Ashley Young was booked for what the referee deemed a dangerous challenge after 84 minutes.
Fellaini played the last 10 minutes as an out and out striker as van Persie struggled with an injury and as van Gaal had used up his three substitutes he had to struggle on.

United’s fourth caution came after Rojo was booked for a debatable challenge on the keeper from a United free-kick in the last few minutes.

Every ball forward from United in the last ten minutes of the game was aimed long towards the head of Fellaini which would have pleased Big Sam, but today the tactic didn’t pay off.

In the end, United had fallen to their first defeat since the home loss to Southampton, but full credit to Swansea, who have now done the double over United this season. The only positive to be taken from the loss is the man of the match performance of Ander Herrera, who once again fully justified the decision to start him. His clearance off the line in the end was futile, but his goal was well taken.

For Manchester United, this was a result which took the wind out of their sails and put more pressure on the challenge of finishing in the top four. Another toothless display from the United forwards who needed to convert the few chances that were created, and rarely did they ever look capable of doing that.

With the new philosophy and system being used by Louis van Gaal gone is the swashbuckling attacking style of old which has been replaced by a dour approach play that is far too predictable. Teams are simply not scared of United in the way they used to be, the fear factor has totally disappeared.

United desperately need a stable back four with players who can actually defend then we might have a chance at competing for the league again.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Sunderland and a chance to put a run of victories together in the push for the Champions League places. It would be a disaster for the club to miss out on the competition for the second year running, but on this performance nothing is guaranteed. It is time for socks and sleeves to be pulled and rolled up collectively by the team.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | Facebook | Twitter

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