Sunday, January 02, 2011

United get lucky at WBA: Is misplaced loyalty to Neville getting in the way of common sense?

United travelled to the Hawthorns yesterday and came away with three points, it was only the second away of the season. Wayne Rooney scored his first goal from open play since last March, with a well directed low header from an Evra cross in just the third minute. Rooney has endured a self-inflicted difficult couple of months following his much publicised contract spat with the club, but the relief and joy at scoring yesterday was there for all to see.

However, from that point onwards, it was the home team who dominated what was an absorbing contest and it's fair to say United looked very out of sorts again on their travels.

It came as no great surprise when James Morrison equalised with what could be one of the goals of the season. Nemanja Vidic initially won a header on the edge of the United penalty area, but the ball bounced invitingly to Morrison who unleashed a thunderbolt from fully 25 yards out, the ball flew beyond Kuszczak in the United goal.

West Brom were all over the visitors like a rash as they peppered the United goal with long range shots; Paul Scharner narrowly missed the far post with a bullet header after he'd out-foxed Nemja Vidic.

From an attacking perpsective, United were barely creating anything; too many players in the red shirt were wasteful in possession in midfield, which has been a recurring problem this season, especially when playing away from Old Trafford.

Carrick and Anderson were tasked with manning the engine room, with Fletcher on the right, but Thomas and Dorrans were running into wide open spaces down United's all too often exposed right flank, where West Brom always seemed to have an extra man.

Ferguson will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows when electing to give Gary Neville only his second start of the season for what was likely to be a tricky away game.

Ironically, Gary Neville featured in the only other away win to date against Stoke City - a game in which he was fortunate not to be given a red card; and yesterday against West Brom, once again he should have been sent-off, on this occasion for bringing down Graham Dorrans inside the penalty area and no honest United fan will argue with the point.

Neville was substituted against Stoke in the 46th minute and he was replaced at the Hawthorns in the 71st minute; the fact that the 'club captain' remained on the pitch on both occasions was down to the leniency of the referee. Chris Foy was on duty yesterday and after the game, predictably, there was calls for action to be taken against him from fans and pundits alike. As is often the case when a referee makes a glaring error, the referee appeared to try to make up for his earlier mistake by balancing up proceedings; United were denied a what was a clear penalty in the second-half for what was a clear and blatant hand-ball.

Injuries and old father time have caught up with Neville, and so it's fair to ask if Ferguson's loyalty to this great servant of the club is misplaced? Ferguson selected Neville ahead of Fabio and Wes Brown, but in light of yesterday's lucky escape the United manager will surely conclude that he is courting disaster when selecting the veteran defender ahead of the younger legs of the Da Silva twins.

Neville was up against Jerome Thomas who gave him a torrid time; on too many first-half occasions United were found short of numbers when West Brom were attacking at will down their left; when Neville wasn't actually caught out of position, he did okay on the ball and maybe a run of games would see an improvement in his fitness, but the stakes are so high with rivals Man City breathing down United's necks. Surely the manager cannot afford to take such risks, because in truth, his team was extremely fortunate to have gone into the half-time break with ten outfield players on the pitch and level on terms.

Peter Odemwingie let United off the hook early in the second-half when he missed the opportunity of giving West Brom the lead from the penalty spot after Rio Ferdinand had tripped Jerome Thomas. Ferdinand and Neville exchanged words in the inquest which followed; it looked like a case debating whose responsibility it should have been to mark Thomas.

United's did however improve marginally in the second-period, following Ferguson's minor tactical reshuffle, which saw Fletcher moving into a more central position coupled with switching Obertan to the right.

Ferguson then made a double subsitution sending on Gibson and Hernandez for Obertan and Berbatov. Anderson should have been the one who made way in midfield, because he was largely anonymous and frankly, he didn't look interested all afternoon.

Fergie then did what he should have done at half-time, that is he sent on Fabio for Neville; the young Brazilian was given the runaround once, by Thomas and was booked for what was deemed as a rash challenge, but he eventually steadied the ship down the right and looked better as the half went on.

Hernandez, then did what he did in United's only other away win this season - he scored with a header after he'd been left unmarked in the six-yard box. West Brom rallied late on, but United ground-out what was a very welcome, but controversial three points.

On this form, United will not win back the title, but if you're looking for positives, Rooney scored and he returned to the pitch to seal the win, this when he was injured after being hacked down by Brunt.

By his standards, Rooney didn't have a great game, but he showed signs that the hunger is returning. United need Rooney back running on all cylinders and if today's media speculation is true, the on-loan signing of Kaka would be very welcome to say the least; but whatever happens in the transfer window it looks like it is going to be a very bumpy ride until the end of the season.

6 comments:

  1. Even with the signing of Kaká, that wouldn't solve the central midfield crisis. He would play more of an attacking role to aid Rooney (I don't know where that would leave Berba), so we'd still need someone linking them with the back four, and doubling back for cover (something Fletcher does well, and sometimes Carrick).

    I'm starting to think that maybe we need to NOT win the premiership this year, to help the club's long-term future. They have to experience (and learn) that there's only so long you can rely on luck before you pay for the sloppy performances away from Old Trafford. I get the feeling that they are starting to believe they can actually win the race with this form.

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  2. Jesse,

    Kaka would help us, not least because he's at least twice as good as Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson when he's on the ball. But, yes, need someone to hold it together in front of the back four and quite evidently that player wasn't there yesterday when WBA were all over us in the opening period.

    Berbatov has enjoyed a good season so far, but sometimes, Fergie likes to start with 4-3-3 and then what? Fergie would have to sacrifice a winger to "accommodate" Kaka...

    Some of our players are too old to learn - I'm referring to Carrick and Fletcher, the latter gives the ball away cheaply but works hard; the former doesn't do what he was supposed to be good at, that is shielding the back four, but in general is distribution is better than Fletcher's.

    We CANNOT allow City to win the title, but will that happen? I don't know...

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  3. I think Neville looked fat on TV and my TV is not even a flat panel!!

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  4. I don't think Neville looks fat, but clearly he's short of first team action and given his age and his injuries it is very difficult for him and as I mentioned in the post a run of games would help him, but Fergie cannot really afford to be taking any chances...

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  5. Sadly Neville is looking well past his sell by date. He is a liability in defence now and has been for some time. I still get flashbacks to last years FA cup exit to Leeds and how bad he was in that game. A month or so ago I did hear a rumor that he was going to take over the reserve team boss role with Ole moving back to Norway and I hope that happens.

    Personally I cannot see Madrid loaning out Kaka but I would be delighted if we did get him. Missing out on VDV was a mistake and whilst Kaka has a long way to go after a serious knee injury he would offer the creativity we seriously lack when we dont have Scholes on the field to run into the ground.

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  6. Dave,

    I agree with all of that. But what is Fergie playing at? Personally, I think he's been taking a big gamble when selecting him for away games in particular, especially given our away record.

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