Monday, January 06, 2014

United's Panto season looks set to run and run....

The whiff of fear associated with the Old Trafford visitors' dressing room which lingered for so long during Ferguson's tenure has long since evaporated, it has been replaced by the sound of laughter. For good reason, the home of Manchester United used to be known as a fortress - it isn't anymore, given under new manager David Moyes, the champions have lost four of the last six games on the hallowed turf and we are still in the first week of January.

Make no mistake, the Panto season is in full swing - the only thing missing from recent home performances by 'the champions' is the smell of greasepaint and fancy dress costumes.

The latest ignominious defeat against Swansea, resulted in United being dumped out of the third round of the FA Cup. Just like the previous home defeat against Spurs, it was another error strewn defensive display.

Sunday's late afternoon matinee didn't take long to get into full swing, just 12 minutes into the cup-tie, and despite of the collective groans of "he's behind you", Rio Ferdinand, in his starring role of Mother Goose decided to waddle off towards the half-way line; that unwise sojourn left a gaping hole down the middle and a simple punt down field led to Routledge lobbing the advancing De Gea; It was a well taken goal, but in truth it was all far too easy for the visitors.

In fairness, Ferdinand was returning from a spell on the sidelines due to injury, or alternatively, depending if we are to believe the scurulous rumours, was axed for leaking team news to the media. Whatever the reasons for his prolonged absence his performance left a lot to be desired and once again there was a distinct lack of leadership at the heart of the United defence.

Sawnsea's joy was short lived as just four minutes later, Hernandez expertly guided home a superb left wing cross by Buttner. In seasons gone by the equaliser would have been the signal for a siege on the visitors' goal, but like so often this season that did not happen. United huffed and puffed throughout the remainder of the first-half, but frankly looked for long periods like a team of disjointed out-of-sorts strangers.

Despite what David Moyes said in his post-match interview, United did not dominate the match or indeed the second-half which proved to be just as poor as the first. Januzaj lifted the crowd on 63 minutes when he replaced, Valencia who was largely anonymous, like too many of his teammates. In Januzaj, Moyes has a real diamond and he at least will give the fans some hope for the future in what is fast turning into a dismal season.

Ferdinand went off injured on 76 minutes, and was replaced by Fabio - his short-lived cameo appearance ended after just three minutes, as the Brazilian was given a justified red card by referee Mike Riley, for a dangerous over the top lunge at Jose Canas.

The sending off did have a bearing on the outcome, given it led to a reshuffle in the United defence. In the 89th minute, Routledge beat Darren Fletcher with a surging run into the United penalty area and his pin-point cross from the byline was expertly headed home by Wilfried Bony. While it was another good goal by Swansea, questions need to be asked about Smalling's positional sense; the former Fulham defender was caught badly out of position when marking Adebayor against Spurs in the previous home game and on Sunday he was once again found wanting.

Smalling has been caught out more or less every time he has been asked to play at right-back, and his heading ability and positional sense are a major cause for concern at centre-back. While castigating Smalling, for his part in Bony's winner, one should also mention Jonny Evans who was caught flat-footed and rooted to the spot, as he was on the opening Swansea goal.

Looking forward to the rest of the season,(if that is the correct expression) it is looking increasingly likely that United will miss out on Champions League football next season. On top of which this blog does not expect Moyes to make the necessary squad changes in the January transfer window. For now at least, we can expect United's Panto season to run and run.