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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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Back to the drawing board.


Manchester United 0 Southampton 1

“Unbelievable!” was Louis van Gaal’s answer when asked about the injury situation in his pre-match press conference this week. An expression he could have used for the outcome of this match.

This was Southampton’s first win at Old Trafford in the league for 27 years, and only the second time United have been beaten at home this season. Sadly, it was the weak manner in which they lost against Southampton without even having a shot on goal that riled the most.

The first time the manager has had a fully fit squad to choose from in five months. That is apart from Ashley Young. On Friday in his press conference van Gaal seemed to enjoy the headache he would have in selecting a starting eleven. On Sunday evening he would have a headache for completely different reasons.

In the end he chose a Manchester United starting XI consisting of: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Blind, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Di Maria and Van Persie. To be used in his preferred 3-5-2 formation. There was no place for Falcao, who was not involved in the squad at all. Angel Di Maria was chosen to play alongside Robin van Persie in attack, clearly for his pace. Daley Blind was recalled to play with Smalling and Jones at the back.

It was no surprise to see Robin van Persie head the forward line as he has netted a total of six times against the Saints, while at United, including two goals in this reverse fixture in the win at St. Mary’s in December.

Angel Di Maria’s pace would be crucial in attack today, but after only playing a limited amount of minutes in the last month or so, the worry was whether he would last the pace.

All in all this United team seemed to be strong enough to get the three points and move closer to Man City who only drew on Saturday.

The opening to the first half saw Southampton enjoy the early exchanges, and in the first seconds Southampton’s Clyne had a chance when United’s defence didn’t react to a through pass, but luckily for United he pulled his shot wide.

From the fifth minute United took control and started to put some neat passes together. Di Maria floated a delightful ball across the box, unfortunately nobody reacted quickly enough to make any contact.

In the 14th minute Rooney chipped a pass to Mata who just couldn’t get past the last defender, but at least the chances were starting to develop. Rooney was controlling the play from his midfield role, spraying passes left and right and generally finding his men. One of those passes was intercepted by Alderweireld, but as he did he pulled up and had to be replaced. As the substitute was waiting to come on Di Maria tried his luck from the edge of the box but fired his effort wide.

Chris Smalling got it into his head at one point that he was a classy center back, and tried to dribble the ball out of defence only to lose it, then he lunged in on the Saints player. He was lucky to escape a booking. It’s mistakes like that which have proven costly for us this season. Likewise, Phil Jones kept joining the attack only to give the ball away when an easier choice was available.

On the half hour mark wing back Valencia went on a powerful run down the right, but he was matched for pace by the defender who managed to block the cross for a corner. Another Valencia run was illegally checked, and from the resulting free-kick Di Maria’s delivery was woeful.

A great chance opened up when van Persie put Di Maria clear. However, the ball drifted a little too wide for a shot, so Di Maria attempted to pull it back across the box, but the keeper beat Mata to the ball. Chance gone. A second clear chance came when van Persie had a shot in the box which seemed to hit a defenders hand. Mata was busy protesting when he should have been busy challenging for the ball. Chance once again gone.

United were on top throughout the first half without scoring. Lots of half chances, but you did get the feeling that Southampton were more than capable of grabbing a goal. So United needed to turn up the heat in the second half and put this match to bed as quickly as possible.

The second half got under way with no changes for United, who were attacking the Stretford End. Again, as in the first half Southampton had a chance to open the scoring within seconds. On this occasion United defended well to put the ball out for a corner.

Di Maria showed the quality of his pace as he chased a speculative long ball from Valencia down the right channel. He managed to reach it but once again his pass to van Persie was poor. The match was the same at both ends, half chances for both sides, but each time the last ball was dreadful.

The match was crying out for somebody to get a grip of the game, take it by the scruff of the neck and produce a match winning performance.

United were starting to get things together down the left with Blind, Shaw and Di Maria causing headaches for the Southampton defence. Once again all the effort wasn’t being turned into any clear- cut openings. Frustration was beginning to be felt around the stadium, and out on the pitch as van Persie needlessly picked up a yellow card.

After an hour of play Ander Herrera replaced Robin van Persie, which meant Rooney was moved back up front as the main striker, and in turn Herrera took over the captains midfield role. Straight away Rooney had a chance but failed to get his head to a cross.

The second substitution came within a few minutes of the first as Shaw was taken off. Clearly still feeling a knock from an earlier defensive interception. Tyler Blackett came on in his place.

United continued to probe away but Southampton were proving a tough nut to crack. Then in the 69th minute the Saints cracked United. After hitting the post the ball rebounded out to Dusan Tadic. He in turn slotted home the opener through a penalty area strewn with five United defenders. Once again second-rate defending from United.

The last throw of the dice from van Gaal saw Fellaini come on for the ineffective Di Maria, for the last twenty minutes, a sentence I never thought I would ever write.

The dismal mood of the day was summed up on 76 minutes when Michael Carrick was booked for a professional foul that halted an attack by Southampton.

Mata went the closest three times in the last twenty minutes. First he had a shot across the area which traveled wide of the far post, then the Spaniard put a close range effort over the bar, lastly he attempted a drive, which was deflected for a corner. It clearly was not going to be United’s day.

When the fourth official held up 5 minutes of extra time you just didn’t get that feeling of excitement from knowing United always grabbed a goal at the death. So bad was this display you felt that it gave Southampton time to add a second on the break.

In the end this result was a huge disappointment. A loss that dents any dreams of United winning the league. This was a very poor showing bearing in mind United were back to full strength, and with the attacking quality we had on display, not to manage one shot on goal is just unacceptable.

Falling to our first defeat in 12 matches the team needs to pick themselves up and start again on a run to cement a top four position. United’s next 7 premier league matches are against QPR(a), Leicester(h), WHU(a), Burnley(h), Swansea(a), Sunderland(h) and Newcastle(a). Matches that before today’s debacle seemed to hold no worries, but now take on a feeling of uncertainty.

As I’ve mentioned in past articles, our best chance of silverware has to be the FA Cup. Next up is another tricky away fixture at Cambridge United. Similar in size to Yeovil Town with a stadium of the same capacity this will not be easy, but definitely winnable.

Lastly, a big United welcome to Victor Valdes who officially joined the Red Devils this week. Now all United need to do is get David de Gea to sign a new contract and we will have a couple of World class keepers on the books. Sadly, it probably spells the end for Anders Lindegaard, if so, I hope he finds a team and gets the playing time he deserves.

Until next time thanks as always for reading.

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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