Eight wins in a row, eight points clear at the top at the end of the game against Queen’s Park Rangers in a carnival atmosphere at Old Trafford. Inevitably, at the end of the game, most of the questions were about the controversial sending off of QPR’s captain, Shaun Derry and the subsequent penalty. Mark Hughes, an undoubted club legend was left fuming at the end of the first half and the match and for a club fighting for its lives near the bottom of the table, his fury is justifiable. On the positive side for Sparky, his nearest rivals at the wrong end of the table all lost the day before and due to Blackburn Rover’s defeat, QPR are out of the relegation zone by virtue of a better goal difference compared to Blackburn.
QPR needed to avoid getting trashed by five goals or more and they managed that. They started the game prepared for an onslaught by the Red Devils, putting men behind the ball and leaving only Jay Bothroyd to fight a lonely battle on his own up front. United started the game well enough, passing and pressing their opponents. Then came the controversial decision to give United a helping hand when we least needed it. We took the opportunity handed to us by the referee and took the lead from the penalty spot through Wayne Rooney. Like the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, I agree that we were better off without the sending off as United started playing within themselves from there on and didn’t show the same intensity that was present from the start of the game. To add my two cents worth on the controversial incident, like the manager, I felt Ashley Young was offside in the first place and secondly, unlike the manager, I felt it was a soft penalty to give away. To add insult to injury, the sending off of Derry was very harsh indeed. In the immediate aftermath of that incident, I would hate it to hear from non-United fans that we got the rub of the green once again from a refereeing decision that went our way at Old Trafford.
However, seeing the way we dominated the game before the penalty and the increase in tempo and shots on goals in the second half, we fully deserved the win whether against ten men or eleven. The frustration of the first half was the reluctance to take a shot when in good positions outside the penalty box. In the second half, we took more shots but we were profligate in our finishing and the frustration was shared by everyone of United persuasion in the crowd. I was left pulling my hair watching the action as one after another chances were being spurned with the best two chances falling to Rafael Da Silva and Danny Welbeck. Finally to end all frustration, up stepped Paul Scholes to drive in a typical Paul Scholes strike as QPR’s most lethal threat, Adel Taraabt made a mess of a clearance on the edge of the ball to gift the ball to Rafael who then fed Scholes to lash home a strike from 25 yards. The veteran had a couple of sighters before the killer strike but wasn’t close enough in his earlier attempts and his lethal striker lifted the air of frustration everywhere for all United followers.
Michael Carrick who is known as being shot-shy let rip from distance and almost extended United’s lead only to see his shot cannon off the post. After seeing that I wonder why doesn’t he just shoot more often if he has a shot of that power in his locker? At the end of the game, our lead was extended to eight points and at the end of the day, the lead has stayed as it is after Manchester City’s defeat to Arsenal and United have also got a slim advantage now in terms of goal difference; +51 for United to +49 for City. Not only have United clawed back a points deficit, they have also clawed back an inferior goal difference. The signs are ominous, the 20th league title is getting every closer with 6 games left to play but it is not won yet. United fans are buzzing and bouncing but beware it is not mathematically over yet and stranger things have happened in football. United would still need to go out onto the pitch and do their jobs. We cannot afford to relax now and believe all the hype we are hearing from the media.
As for the fans, I encourage you to get behind the team as vociferously as you have done in the last two matches but keep the celebrations in check. The players know what needs to be done and with a number of them in the squad with the experience of having won titles before and with the manager still around, you can’t expect to see complacency creeping in to our play. More than ever, the players and the manager would be focused on just doing their job because that is all we got to worry about now. Get a win, chalk the games off and slowly we will run out of games and slowly it will become mathematically impossible for Manchester City to overtake us.
Next up, we have Wigan Athletic away in the DW Stadium, another opponent that is fighting for their lives in the wrong half of the table. They need the points as much as we do. The stadium has been a scene to a victorious title triumph in recent past; the triumph of 2007-08 when Ryan Giggs came on as a substitute to roll through a winner and in that process equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s record appearance for the club and seal our 17th league title. A win on Wednesday would bring us closer but we wouldn’t be able to seal it just yet on Wednesday. Keep going United, it is within touching distance now.