At the final whistle yesterday I said that the title race was over. I was so frustrated with our performance and the tetchy atmosphere in the crowd added to our out of sorts feelings. You watch your team dominate a game away from home but then struggle to remember the saves their keeper has had to make and you’re left to wonder where it’s all gone wrong.
It was apparent from the start that there was a gulf in class between the two teams but it would all be about whether we could break them down.
Our first chance of the game came when Federico Macheda played in Antonio Valencia from the right (2.48). The angle was tight but the winger lashed a shot away and Paul Robinson made a good save to keep him out.
Our best chance over the 90 minutes and one which should have resulted in a goal came when Dimitar Berbatov played in Valencia behind the Blackburn defence, leaving him one on one with Robinson (3.56). The keeper made a poor clearance, Berbatov held off the foul from his opponent, before slotting the ball between two defenders. Valencia had the option of Macheda to his left but went for goal, only to see the outstretched foot of the keeper turning the ball away. For a player who is so capable and confident when it comes to striking the ball with power, we will have to rue his decision to attempt to side foot it past the keeper.
Maybe it’s occasions like these which separate challengers from Champions, split second chances which win or lose a football game.
After that, we just created half chances. Nani did well in the second half to beat his man, before the linesman waved his flag for a freekick. He whipped the ball in past any United player but the rebound fell to Berbatov who struck the ball on target, only to see it blocked by Phil Jones. It then fell to Darron Gibson who hit it well wide.
Nani then delivered the ball from the other wing with Valencia our only man in the box, although he swung awkwardly and appealed for a penalty that would never be awarded. Why only Valencia was in the box is the puzzle though, with Berbatov, our only striker, being the player to pass to Nani in the first place. Why wasn’t Berbatov waiting in the box? Because when he waited nothing came to him? Because the manager has instructed him otherwise? It’s a bizarre situation.
Substitute Ji-Sung Park injected a bit of life in to the game and powered through in to the box. He was knocked off balance by one defender before another slid in and took his foot away. It happened just outside the box but he stumbled inside. Maybe the referee was worried he may have to award a penalty if he awarded a foul, so wasn’t interested, but he did have a good view of it.
Paul Scholes found Gary Neville with a great forward ball. He headed it back across the box to Berbatov who stood just inside the area. He hit it well first time and had it gone either side of the keeper, it would have been a certain goal. Sadly, he fired it straight at Robinson. Having been booed for ten minutes or so prior to this by sections of his own support, it was clear he was feeling the pressure, and the only real chance that his team mates created for him over the 90 minutes resulted in an easy save for the English goalie. How things could have been different.
Moments later, a ball bounced over a Blackburn head and Berbatov opted to strike first time from outside the area, but it was miles wide, and he turned his back angrily, huffing and puffing.
Ji-Sung Park got in to a good position but tried a little stepover and a pass instead of getting a shot away. The ball fell to Gary Neville, of all people, who pulled his weak shot wide of the post. It was frustration after frustration on a day we couldn’t afford them.
Our players simply weren’t good enough. The defence dealt with what they had to, but there wasn’t much pressure on them, but our midfield and strikeforce didn’t do enough. Ferguson played Macheda in a 442, as many of us had wanted to see in the absence of Rooney, and it didn’t work because Macheda didn’t do anything. So then we reverted to 451 which also didn’t work because Berbatov didn’t play well enough, doesn’t suit leading the line, and was utterly demoralised thanks to the behaviour of our fans.
Nani did a job, Valencia was disappointing, Scholes didn’t have much to offer and Ryan Giggs contributed nothing. How many good balls in to the box did we see? What did Macheda or Berbatov have to latch on to? It was just poor all round.
I’ve said all season, whether we’ve been top of the table or third, winning the league isn’t our God-given right and for us to win the title this season would mean we were achieving something no other team ever has done before. It shouldn’t be our expectation that United win the league every year. Still, dealing with the reality of that is easier said than done. We can say we can’t win the league every season but that doesn’t mean we’re not gutted every season we don’t win it.
But there’s still 12 points for us to play for, 15 points for Chelsea, so we can’t rule anything out. As it stands, we need to win all our games whilst Chelsea lose one, draw one and win the others. Or we could win all our remaining games, Chelsea draw two and win the rest, and we have to make up the goal difference.
The odds are stacked against us, no denying it, but there’s no point chucking in the towel just yet. Stranger things have happened. Chelsea have to go to White Hart Lane (5th) and Anfield (6th) yet, as well as playing Bolton (15th), Stoke (10th) and Wigan (17th). Is it too hard to imagine they could draw two of those games? Course not.
I’m not deluding myself or trying to convince you of anything, rather just trying to get a bit of perspective. We talked about how right now was the best and worst part of the season, with incredible pressure making any game hard to enjoy right now, but the promise of glory making it worthwhile. How I see it, things can become a lot more enjoyable, because we have nothing to expect now. It is Chelsea’s title to throw away, not ours to win, so sit back and relax and see what happens. If we don’t win it, then of course, we’ll be gutted, but we’ve already got one trophy in the bag and we’ve got next season to look forward to, with our players hurting from this season and striving to do better in the next.
We’ll never die.