Sitting in my seat, singing along to ‘This is the One’ in my head and awaiting the boys to appear out of the tunnel, it was like we had never been away. The pitch was perfect, even at the goalmouths, and the colours around the ground were brighter than I remembered, like always. I love being there. I had thought long and hard over renewing, and whatever the implications that come with doing that, it can’t take away that feeling of being inside the ground on the first day of the season to welcome our lads on to the pitch.
The Stretford End were in full voice, browsing through our song collection, showing off even, going through the current players and offering up our praise. By the end of the night we’d sung for Keano, Cantona and Solskjaer too, as well giving a couple of choruses of ‘cheer up Alan Shearer’. In contrast, the Newcastle away support gave the impression of a time warp. Has it only been a season they’ve been in the Championship? ‘USA!’ was their favourite ditty of the night, embarrassing. Their poor attempts at wind up received sarcastic applause from around the ground. Although Rooney was on the end of some ‘you fat bastard!’ (I take it they haven’t seen Sol Campbell?) and they also told us that they support their local team. Christ, talk about inventive!
As for the match, United were in control from start to finish, although some sloppy passing could have cost us against a better side. We’ll put it down to opening day jitters, but Nani, Fletch, O’Shea and Scholes were all guilty of almost landing us in hot water. Fortunately, whoever took a shot for Newcastle were drawn towards Edwin Van der Sar, with all their on target efforts going directly to him.
It was Dimitar Berbatov who opened the scoring up for United, getting on the end of a pass from Paul Scholes through the defence. Antonio Valencia had won back possession for United just outside the box, leaving Scholesy to work his magic, before Berbatov, from an onside position, drilled the ball low and hard in to the goal.
It was an impressive evening for the Bulgarian, in terms of his all round contribution, with him coming deep to collect the ball and then picking out the direction for where our next attack would go. This is a job which is usually fulfilled almost exclusively by Scholes when he is on the pitch, but it was shared between the two last night.
Berbatov should have done better in front of goal on a couple of other occasions, and whilst I don’t think he should have scored five last night like the manager claimed, he could have had a hattrick. The way I see it, Rooney misses a handful of good chances most times he plays, but fortunately he puts a goal or two in as well. Last night Berbatov did exactly the same, but in future, of course we’d like to see him get a few more goals to his name.
Whilst the man of the match is a toss up between Berbatov and Scholes, I was very impressed with Nani in the first half. Whilst the Portuguese winger told RoM a few months back that he didn’t mind which wing he played down, as long as he played, it is obvious he is better suited to the right flank. However, alongside Evra on the left last night, he put in a great shift and he really posed a threat. So much so, they were sticking two men on him as time went on, just as Ronaldo used to put up with, which gives us more space around the pitch. There was one moment where he had three men around him but was flicking the ball up, bringing it down, keeping possession before delivering a perfect ball in to the box. If it had resulted in a goal, we would have been seeing replays of it all season.
It was just one of many lovely link-ups between the two which lead to our second goal, with Nani slotting the ball between the two defenders for Evra to run on to. He smashed it across the face of goal, Rooney got a touch, before Fletch swivelled and blasted it in from close range. Fletch, United for life, loves scoring. Particularly in light of Wenger’s comments about him being ‘anti-football’, Fletch has shown increasingly how creative he can be and also wants to get in to dangerous goal-scoring positions. There are a whole host of examples, but last season at the San Siro stands out for me, with Fletch playing some inch perfect balls forward for Rooney to score from against AC Milan. He’s not just some tough tackling terrier, there’s a lot to his game, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more goals and assists from him this year.
It was important to get the second goal before half-time, to make sure there was no talk of ‘you’re just 1-0 down at Old Trafford lads, we can do anything in the next half’ during the half-time team talk. They knew it was game over, it was more about damage limitation now. They got the ball wide at times or up to their lone striker Carroll, but there was no support there, with Vidic and Evans looking fairly casual when taking the ball off them on the edge of the box time and again.
Rooney had the ball in the back of the net minutes before he was subbed off. The offside flag had already been put up against Evra, something which looked very tight from the stands, before Rooney rolled it in to the goal. We’d sang song after song for Wayne, making sure there’s no doubt in his mind how much we appreciate him, regardless what those goons who follow England think of him, but it was his replacement, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez that was being cheered on as much as Wazza was being clapped off. There’s so much excitement about this lad and he’s so popular amongst the fans already. We were desperate to see him score and it looked like his dream home début was set up for him when racing past the backline. The flag was shown, I’ve since been told he was just off, but he looked on from where I was sat! (predictably!!) Beating the offside trap is something he’ll have lots of problems with this season, given that offside decisions are based on judgement, and most linesman will judge it impossible for him to be so far away from the backline of defence if he was onside when the ball was played. Their judgement will be wrong because this kid is lightning fast.
Nani was shown great appreciation as he went off, with him becoming the player we all wanted him to be, but so many of us thought never possible, and was replaced by Ryan Giggs. He was on the field for about ten minutes before wrapping up the points for United, latching on to a Scholes’ ball. On the volley he hit the ball in to the ground with his left foot, and watched it bounce in to the bottom corner. They have a combined aged of 70-years-old but have still got it.
My only whinge is probably the freekicks, with United having several freekicks from good positions, but regardless of who took them, they were pretty poor. Rooney and Nani hit the wall, before Giggsy blasted his miles over. Must do better.
All in all, it was a good performance and result for United. There was talk ahead of kick-off about amassing an impressive goal difference, to match Chelsea, but that is ridiculous. At this stage of the season, we want points on the board, we want competent displays and we want to avoid injury. We did just that and it’s so far so good for United.