Tag Premier League

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Proud Reds lose at Chelsea

November 9, 2009 Tags: , Matches 8 comments

Manchester United lost to John Terry’s late header at Stamford Bridge but Chelsea has referee Martin Atkinson to thank for the victory. Atkinson and his assistants made not one, or two but three glaring errors in the lead-up to the Londoners’ goal to hand Chelsea a five point lead at the top of the Premier League.

The manner of defeat, coming after an impressive United display, is particularly galling but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men leave town in the knowledge that the home side was forced to rely on luck – and officialdom – for the win.

Ferguson, without injured central defensive pair Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, predictably selected Wayne Rooney to plough a lone furrow up-front. Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia offered support in wide areas with Dimitar Berbatov also absent through injury. Ferguson, often the gambler, chose to play safe and United produced a disciplined performance against a Chelsea side unbeaten at home.

United edged a tense first half that offered few chances from a solid midfield foundation. Indeed, Brown and Evans, so haphazard against CSKA Moscow in midweek, soaked up everything Diddier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka threw at them.

The officials were to have an early hand in Chelsea’s victory though. Prior to their involvement in the home side’s goal, Atkinson and co. twice denied United in the first half. Firstly when Anderson put Rooney through on goal, only for the assistant to incorrectly rule the striker offside and then Atkinson failed to blow when Terry hauled Valencia to the ground in the area.

Darren Fletcher, dominant in midfield, saw a shot blocked by Ricardo Carvlho while Giggs and Michael Carrick also tested the Chelsea ‘keeper in the opening period.

Rooney twice went close after the break as United continue to ask more questions than the home side. First the Scouser drove inches wide of Petr Cech’s post then the former-Everton striker forced a top class save from the ‘keeper with a curling shot.

But all United’s work was undone as the officials gifted Chelsea a late winner. Fletcher, winning the ball cleanly from Ashley Cole, was harshly judged to have fouled the former Arsenal left-back on United’s right. Frank Lampard swung over the free kick for Terry to head home.

The officials, perhaps blinded by their unity with an insulted colleague, ignored both Drogba’s foul on Wes Brown and the offside position of the Ivorian.

Ferguson sent on Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan to retrieve the situation but it was too late as United slipped to yet another away defeat to a ‘top four’ side.

Finally, Chelsea’s plastic fans – most of whom only discovered the club existed in 2003 – sprung into life. Meanwhile, United’s travelling army leave town beaten but proud that their team was worthy of much more.

Predictably Ferguson attacked the referee post match, blaming the Yorkshire-born official for failing to spot Fletcher’s clean challenge.

“The referee’s position to make the decision was absolutely ridiculous, he can’t see anything,” said the Scot.

“It was a bad decision. You lose faith in refereeing sometimes, that’s the way the players are talking in there.”

“That goal should never have been allowed,” added Ferguson.

“We’ve dominated the game; we’ve had great chances to win the match and not taken them – and that’s our fault.

“We had great opportunities to get to the edge of the box and some really good chances in and around the box, but we should be finishing it off.

“We’ve only ourselves to blame in that respect. But you do need a break – and we never got the break we needed.”

Stamford Bridge or bust

November 7, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

On the face of it United’s visit to Stamford Bridge is one of the most daunting in recent years. With Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit leaking goals and Chelsea scoring freely, many pundits are backing Carlo Ancelotti’s team to take the honours and with it a healthy Premier League points advantage. But with the chips down, it is just the kind of scenario Ferguson relishes.

United travel to the capital without vice-Captain Rio Ferdinand who, back-injury permitting, will not play for the club until December. In the England-defender’s stead Jonny Evans will once again slot into the back four, alongside the returning Nemanja Vidic. It’s an area – United’s principal strength just a few short months ago – that Ferguson is justifiable concerned about.

But Ferguson is not yet ready to countenance the tie as a potential Premier League title decider, coming as it does just a third of the way into the season. Indeed, if the Scot’s team wins on Sunday, United will return to the top of the table. A feat that United has achieved just once in the last 10 visits to West London.

“Our players realise it’s a big game and that our performance at Chelsea is really important,” said Ferguson of Sunday’s match.

“We used to have a terrific record there up until a few years ago, but we’ve let that slip. There’s no point in looking back. We just have to look at our present squad and what they’re capable of.

“They’re capable of winning the game, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It’s not going to be an easy game for either team.”

With United having narrowly beaten Arsenal at Old Trafford in August but lost at Anfield a fortnight ago, Ferguson is aware that the points spread among the leading contenders will decide the Premier League title.

“These games between the top four could be really important in the context of the title race,” Ferguson added

“It doesn’t come into my thinking that Sunday’s game is a league decider. But it could certainly be a really important one.

“Towards the end of the season you could be thinking ‘I’m glad we got a result at Chelsea’ in relation to where you are in the league.”

But United will need to perform better than in previous games against the so-called big-four if the team is to take the points Sunday.

Much will depend on the tactical system Ferguson chooses to deploy. The manager could throw the die and go for broke by deploying Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in a 4-4-2 formation.

However, the manager’s respect for his counterpart Ancelotti, who has beaten the Scot in three of their four previous meetings, dictates that the young Scouser is likely to plough a lonely furrow up front.

“Ancelotti was a great coach at AC Milan and he has brought a wealth of experience with him to Chelsea,” Ferguson said of the Italian.

“He’s won the European Cup twice and was also a great player. I thought he’d do well. He has a very experienced team and, when you have that, it’s maybe easier to adapt to new tactics or a new system.”

Sunday’s match will do much to show how far Ancelotti’s team has progressed this season. United, as always, might just have to risk all to come away with the points.

United profit from Rovers lack of return

November 2, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Manchester United cruised to a comfortable win over a Blackburn Rovers side that set new standards in lack of ambition. A brace of outstanding finishes from Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov were enough to see off United’s Lancashire rivals on a day when the home side should have matched Chelsea’s five or Arsenal’s six against limited opposition.

United began the game missing both regular centre-backs. Rio Ferdinand’s absence is now a more regular occurence that club or player can now accept. Meanwhile, his partner Nemanja Vidic was missing with a similar calf problem.

But United’s stand-in pair of Jonny Evans and Wes Brown strolled through the match, barely breaking sweat. Indeed, Blackburn made no meaningful effort to attack Edwin van der Sar’s goal until the 87th minute, by which time the game was lost. The great Dutchman is edging towards retirement but will rarely have been so unemployed as against Sam Allardyce’s Rovers in a 20-year career.

United took close to an hour to win the game and  Sir Alex Ferguson need only look at his side’s wasteful finishing. United created a flurry of chances in the opening period, with Dimitar Berbatov guilty of profligacy in equal measure to sublime skill as abuse rained down from the visiting supporters.

But it was the Bulgarian – certainly no waste of money – who finally broke Rovers’ resolve, expertly turning on Patrice Evra’s wayward shot to volley into Paul Robinson’s bottom right corner. It was a fine goal and ample reward for Berbatov’s outstanding recent form.

United, who needed a response to last week’s heartbreaking defeat at Anfield, then wrapped up the game with just a few minutes to spare as Rooney expertly guided in Anderson’s left-wing cross.

In between Premier League debutant Gabriel Obertan, excellent in midweek against Barnsley, missed a brace of chances to cap his Old Trafford bow with a goal. The Frenchman, angry at himself post-match, has done more in 100 minutes of football than Nani in two and a half seasons in Manchester.

The match-winner Berbatov ended the game relieved to have scored in another excellent personal performance.

“In the first half I had a couple of chances to score, and you need to be patient and when another chance comes along you have to score it, and I was very glad to score my chance,” said Berbatov, who will sit on the bench at Chelsea in a week’s time if Ferguson reverts to five in midfield.

“Then Wayne Rooney scored another and that was it finished for Blackburn. We were relieved because they are a difficult team to play against. Every time when you score a goal you are relieved because you feel you’ve done something special and that was the case for me.

“One-nil is a good result, as long as you finish it that way,” the Bulgarian added.

“If it’s three-nil or four-nil, it doesn’t matter. As long as we keep winning I think everybody will be happy.”

But Ferguson knows that United must improve if his team is to take anything away from Stamford Bridge in a week’s time. His side’s stuttering form pales into comparison with Chelsea’s. If defeat at Anfield was the worst result of the season to date then Stamford Bridge marks the campaign’s most significant match to date.

“The players worked very hard as Blackburn set out their stall,” Ferguson said.

“You always get a bit concerned when you haven’t scored. But we don’t panic. We have that experience. We can win games in the 93rd minute.

“You need that patience, though, and we improved our penetration in the second half. That is a strong virtue of this club.

“The good thing about this club is we’re experienced enough to know how difficult it is to win this league. It’s not going to be any different this year.

“We know mistakes are going to happen, we know you lose games you don’t expect to lose but you go for the consistency and hope to carry on with that consistency. If we get to January and we’re still in there then we will have a great chance.”

Ferguson, who will be without both Vidic and Ferdinand at Stamford Bridge, praised their deputies. Brown and Evans will need another outstanding performance next weekend.

“A lot was made about Ferdinand and Vidic being out today,” said Ferguson.

“But when you have Wes Brown and Jonny Evans as back-up, you’re not doing bad. If you take Ferdinand and Vidic out, then there are not many better pairings in the Premier League than Evans and Brown.”

Injuries threaten United comeback

October 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United go into the weekend’s fixture against Blackburn Rovers with a quintet of missing players threatening to derail Sir Alex Ferguson’s Premier League progress. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, together with Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung and the suspended Gary Neville will likely miss the Old Trafford match.

“We have some doubts for tomorrow,” Ferguson said Friday at Carrington, United’s training complex.

“Ryan Giggs is a doubt but we hope he’ll be OK. Ferdinand and Vidic are both doubts – we’ll see what they’re like today. Gary Neville is suspended of course. Hopefully we can get one or two fit for tomorrow but we’re facing an uphill fight.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s first choice centre-backs each have calf injuries. While Vidic’s problem is an ongoing concern, Ferdinand has spent almost as much time in the treatment room as on the pitch over the past year. If neither makes the match Jonny Evans is likely to partner Wes Brown at the heart of the United back-four.

“Vidic has had a calf problem for a few weeks now. We’ve seen a specialist about it so we’ll see what he’s like today. Rio and Vida both want to play after the disappointment of last Sunday,” Ferguson added.

Park, Ferguson added, returned from South Korea with a swollen knee and is likely to miss at least another fortnight. Meanwhile midweek goalscorer Wellbeck, substituted against Barnsley on Tuesday with a knee problem, is out for a similar time. Ryan Giggs, unlikely to be risked, has a tight hamstring.

But Ferguson, impressed with the young and fringe players’ victory over Barnsley on Tuesday, will be able to call Gabriel Obertan for the match. The Frenchman, highly impressive on début, is likely to find a place on the bench for his first taste of the Premier League.

“You have to get on with life,” Ferguson said.

“[The Carling Cup] was good for the young players to go away. Last year the ties were mostly at home. It is a different thing altogether and they acquitted themselves quite well.”

Ferguson must also choose between Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen for the striking partnership. While Rooney is likely to partner the Bulgarian, Owen staked his claim for a place with a high quality goal against Barnsley on Tuesday.

“It was a fantastic goal, real quality. It was a good finish, he showed how quick he is. He did well,” Ferguson said of Owen’s strike.

Blackburn meanwhile, hit with swine flu this week, will also be missing key players for the match. While Sam Allardyce’s team is likely to ‘park the bus’ at Old Trafford, the Lancashire club has tended to collapse in recent games against Chelsea and Arsenal. But a thumping 6-2 Carling Cup victory over Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough side midweek has increased the confidence at Ewood Park

“I spoke to Sam before the Chelsea game and he had concerns about the flu,” Ferguson said.

“He had players missing but David Dunn was back during the week and maybe others will be fit. Flu does happen but so far we are okay.”

But Ferguson, determined to put United’s Premier League challenge back on course after heartbreaking defeat against Liverpool, is wary of the threat from another local neighbour. Injuries to three key players hardly helps.

“I am not sure what kind of team Sam will be able to pick but it will be a hard game as it is a local derby. While I am told they have a poor away record, I think Sam has had to build a different team,” Ferguson added.

Poll: United’s chances this season are…

October 26, 2009 Tags: , Polls 1 comment

Following defeat to Liverpool at Anfield United’s ambitions to win a fourth consecutive Premier League title received a set back. Goals from Fernando Torres and David Ngog were enough to beat United on a day when Ferguson’s men created very few chances. But is United’s squad fatally flawed or will Sir Alex Ferguson’s men recover to lift the trophy in May?

United's Premier League chances this season are..

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Anfield loss leaves bitter taste

October 25, 2009 Tags: , Matches 8 comments

Liverpool beat Sir Alex Ferguson’s men at Anfield in a match where the quality was low and Manchester United’s creativity lesser still. Goals from Fernando Torres and substitute David Ngog were enough to send the travelling support home unhappy on a day when United’s attacking players failed to take advantage of Liverpool’s recent poor form.

Ferguson’s men started the match in ebullient spirits – a midweek Champions League win and the return of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra to the starting line-up adding to a sense of expectation around the United camp. Liverpool, meanwhile, confirmed Captain Steven Gerrard’s absence ahead of kick off.

Deploying both Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov through the middle and an attacking midfield quartet, if Ferguson’s intent was to take the game to the home side then United started brightly enough for the Scot. But despite dominating early possession, Ferguson’s side failed to truly test Pepe Reina in the home goal.

Liverpool began with Torres the lone front man and two holding midfielders protecting a back-four that has looked shorn of confidence in recent weeks.

But resorting to tactics that served the Merseyside side so well in the last clash between the sides at Old Trafford in March, Liverpool unnerved both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand by quickly switching play from back to front.

If at times Liverpool appears a vehicle for Fernando Torres’ talents and ten makeweights then Sunday’s match did little to dispel the myth.

Edwin van der Sar then brilliantly kept out Fabio Aurelio’s early free-kick and Dirk Kuyt’s shot from the rebound.

Rooney had the ball in the Liverpool net, finishing superbly after Michael Carrick’s through ball, only for the officials to – correctly – rule it offside.

On the United right Antonio Valencia had the measure of Liverpool’s two left-backs Emiliano Insua and Aurellio ahead of him. The latter deployed to protect the young Argentinian, who has looked a liability in recent matches. The Ecuadorian’s pace carved out a chance for Rooney, only for the former Everton striker to glance a header into Reina’s arms. It was United’s best chance of the opening period.

But Liverpool began the second half with purpose and Torres continued to place United’s back-four under pressure. While the home side pressed high up the pitch, United gave away possession with unusually high frequency.

Then came the goal just after the hour, Yossi Benayoun releasing Torres. And with Ferdinand half a yard the wrong side the wrong side of the Spaniard, Torres was able to hold off his marker and smash a finish into the roof of the net at van der Sar’s near post.

Neither defender nor ‘keeper will be completely happy with their contribution to the goal.

The strike galvanised the home side and United – unusually – seemed bereft of creativity, making little impression on Liverpool’s previously porous rearguard.

Paul Scholes – half a yard off the pace – and Dimitar Berbatov made way for Nani and Michael Owen with 15 to go as United sought an equaliser the team’s play barely deserved.

Valencia, remaining positive on the right, then smashed an effort against the bar from a tight angle, after Owen’s pass, and Nani later side-footed straight at Reina. Owen, predictably booed on his return to Anfield, added some focus to United’s attacks if no real threat.

Jamie Carragher then brought down Owen who had a clear run on goal. With no protection between the former Liverpool striker and Reina a red card was not only the law but the least the defender deserved for his cynical foul 25 yards out. Inexplicably official Andre Marriner produced yellow to earn Ferguson’s ire. Earlier the Birmingham-born official had failed to award United a penalty when Carragher clattered Michael Carrick inside the box.

Vidic, protesting, noted the Serbian’s red in last season’s fixture. It was not without irony then that Vidic earned a second yellow for a foul on the half-way line. The first an infringement of very little malice. Yet, Marriner allowed Lucas Leiva nine – count ’em – fouls without seeing yellow. It was a refereeing performance not of bias but of incredible incompetence.

And then with seconds to go – and Ferguson’s team piling forward – Liverpool’s David Ngog scored a second on the break to complete United’s third loss in a row to the great rivals.

Ferguson, predictably and rightly, drew attention to Marriner’s errors.

“All in all Liverpool were the better team but I think it affected our players and the referee,” he said.

“There were so many controversial things that happened we have to feel aggrieved at some of them.”

Ferguson was unhappy with Marrier’s failure to award Carrick a first half penalty, Vidic’s red-card and the failure to send off Carragher.

“He has gone right over the top of the ball,” said Ferguson of the penalty decision.

“If it is outside of the box it is a free kick and maybe a yellow card. But it was inside the box and the referee was only six yards from it. It was another bad decision.

“The most controversial decision was Carragher bringing down Michael Owen. He was clear through.

“The laws of the game were altered to prevent professional fouls of that nature and if Carragher goes off, he is their best player and their captain. It would have been a different game. They would have been under pressure.

“The referee was only four or five yards from it so he cannot use a covering defender as an excuse. Michael was clean through. With Michael’s pace he is going to get away from him.

“The first Vidic booking was the worst decision. It is a foul, fine. But the player has played on, he won the second ball and knocked it for a throw in and got booked. It put Nemanja under pressure.

“The atmosphere is hard to handle for a referee. Whether he had enough experience, I don’t know.”

Classic United v Liverpool

October 25, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

To whet your appetite ahead of this afternoon’s match here’s some classic Manchester United v Liverpool encounters in league and FA Cup. Starting with the 1977 FA Cup final through to Gary Neville’s now infamous victory celebration in front of the Liverpool supporters at Old Trafford in 2006. Add your own favourites in the comments section.

United 2 – 1 Liverpool, FA Cup Final, Wembley, 1977
United beat the all-powerful Liverpool to the 1977 FA Cup, with goals from Stuart Pearson in the first half and then Lou Macari’s winner, cannoning in off Jimmy Greenhoff’s chest and into the net past Ray Clemence.

Liverpool 1 – 2 United, First Division, Anfield, 1981
United win at Anfield in this classic 80s mud-fest. Goals from defenders Kevin Moran, who also conceded a penalty, and Scottish full-back Arthur Albiston won the day for United.

Liverpool 3 – 3 United, Anfield, 1994
One of the best encounters of the ’90s saw United take a three goal lead through Steve Bruce, Ryan Giggs and Dennis Irwin, before being pegged back by the jubilant scousers.

United 1 – 0 Liverpool, FA Cup Final, Wembley, 1996
Eric Cantona scores with four minutes to go at Wembley to hand United the trophy and a ‘double double’. Within a year Cantona had retired and the Kop demanded that the Frenchman return when United had won 18 English titles. Welcome back Eric!

Man Utd 2 – 1 Liverpool, FA Cup, Old Trafford, 1999
Part of United’s historic ’99 treble season, the reds’ two late-late goals sealed an FA Cup Fourth round win at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury time winner almost lifted the roof off a euphoric Stretford End.

Government announces dole to be cut, Anfield, 1999
Despite scoring twice the Dippers still manage to get beaten by a dominant United side.
Liverpool 1999

Diego Forlan scores twice, Anfield, 2002
Poor old Jerzy Dudek allows one effort to go through his legs and gifts Diego Forlan another as the Uruguayan scores twice at Anfield to sealed legendary status amongst the United faithful!
Diego Forlan

Wayne Rooney strikes at the Kop End, Anfield, 2005
Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney scores United’s winner at the Kop end. The striker took some abuse on the day and was more than happy to repay the compliment!
Wayne Rooney

Gary Neville shows what it’s all about, Old Trafford, 2006
Gary Neville is a red, is a red, is a red, he hates Scousers!

United in search of Anfield redemption

October 25, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

When Andrea Dossena lobbed Edwin van der Sar to score Liverpool’s fourth goal at Old Trafford in March the Merseyside team completed a Premier League double over Manchester United for the first time since 2001-2. Despite the fact that Rafa Benitez’ side ended the season with no trophies – Sir Alex Ferguson’s men picked up the Premier League and Carling Cup – the result remains a source of pride for Liverpudlians and pain for United supporters. Ferguson’s team travel to Anfield tomorrow in search of a result that will right the wrong.

The teams meet an Anfield in markedly different form. United, having emerged victorious from a potential banana skin in Moscow, travel to Anfield in good spirits, expecting victory. Indeed, with just one loss all season – in August at Burnley – United already has significantly more points than at this time last season.

Key players will also return to the United squad, with Wayne Rooney now fit to take part having recovered from a calf injured picked up on international duty with England. Darren Fletcher’s participation remains doubtful with a groin injury, while Park J-Sung is definitely out with a knee problem. However, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra, who both missed the Moscow tie, are fit to take part.

Ferguson must choose between deploying both Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the 4-4-2 formation that has become typical this season or go with the ‘European’ lone-striker used in Moscow this week. However, in a typical Ferguson ruse, the Scot suggested, Friday, that Rooney may sit out the match due to his fragile temperament in matches against Liverpool.

Despite typically using a single striker in matches against the ‘big four’, Berbatov’s form – outstanding against Bolton last weekend – is likely to come into Ferguson’s thinking when picking the team for tomorrow’s 2pm kick off.

“The United-Liverpool fixture, as I’ve said many times, is without question a massive game,” Ferguson said Friday.

“That’s not changed in the 23 years I’ve been here, this is the game.

“We go into the game in decent form, and there is a confidence to our play. But it’s a derby game and anything can happen. Going to Anfield at any time is hard, for both teams. It won’t be any different on Sunday.”

Liverpool meanwhile come into the game under intense pressure, having lost four games in a row. The club’s worst run of form since 1987 has placed Benitez under increasing strain, to the point that co-owner George Gillet offered a ‘vote-of-confidence’ in the manager this week.

With the pressure on, Benitez this week suggested that the two side’s differing results are a factor of money available to each manager. A ‘fact’ repeatedly proven a lie.

On the pitch Benitez is without captain Steven Gerrard through injury, although talismanic striker Fernando Torres will return after yet another hamstring strain and £18 million Glenn Johnson is also fit to start at right back.

Despite the Anfield side’s recent poor results United defender Rio Ferdinand says that it matters little when the teams take the pitch tomorrow afternoon.

“I think form goes out of the window in these games,” Ferdinand told United’s official website.

“We all know that when there’s a big rivalry between two teams, whether it’s a derby or a big cup clash, form doesn’t come into it. It all comes down to who performs best on the day and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Supporters traverse the M62 ready to answer Liverpool’s fans who, in 1993, suggested legend Eric Cantona return to Anfield once United had won 18 English league championships. Ferguson’s men take to the field Sunday in just that place, having collected an 18th title in May.

Liverpool, meanwhile, hasn’t taken the title back to Anfield since 1990. A victory for United Sunday will surely end the Scousers hopes for another season.

Ferdinand younger saves Fergie’s bacon

October 4, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side escaped with a draw at Old Trafford after another late, late goal but as good as United has been in recent weeks, the team were below-par on Saturday tea-time. In the end Fergie’s men, indebted to a massive slice of luck for salvaging something from an unmittigatingly poor performance, were grateful to take a point. In fact, so off-key was United’s passing that a Ferguson team can rarely have given away the ball so often.

Sunderland meanwhile, fresh from a 5-2 drubbing of Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend, was on course for an unlikely victory until Anton Ferdinand’s injury-time own goal.

The match started poorly for the Champions – looking for an eighth victory in a row – with Darren Bent swivelling on the edge of United’s area and rifling in a low shot that beat Foster to his right. Much like his new team, Bent has been resurgent under former United stalwart Steve Bruce’s stewardship. Perhaps sensing United was there for the taking, Ferguson having made seven changes from the team that beat Wolfsburg in midweek, Bruce’s team was bright and full value for its early goal. The strike should have galvanised the home side into waking from its slumber, instead Bruce’s team continued to force the issue.

Indeed, Sunderland was dominant with United failing to register an effort on target until the second period. With Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher restored to the side following their demotion in midweek, United may have expected to monopolise possession as is the way at Old Trafford. Not so. In Andy Reid Sunderland held the dominating force in the middle of the park, with able deputies in Lee Cattermole and Steed Malbranque.

Last week’s man-of-the-match Scholes misplaced just four passes in more than 80. It’s doubtful whether four reached their target against Sunderland and he was rightly hauled off at half-time.

But six minutes into the second period, with Scholes sacrificed for the Brazilian youngster Anderson, United gained a lifeline with Dimitar Berbatov spectacularly garnering the home side’s equaliser. The Bulgarian, outstanding again in midweek, fashioned a picture-perfect overhead to the bring Ferguson’s team level. Berbatov has been excellent this season and he stood head and shoulders above his team-mates on Saturday.

Indeed, the Bulgarian deserves more recognition from a media pool that refuses to understand him. The overhead kick was spectacular – great stuff on an awful day for the home side – but his all-round performance was worthy of better headlines.

Yet the goal only served to underline Sunderland’s superior play, with United failing to push on for the expected victory. Bruce’s character and determination, rubbing off on his new charges, meant that a meek surrender was never on the cards. The North East’s only Premier League side led just seven minutes later, with Foster’s half-hearted attempt to challenge Kenwyne Jones for a high ball so spectacularly inept that all debate about the Englishman’s claims on Edwin van der Sar’s shirt must now be extinguished.

But while Ferguson is in charge at Old Trafford, United will continue to gamble even in the face of overwhelming odds. Old Trafford alumni Kieren Richardson, having underlined the immaturity that led to his departure, saw red for a second bookable offence with five minutes remaining. It was the only stimuli United needed and, throwing men forward with abandon, the home side got the equaliser its play barely deserved – Evra’s shot cannoning in off the younger Ferdinand’s shins and into the net.

Deploying Danny Welbeck on the left-wing was odd and Ferguson nearly paid for resting some of the side’s leading players. The manager admitted as such and was happy that his team came out of the game with a point.

“I was pleased to get something out of the game considering how badly we played,” said Ferguson.

“There wasn’t much creativity. Too many players were running with the ball, the passing wasn’t good and at our level, when the opponents are motivated, you make life very difficult for yourself.

“We didn’t create a lot of chances and the quality of our play in the last third wasn’t good enough. We have to sum it up as an off day. We get them, we don’t enjoy them, but we do get them.”

But in the end two points dropped at home, adding to those lost at Turf Moor, could prove costly come the end of the season.

Hughes loses dignity as reds take derby

September 21, 2009 Tags: , Matches 5 comments

United put the upstarts City in their place in a Manchester derby classic. It was a match full of drama, goals and plenty of hapless defending, with the winner coming from a former Liverpool hero. You couldn’t write a script this good. But as United fans filtered out of Old Trafford delirious with the result, Mark Hughes was busy ruining what little respect the red side of the city may have held for him.

For the neutral it was a match that had everything; most fans will have left with a few extra grey hairs. Three times United took the lead in normal time, only for City to peg Sir Alex Ferguson’s side back on as many occasions. While ‘plucky’ City can be pleased with their character in fighting to keep on terms, in truth the home side were vastly superior.

But for some truly awful defending – gifting City their first and third equalisers – United would have won at a canter. It was a point not lost on Ferguson after the game.

“We made three horrendous mistakes which you don’t even half associate with our team and it kept them in the game,” Fergie told Sky Sports after the match.

“I am unhappy about the goals we conceded because it spoilt [an otherwise] really emphatic victory – we could have scored six or seven.

“The fact that we made the mistakes probably made it the best derby game of all time so you-re left wondering, what would you rather have had – won 6-0 or won the greatest derby game of all time, and I would rather have won 6-0.”

Before all the drama, the derby came to life as early as the second minute, with Rooney holding off two City defenders to slot past Shay Given in the visitor’s goal. Patrice Evra created the chance, finding space on the left flank to cut back for United’s leading scorer. Magic.

City were back in it within a quarter hour, Ben Foster losing the ball to the returning Carlos Tevez, and Gareth Barry slotting home the little Argentinian’s pass. Comedy defending but it wasn’t funny for United’s number one. That Foster is still playing with such nerves six weeks into the new season is deeply worrying. Foster, talented though he is, got himself out of position on more than one occasion, gifting City their first equaliser. With Edwin van der Sar back inside a month, Foster has even more reason to feel under pressure.

United were dominating possession and the chances continued to flow, especially in the second period. Dimitar Berbatov in particular will regret not taking at least one of his four good opportunities before being substituted for Michael Owen.

United’s pressure was telling though and City’s expensively assembled central defensive partnership struggled all afternoon with United’s pace and movement. Ryan Giggs was utterly peerless, having a hand in all four United goals. At 35 years old, Giggs can still tear them apart after all these seasons. It was the Welshman’s running and passing that helped create a dozen chances for United in the second half.

In the end for all United’s free flowing attacking football City lost the match by defending set-pieces and crosses poorly. United’s second and third came from the unlikely head of Darren Fletcher, who had yet another storming game in central midfield.

In between Craig Bellemy twice pulled City back into the game. His first an outstanding strike from 25 yards, after cutting in from the left onto his favoured right boot. City’s third equaliser came with just seconds to go, Rio Ferdinand guilty of being lazy in possession and gifting the Bitters a chance at an undeserved point.

But as long as Ferguson lives and breaths United will continue to play until the final whistle. Giggs’ wonderful pass released Michael Owen in the 96th minute, the striker’s first touch was true and his neat finish sent the home crowd into raptures. Fergie’s Mourinhoesque arm-pumping dance down the touchline was bliss personified. His staff and substitutes invaded the pitch in an end reminiscent of that in the same stadium against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.

In the post-match analysis Fergie couldn’t resist the opportunity to goad the defeated opposition.

“There has been a lot of expectation on Manchester City and with the spending they have done they have to win something,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“For us, it’s unusual for us to accept that they’re the top dogs in terms of media attention but you know, sometimes you have a noisy neighbour and have to live with it. You can’t do anything about them if they keep on making noise but what we can do, as we showed today, is you can get on with your life, put your television on and turn it up a bit louder.

“As far as the players are concerned, they showed their playing power and that’s the best answer of all.”

Watching despairing City supporters’ faces – still bitter after 34 years without silverware – as United’s fourth hits the back of the net was sheer poetry. That their team contained the returning Carlos Tevez iced the cake.

But another United old boy, the City manager Mark Hughes, was unable to lose with dignity, complaining about the amount of added time and United’s ecstatic reaction to the winning goal. Hughes also went on to defend Craig Bellamy, who hit out at a United fan, just as he had supported Emmanuel Adebayor’s in the wake of the striker’s deliberate stamp on Robin van Persie a week ago. Hughes should be bigger than that.

“They did seem quite excitable at the end of the game. It was reminiscent of Brian Kidd and Sir Alex in days gone by. And I saw Gary Neville running on like a lunatic as well, so it showed how much it meant to them,” said Hughes.

“It’s something we’ll take out of the game. We knew we could come here and compete against the United of today.”

Compete City did, but bitter City remain.