For this month’s match of the month I was having a bit of difficulty choosing because let’s face it this month hasn’t been littered with great games for United, with us dropping points away at Newcastle and Arsenal. The FA cup provided two wins for us, the first against Villa had seen two legends of the game score for us and wrap up victory in dramatic fashion and was in with a shout but in the end I’ve gone for the game against Portsmouth as it had a bit of everything and was a great cup tie.
Leading up to the game there had been talk of Harry Redknapp repeating past success against United in this competition and when the United team sheet was announced which didn’t include VDS, Rooney, or Ronaldo in the starting line up Pompy might have fancied their chances, especially as the one man who Harry had been making special plans for in Ronaldo wasn’t even in the squad.
Portsmouth certainly started the game in positive fashion and seemed determined to give it their best shot, perhaps hoping United might a bit off song after last weeks late defeat to Arsenal, and they could have had the perfect start when Gary O’Neil went down in the United box after replacement keeper Kuszczak seemed to catch him as he knocked the ball past the oncoming Pole, thankfully the ref was having none of it and replays proved him right as they showed Kuszczak managed to knock the ball against O’Neil’s legs with his outstretched arm, but still a let off for United as many a ref could have given it.
Both teams looked up for the game and United were forcing the Pompy defence to play at the top of their game as they probed them, and they were doing a good job of keeping United out as Sol Campbell looked dominant in open play but United should have broken the deadlock in the 14th minute when Vidic underlined his aerial ability by getting above Campbell at a corner and getting a header on goal, the ball seemed to cross the line after James got a hand to it and Pedro Mendes (yes we know, how ironic) hacked it clear and United were denied a goal.
United continued to press for the rest of the half with Carrick winning a header at another corner but directing it at James who saved easily, Park inches away from connecting properly with an great cross from Evra, and Giggs crossing just behind Larsson after robbing Johnson. United were on top but couldn’t capitalise and Portsmouth still might have fancied their chances with their defence looking solid (apart from the master toilet seat thief Johnson) and luck seemingly on their side.
The second half picked up where first left off with United on the front foot and Pompy still in with a chance a nicking a goal with Andy Cole wasting a decent chance early on and once again the away team had lady luck on their side when 10 minutes into the second half Larsson showed the type of intelligent movement and clinical finishing United brought him in for when he got on the end of Red Nev’s lovely flick pass and he volleyed home superbly, unfortunately the linesman got it wrong and flagged him offside, just what did United need to do in order to win this game?!?!?!? Well as it turns out they needed to bring “The White Pele” on, after 60 minutes he was introduced as Ole departed and he gave Pompy a whole new set of problems. For a while Pompy held on and David James was stopping anything that got past the defence like making a good save off a Scholesey drive from outside the box.
The game entered the last 20 minutes and if we were to believe a certain someone then United should have been tired and Pompy would have at least been looking at a draw and a replay but instead we kept going and eventually Uniteds’ patience and quality told when Larsson played in Giggs who drove into the box and squared the ball for Rooney to tap into an empty net, they couldn’t disallow that one.
United had been in control all game and should have been out of sight but they were only one up and needed a second to seal it and boy did they get one, Neville played the ball into Rooney who had picked up his usual position outside the box, as he turned and weighed his options few would have had the vision to spot the opening he saw and even fewer would have had the audacity and skill to carry it off, he shaped to smash one but instead floated a perfect chip over the rooted David James’ head and grazed the underside of the bar as the ball found the back of the net, a wonderful goal and hopefully a sign of what’s to come from him in the rest of the season. Pompy managed to pull one back as Mendes hit a Lampard-esque shot which hit Kanu on the way in and sent Kuszczak the wrong way but they never really threatened to draw level and Park should have bagged one late on when he got in behind but he never really got the ball under control and ended up fluffing the chance.
Overall it was an entertaining game with plenty to talk about and it showed that United are still in good form (now if we could just show it against the top teams) and will be hard to dislodge from their top spot in the prem if they can keep everyone fit. Giggs looked really sharp and I think he’s benefited from Park being back and having a little rest, Evra had another marauding game and looked good going forward and of course Rooney was great off the bench and seems to have got the confidence back that allows him to try things like his second goal and I’m sure we’re all hoping that he can carry this into the rest of the season and aid our title push. The one concern is that our defence looked a bit shaky at times and once again we failed to keep a clean sheet (none in 7 matches now) but hopefully with VDS back against Watford we can cut out the mistakes and get back to the mean streak we had early in the season.
Manchester United: Kuszczak, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Park, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs (Fletcher 85), Solskjaer (Rooney 60), Larsson
Portsmouth: James, Johnson, Primus, Campbell, Lauren, Taylor, O’Neil, Hughes (Douala 82), Mendes, Kranjcar (Mwaruwari 80), Cole (Kanu 62)
Man of the Match: Ryan Giggs, he looked fresh and sharp after being given a bit of a rest and if we can keep him in this sort of condition he’ll be another vital piece of our team in the coming months. His work rate was first class and his running caused Pompy all sorts of trouble, I was half expecting another FA cup wonder goal from him when he set off on that run from in our half and skinned those first two players before Hughes brought him down for the only yellow of the game. I also thought his delivery from corners was better than usual as he rarely hit the front post which gave the likes of Vidic and Carrick two good opportunities to score and he was just a constant thorn in Portsmouths’ side, keep it up Ryan.
Written by Redom