Manchester United v Aston Villa
Let’s be honest. You’d have to go back to before the Premier League era to find a time when there was a level playing field between Man Utd and Villa; when we had a fair competitive chance of winning these games. Since then the genius of Fergie and the financial buying power of Man Utd has put paid to that. So why are we all here?It’s even on BT. We could all stay at home; save on the train fare, on the petrol and the hassle of getting here, on the expense and the miles, yet we’ve sold out our allocation as we do every year, despite the prohibitive £47 ticket cost. No, we’re here because we support our ‘local’ team; because we have the integrity to do that, despite the unfair and imbalanced nature of this league, despite the probability of defeat, despite cost. We’re here because we have integrity, a respect for our history and community; because of value – and, come what may, we’re going to be telling an awful lot of Manchester United fans all about that in the next 90 minutes.
Our day starts at 5am. Shower, breakfast, bit of paper work, pack the match day bag, check tickets and travel, then off to Bournville station for the 07.29 to New Street. From there to ticket machine to collect pre-booked tickets then onto the 07:57 to Piccadilly, arriving in Manchester just after 9:30am. Button wants to go into the city; breathe in a bit of that Mancunian atmosphere on Market Street. After a wander around it’s up to Holland and Barrett for some healthy snacks (the diet continues) then into the Wetherspoons (a friendly port for any away fan) for a non-alcoholic, non-sugary drink (struggling here). Button sits opposite me with a toffee apple cider, apologising profusely for her lack of dietary support.
After a sit down and a chill it’s back up to Piccadilly for the 12:42 to Manchester United FC station. 10 minutes later we drop out in front of the Munich Tunnel. I take Button down to the Munich flame where we pay our respects to the flowers of Manchester; nodding to the Munich clock on our way in to the East Stand, where the away fans are housed.
It is worth noting that Manchester United have a core group of die hard supporters who would follow their team into the fire. Unfortunately, this is also the home of the glory hunter nation and beloved TV destination of the armchair traitor. As a result this is a pin-drop library of a stadium, where the ‘fans’ are here to consume and take-in rather than support. Justifiably then we are giving it to the United fans in spades – and they have no reply. I would sit down and refrain from the art of singing if I could force myself into my seat, though its just about big enough for a large child. I am 39.
Team news comes in on Twatter. Nathan Baker, who is currently working hard at sabotaging his career, is dropped in favour of Clark. Albrighton comes in to replace the injured El Ahmadi. Somebody behind me asks why Sylla isn’t in. It’s because he isn’t actually a footballer, someone replies. Chuckles all round. Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson. He checks his watch….. and Thunderbirds are go here in Manchester.
I will not pretend today. I am tired after yesterday and my back aches. In short: I do not have it in me and by now you will have all seen the highlights. Consider me to be ‘mixing things up’ then.
We are the dominant team for the first fifteen. Chants of ‘There’s only one David Moyes’ roll out from the Villa faithful and ‘support your local team.’ It’s a classic hit list. We then go and score at the Stretford End. Westy sends in a dink free kick, though we all think it was Bacuna as we can’t quite see who had the last touch. Mayhem in the corner of the East Stand. On 13′ minutes it’s Man Utd 0-1 Aston Villa.
Most of the Utd fans we can see look like they are going to their end. 26 years of glory and a few rough post-Fergie months and the wheels are coming off already – and still not a peep out of any of them. This is the quietest ground this season and then some. Gees. Show some heart; some passion. Honour your club – but nothing.
They equalise from a break. Bacuna is caught out of position at the right, a ball comes in unchallenged and Rooney who is all alone at the post – no Bertrand, no Clark anywhere to be seen – nods it into the side netting. A brief high decibel cheer ends as quick as it starts. On 20 minutes it’s Manchester United 1-1 Aston Villa – and now the crowd start singing. The Villa crowd that is. We are filling the air with song. Are the Stretford End awake? Someone please check.
Right before half-time, with seconds to go, after looking like the dominant team, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Agbonlahor decides to fall to the floor on the far right of the pitch in at attempt to win a free kick. The referee waves play on and United break. We fail to close down, having been caught on the break. Rooney is then scythed down at the edge of the six yard box by Bacuna who takes his legs from under him. Penalty to United. No complaints here. Up steps Rooney. High decibel roar for a couple of seconds then back to silence. On 45 minutes Man Utd 2-1 Aston Villa.
After the break we have two glorious chances to get right back into it. Unfortunately the wrong Benteke has turned up today which is why, despite receiving the ball three yards out on the angle, he air kicks his volley, falling flat on his face. His second chance is a bullet header, six yards out but he puts it over the bar. You have to take those at this level. He’s also making some bad choices today and giving the ball away, with Weimann slipping over more than once in his new, bright orange boots. No one is there to get the second ball either, leaving United to sweep up, when they are perhaps vulnerable and there for the taking. Still, we sing our hearts out nonetheless.
Marouane Fellaini then plays Mata into the box with a lovely weighted pass. The ball comes back of Vlaar’s heels allowing Mata to fire past Guzan. On 57 minutes it’s Man Utd 3-1 Aston Villa. The game is effectively over yet the United fans STILL don’t sing. Again, high decibel cry then silence. I am not exaggerating. There is nothing from the home fans. Not a note – and we are still giving it to them in spades. Before the end satellite launcher Tonev comes on to blaze one over the bar, with Lowton making a guest showing.
By the time we leave for the train (you need to get out of here quick if you fancy getting home at all) they’ve notched a Hernandez 4th. On 90 minutes Man Utd 4-1 Aston Villa.
Where as Stoke hammered us 4-1 this was never a 4-1 game. The score line is deceptive as we were not as bad as it suggests. If Benteke had been on song and Weimann could have stayed upright for long enough; if we could stop making stupid mistakes: if if if if if. Nonetheless, we leave Old Trafford, our voices reaching out to a blue Mancunian sky. “because we’re not glory hunterrrrrsssss….. suppporrrt your local team, support your local team…..” we sing. Still nothing from anyone in a red devil shirt. Plastic is not the word.
Back on Market Street we reflect on our season over a late Italian lunch, deciding that our season is effectively over. Barring a mathematical disaster we are pretty much safe. 36-37 points is the season average for staying up though if we are to be seen to be moving forward then we need to finish midtable which will mean around 42 points minimum. Will the players be motivated enough? I don’t think so. Button disagrees, though we are both of the mindset that either way, the overall performances are not good enough for Aston Villa. Better players are needed in key positions.
Now, as you, Vital reader, know, my reports are an attempt to capture the complete match day experience so, in that spirit I will report to you what happened on the train journey home. I should add that this is an early evening train. We don’t like to rush. We take our time; soak up things. Still, some people just can’t help themselves. Picture the scene: two young Man Utd fans of east-Asian heritage sit on one side of the aisle. On the other side someone under the influence. Under-the-influence guy leans across the aisle and starts asking him if he likes Bruce Lee. He clarifies that he isn’t simply asking because he’s from that “part of the world” but he likes Kung Fu yes? This is a David Brent moment in the making. He then asks him if he has seen Rush Hour 1, 2 and 3. Jackie Chan yes? They are great films he says. For all under-the-influence guy knows he likes opera, cheese and the donkey derby but hey. Why ignore a bunch of racial stereotypes when your six sheets to the wind.
Sadly this is not the end. A blonde gets up and leaves the carriage in disgust. By this stage she’s had quite enough of the general attitude and the “drunken banter.” Sadly, It continues. Throughout the journey, the senior conductor, who has an Asian accent, has been making his usual station and safety announcements. His accent has been mocked and mimicked by those in the carriage who think doing so is hilarious and quite accceptable, despite those of Asian heritage around them. When the senior conductor comes round to stamp and check tickets it continues: murmured under breath as he approaches, getting louder as he moves away. He hears it though he continues to be professional.
By the time we get past Wolverhampton, in complete disregard for the varied cultures present in the carriage, impressions of Asian accents are now pinging around the carriage as the all day drinking continues. Make no mistake: the joking is offensive, it is completely out of context and it is done to mock. History has taught me that arguing with drunks is pointless so I continue to observe and document. Such incidents bring our game into disrepute and overshadow a football occasion. They should have absolutely no place in football or among the football family.
Man of the match: Westwood
Room for improvement: Agbonlahor