I think that its fair to say that our efforts and much improved performance deserved something out of this game, a fact that even surely the most ardent and one-eyed of Manchester United supporters would have trouble taking issue with. The truth is though that our depressing run of results continues, and we now find ourselves a mere point ahead of David Moyes’ Everton, who interestingly enough are our next opponents when they roll into town on Easter Sunday afternoon.
That game has become very much a must win game for probably both teams, although no doubt our visitors from the blue half of Liverpool would be the happier of the two camps, should the points be shared.
That mouth-watering head to head remains a week away though, so for now let’s concentrate on our trip to Old Trafford, for arguably the toughest fixture in our premier league calendar, and another visit to a stadium that has not seen us reign victorious since two Peter Withe goals secured us the points back in season ’83/84.
I always enjoy attending the United vs Villa game up in Manchester. After all if you cant enjoy the atmosphere of being in amongst 75,000 plus other supporters, watching a game being played in such a magnificent stadium, then you really have no right calling yourself a football fan. On the other hand though, our results there down the years make far from happy reading, and the drive home is nearly always a somber occasion, as you relay over and over in your mind yet another reversal, all too often by a pretty unhealthy looking scoreline too.
After the depressing afternoon spent up on merseyside during our last visit to the north-west, Mart brought back into the starting line-up Gabby to replace the injured Emile Heskey, and recalled, long overdue in many supporters opinion, Nicky Shorey, in to fill the left back slot, allowing Luke Young to switch over to his favoured right back position.
Made sense to me. I’ll never quite understand why our summer 2008 signing from Reading has been snubbed and overlooked for so long. I personally haven’t seen him play a bad game in a Villa shirt. Yes he’s made the odd mistake or two during the occasional games, but overall I don`t think he could ever have been singled out as having a shocker, deserving of banishment from the starting line-up, with no suggestion or hint of a recall for weeks on end. Whereas other players have been allowed the luxury of keeping their places in the hope that they might play their way out of bad spells, Shorey has been discarded to the bench and left to rot. All very strange, particularly when you consider that our lack of a naturally left footed player performing at left full back, has all too often seen our line-up lacking balance across the back. Oh well, mine is not to reason why, mine is just to turn up and support the players given the task of performing week in and week out. Isn’t that how it goes?
Anyhow, this was Mart’s choosen starting line-up and bench, for the latest meet up with Sirs lot.
Friedel, Luke Young, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Reo-Coker, Gardner, Albrighton.
We started the game off brightly, very brightly in fact, and for the opening minutes we pushed United back, spraying the ball around confidently and comfortably, almost taking a very early lead, when a John Carew header that had left the home keeper well beaten, was bundled off the line, possibly via a post, by a United defender.
We didn’t look in any trouble, yet out of the blue in the fifteenth minute, we found ourselves behind.
James Milner rolled a pass-back wide of Brad Friedel and our goalkeeper, who I thought was slow to come out and collect before Milly had to make contact, was left with no option other than to handle the back pass. Ryan Giggs rolled the free-kick to Cristiano Ronaldo, who struck a quite superb effort into the top corner. Bright start maybe, but now we found ourselves 1-0 down. Quite needlessly too.
On the half-hour mark though we grabbed a deserved equaliser, Gareth Barry floating in a tremendous ball from out on the right, for the man ‘whose bigger than me and you’ to nod home. 1-1 at the half, and we were certainly deserving of the scoreline, and perhaps unfortunate not to be ahead. Certainly our best showing since the 2-0 victory up at Ewood Park, before our slump kicked in.
In the 58th minute, Stilian Petrov dispossessed Cristiano Ronaldo, and released John Carew for the cross from the left that Gabby was on hand to convert.
We deserved the lead, no doubt about it, the question of course being whether or not we could see out the final thirty minutes to return back to Brum with the points. We were certainly playing with confidence, looking a much improved team to the one that rolled over at Anfield without so much a murmur just a mere fortnight ago.
O’Neill substituted Milner for Reo-Coker, a move I strongly questioned at the time, and an opinion that was shared by many of the travelling Villans around me. It`s a move that I question even more so now. I thought that Milner was enjoying a very good afternoon, keeping the United defenders on their toes, while also doing a fine job for us defensively. The team looked balanced, and in control, and I thought that we lost that edge when Milner went off.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Ronaldo grabbed the equaliser with a low, left-foot effort from 25 yards, a goal that United barely deserved, and then well into the five minutes of added injury time (where did those five minutes come from?), United youngster Macheda`s goal, cracking effort though it admittedly was, broke the claret and blue hearts.
The youngster received the ball from Ryan Giggs just inside our penalty area, turned Luke Young, and sent a superb right-foot curler past Brad Friedel to give United their victory.
What a kick in the teeth. A defeat we didn’t deserve, but as we all well know, you don`t always get what your efforts deserve from this wonderful game. We’ve won games this season when perhaps when viewed overall we didn’t deserve to.
Today the boot was on the other foot. Not that that makes the result any easier to take though. It doesn’t!
Right, the average marks out of ten from our little party of four who travelled up to Old Trafford:-
Brad Friedel – 6
Luke Young – 6
Curtis Davies – 7
Carlos Cuellar – 6
Nicky Shorey – 7
James Milner – 6
Stan Petrov – 6
Gareth Barry – 7
Ashley Young – 7
Gabby Agbonlahor – 6
John Carew – 7
Nigel Reo-Coker – 5