Sunday, April 20, 2008

Friedel's cloak of invincibility undone by late Tevez goal as Reds edge closer to title..

United travelled to Ewood, AKA "Deadwood", Park, yesterday expecting a tough game, Blackburn didn't disappoint, especially in the first-half in which they took the lead through Santa Cruz on 21 minutes following some sloppy defending by Vidic and Ferdinand. At that point followers of the Champions must have thought 'oh no, here we go again' as this fixture is usually a tricky encounter.

It's fair to say that down the years United fans have become accustomed to opposing teams giving more to the cause whenever they play the Red Devils - Blackburn definitely come into this category. We Reds do not believe winning is our right, we expect the integrity of the league to be maintained by all teams who must be seen to give 100% every week and yet the previous weekend - no doubt to the annoyance of Everton fans - Blackburn rolled over like lap-dogs to have their collective tummies tickled by Liverpool, by all accounts Rovers were fairly pathetic.

It was entirely predictable that Rovers would improve when Fergie et al pitched-up.
For this reason, is it harder for United to win the league than any other club? Because opposing players give at least 20% extra when facing the Red Devils. Opposing managers like Mark Hughes must in some ways look forward to games with United, no team-talk is necessary. The Blackburn players went into Saturday's game knowing that if they do not perform they were likely to be run over by a big red steamroller.

It is the same every season, and this season is no different, United have recently travelled to Middlesbrough and Derby, both have been abject or dire in the case of the Rams for most of the season, yet against the Champions their players were collectively inspired.

It seems that playing against United brings out the very best in players who might have otherwise struggled. That was certainly the case concerning Afonso who notched a brace for 'Boro against the Reds recently. The Brazilian striker had not scored since making his debut for Gareth Southgate's team. It's not as if United do not have the best defensive record in the league as they clearly do - we are not easy to score against.

Back at Ewood Park in the game that kicked-off late in the afternoon, like on too many other recent encounters Brad Friedel donned his metaphorical cloak of invincibility for the visit of United. Does the American stopper have something against MUFC, which lingers on from his stint at Liverpool? Whenever he faces United, Friedel, is more often that not inspired and it was no different yesterday. It is not stretching the point to say that but for the Blackburn 'keeper the Red Devils would have won comfortably because in the second-half there was only one team that was going to win the game and it wasn't Rovers. No wonder Friedel was given the man-of-the-match award. Yes, I know that this is what we want to see, that is players' giving their all, but we want to see it every week. Instead followers of these rival clubs must at times feel short-changed. Let us be clear on one thing though, Friedel is an excellent goalkeeper who is more often that not pretty good.

Of the Reds performance, the first-half was sloppy, the home team could have added to their one-nil advantage if ref Rob Styles had awarded them a penalty. United themselves were denied what looked to be a cast-iron first-half penalty when Reid took the legs of Rooney and before that Tevez had missed a sitter.

No doubting the United players were given a severe half-time bollocking by Fergie, because from the start of the second-half United looked like a team who meant business. Friedel then took centre stage when denying the Reds making several superb saves and as the game headed towards its end.

It was turning out to be a game of the unexpected as few would have tipped Rovers to turnover the visitors. However, there was no surprises concerning the performance of hapless referee Rob Styles, who had another stinker of a game and denied United yet another penalty decision for a clear hand-ball inside the Blackburn box.

For all the world it looked like there was going to be an unlikely conclusion to what was a decent game to watch. That was until Carlos Tevez rescued the Reds from a corner in the 88th minute, his flicked header for once giving the excellent Friedel no chance.

It finished up one apiece at Ewood Park, the result means that United can afford to draw or even lose at Stamford Bridge next weekend and still the Reds could be crowned back-to-back Champions providing they win their remaining games against West Ham and Wigan. But it would be so sweet to be effectively crowned Champions next weekend...

Before the game with Chelsea, United face Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Wednesday. Wayne Rooney is an injury doubt after sustaining a hip injury and the Reds alarming lack of cover up front has been made worse with the news that 'sicknote' Saha is yet again 'injured'. Note to Fergie: Get rid of the Frenchman ASAP.

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