Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bennett bottles it over big decision as Reds overcome Newcastle rough stuff...

I'm certain I'm not the only Red who doesn't actually care if Newcastle United end up getting relegated this season; part of me thinks that Mike Ashley deserves it for the way he's messed up at St James' Park. Last night a patched-up Newcastle took on the Champions and gave arguably one of their best performances of the season, caretaker manager Chris Hughton was of the opinion that his team didn't deserve to lose the game - but of course they did, courtesy of goals by Rooney and Berbatov, but not before Peter Lovenkrands had given the home team an early lead in what turned out to be decent match to watch.

Going into the Newcastle game, United were under a degree of pressure following wins by rivals Chelsea and Liverpool the night before. As expected Fergie made changes to the starting eleven that beat Spurs in Sunday's Carling Cup final; in came Vidic, Fletcher, Carrick, Van der Sar, Rooney, Park and Berbatov. This coming weekend United face Fulham in the FA Cup and it will be interesting to see who Fergie leaves out because after that United face Inter Milan and then Liverpool in two season defining games. Incidentally, Liverpool have no game this coming weekend and this may well have a bearing on Fergie's team selection for the Fulham cup-tie.

On the face of it, United have little to worry about on the domestic scene having already won one competition and with the league campaign going so well, but as we saw last night, the Reds cannot take any result for granted; not even against relegation threatened Newcastle and so it was comforting to see Fergie shouting and balling at his players and referee Steve Bennett in the final minutes of what was a hard-fought contest - there will be no let-up or indeed complacency from the United manager.

While many United fans will no doubt be looking forward to the next three games, those with an eye for detail will share a degree of concern over what has been until the last three games a rock-solid back four; reason being John O'Shea is a rather obvious weak-link at right-back. At half-time in the San Siro, Jose Mourinho weighed-in on the Irishman when stationing Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Inter's left flank, it was a switch that ensured the second-half wasn't dominated by the visitors....

There was more concern for United fans at right-back in Sunday's Carling Cup win, as once again O'Shea's lack of pace resulted in him being booked following what was admittedly a "hospital ball" from Paul Scholes, nonetheless according Sky's experts, United's stand-in right-back was lucky not to be sent-off during the second period, he was however not long after substituted...

It was interesting to note then that United were once again coming under pressure down their right-flank early on at St James' Park; Newcastle's early raiding paid off when John O'Shea was caught out when allowing Gutierrez to fire in a dipping shot which Van der Sar could only tamely parry to the feet of Peter Lovenkrands who in turn brought to an end the big Dutchman's run of shut-outs.

It wasn't that surprising that after the game all of the focus was on the Van der Sar mistake, but those with keen eyes, like Mourinho, will have noted the mixed performances of John O'Shea who in fairness did play a big part in Rooney's excellent equalising goal, but make no mistake, the word has gone out that the Red Devils defence can be got at via the stand-in right-back...

In point of fact Van der Sar had a bit of a stinker against Newcastle; his kicking was poor and he didn't effectively deal well with at least one other cross, but some credit must go to Newcastle who managed to fire in some good crosses in from both flanks.

Other big talking points from this game centred on the performance of referee Steve Bennett, who I doubt is on Ronaldo's Christmas card list having sent him off previously. Just before last night's interval, Ronaldo was victim of what could best be described as an attempted karate chop to the throat by Steven Taylor who then proceeded to make a very poor challenge on another United star.

How many times have football fans been told that players cannot raise their arms to an opponent? Countless times, yet Bennett, who by the way has yet to issue a red card this season, only booked the Newcastle defender. Rio Ferdinand complained bitterly to Bennett at the break and was booked for his troubles, but the fact of the matter is, even though Taylor was booked the video footage needs to be reviewed and action needs to be taken against the referee and player.

Without any question, it was one of the worst decisions I have seen for many a long season and it adds weight to the claim that players believe that they allowed to assault Ronaldo without too much fear of comeback, because when an official such as Bennett makes such a poor decision - what other conclusion can one come to?

The game was eventually decided indirectly because of yet more foul-play by a Newcastle player, this time Martins who clearly elbowed Vidic, which resulted in a nasty looking cut on the face of the Serbian; but poetic justice was done when stand-in centre-half Wayne Rooney supplied a killer pass to the feet of Ji-Sung Park who beat Harper and slid the ball into the path of Berbatov who did the rest.

Bring on the Cockneys, Italians and Scousers.

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