After another three points today, giving United nine wins out of eleven this season, and a goal difference twenty one, we have more than enough reasons to celebrate. It is the weekend marking Ferguson’s anniversary of twenty years in charge of our club. He was met with a standing ovation by the Old Trafford crowd today, as a thanks for all the amazing things he’s brought to this football club. However, I would be lying if I said that all the fans applauding today have always been behind Ferguson.
Last September, when Ferguson was going through his 4-3-3 stage, which saw us get just two points throughout the month, we lost to Blackburn Rovers at home, and Sir Alex was booed off the field. He’d left Rooney and Giggs on the bench, whilst Richardson and O’Shea played as fullbacks, after injuries to Heinze, Brown and Neville. Ferguson had got it wrong, and the fans let him know about it.
A year ago today, United were still dealing with their embarrassing thrashing to Middlesborough, shrugging off the hammering Keane gave the team on MUTV, whilst trying to focus on the game to come. Chelsea. The fans got behind the team, behind the manager, and it paid off. We beat Chelsea, and then went on win their next seven games.
In the second half of the season Ferguson really started to get things right. They won twenty one games out of the twenty eight that followed on from the Chelsea game. Despite all the pre-season criticism of the man, over signings and ability, it’s quite obvious Sir Alex is determined to put right the wrongs of last season.
Firstly, our start to the season. On the radio after the game, Ferguson mentioned how all summer the players have been talking about how important it was to race out of the blocks. United have enjoyed the luxury of having a slow start so often, and cruising to the title in the second half of the season, which just isn’t possible since the Abromovic era. So, this season has been different, and we’ve been plugging away for results since the opening day of the season. Still, after all this amazing football, United still look like they’re not in top gear yet.
Secondly, our goal scoring. Sky Sports predicted a fourth place finish for our side this year because we’d sold Ruud. Many people naively felt that Ferguson had made a big mistake here. After Ferguson announced he had dropped Ruud from the Charlton game because he was spoiling team spirit, sports Journalist of the year, Oliver Holt, said “If United want to muster more of a challenge to Chelsea next season, the last person – after Wayne Rooney – that they should be selling is van Nistelrooy. Selling him would be a huge step backwards and a massive blow to the club. Does Ferguson seriously expect anyone else to believe that the injury-prone Louis Saha is a better bet next season than a goal machine like van Nistelrooy. If he does, then his judgement is waning faster than everybody thought.” Holt also said “Ferguson thinks there is no need to buy a new forward when he rids himself of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The theory is that he will be OK with Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi. Which is fine, apart from the fact that Rooney’s got a dodgy temperament, Saha’s injury prone, Solskjaer’s played seven league games in the past three years, Smith has never been a natural goalscorer and Rossi’s not ready.” I have one sentence for Holt: 7 goals in 13 games for Saha, 6 goals in 11 games for Ole, 6 goals in 12 games for Rooney. In the sixteen games played so far this season, United have found the back of the net thirty five times, and it easily could have been a lot more.
After Ruud got sold, Giggs spoke out. “Obviously Ruud scored a lot of goals for us but this season, I will have to chip in, Paul Scholes will have to chip in and so will everyone else. Who gets the goals does not really matter providing we are getting the results.” So far, we have six goals from defenders, ten goals from midfielders, and eighteen goals from our strikers. The players have shared the burden in the absence of Ruud, and show no signs for stopping anytime soon. They look so hungry for goals. Even today against Portsmouth, when the game was won, the players were still charging forward, and still looked disappointed when they didn’t find the net. We’re playing some of the most exciting football we have done for years, not held back by having to provide balls in to the box to get a goal.
Finally, something I’ve been longing for us to see for a while, which happened finally today. Many people, United fans included, give players like John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher stick. They say they’re not good enough for United’s first team. I whole heartedly agree with this. But are they good enough for United’s squad? Sure. Fletcher this season hasn’t had a bad game when he’s been given the chance, and all the hard work he puts in when playing looks as though it’s finally paying off. Does this mean I want him in my first team? No. With the addition of Carrick, when all our midfielders are fit, there’s no longer any room of JOS and Fletch. With fifteen minutes to go against Portsmouth today, the two players were subbed on, for Rooney and Ronaldo. Perfect. This is exactly what they’re there for, and finally Ferguson took advantage of this. Play your best possible team, get the game won, then rest your best players. No arsing around like we did in Copenhagen.
The test for United doesn’t end here though, even though we’ve played two top four teams in the space of a week, as our next four games are away, travelling all the way down to Southend, then all the way up to Glasgow. Our next home game is against Chelsea. However, Hansen said something very true on Match of the Day last week. At the start of the season, United fans were hopeful of winning this league, now we believe it. We’re five games away from being half way through the season, and still we’re top of the league. The Chelsea game isn’t the decider, but it’s hugely important, and aside from the points, the psychological gain given to the winner could be crushing for the other. But United are getting things right. Ferguson has looked at our flaws and troubles of the past few seasons, and started to correct them. No, he’s not perfect, and neither are the team… but we’re getting there. Onwards and upwards.