At the beginning of the month there was talk that the club would stop playing the deafening music as the players walked out of the tunnel, in a bid to get the atmosphere going. The club gave in to this request and the ground was almost silent as the players walked out, with the exception of the Burnley fans’ singing, who are one of the few clubs to take up their full allocation. Must do better.
The first half was fairly frustrating and the unrest amongst the crowd was displayed in their reaction to what was going on down on the pitch. Nani, who played his first league game since October, was the main victim. The groans as he missed the ball when it was rolled back to him on the edge of the box summed up the general feeling.
But Nani didn’t have a bad game and the manager was wise to bring him back in to the team. Whilst he was lacking urgency in his game, jogging about the pitch when he should have been sprinting and taking too long to get a cross in, he did alright, getting better the longer he was playing. He delivered some dangerous balls in to the box and almost pulled off an audacious overhead kick.
Saturday’s match was all about the other wing though, with Antonio Valencia stood almost on the line all match. I was baffled by Burnley’s inability to respond to our clear tactics, which seemed to revolve around “give the ball to Valencia!”. When they came out in the second half and still didn’t put a man on him, I couldn’t believe our luck. He is developing in to a real player and whilst his crossing isn’t always consistent, he is great at running at players and driving the ball in to the box. My only frustration about his performance was that he didn’t have a go on goal himself. He had scored in three of our last four home games and I think he worked a good enough angle for himself on a couple of occasions to have a crack.
But then not having a go seems to be a fault with our game in general, with our players so often trying to find the ‘perfect’ option, rather than just giving it a try. Although Dimitar Berbatov, who usually is the worst culprit for trying to play a beautiful through ball, had a go twice from outside the area, which was so unlike him. He looked certain to open the scoring for United when a lovely flick left him one on one with the keeper. He pulled the ball wide though and was furious with himself. The response of the crowd was good though, with the Bulgarian putting in a decent shift up until that point. With the mood starting to turn badly against him over the past couple of weeks, it was pleasing to see a less judgemental crowd in regards to Dimitar.
He rewarded our forgiving nature with the first goal of the game, when you were just starting to wonder whether it was going to be ‘one of those days’. Our football had been fine and we certainly had been the dominant side, but we had spent the majority of the first half getting in high crosses when neither of our strikers excel at heading the ball. We played to our strengths in the second half though and were rewarded for it.
Wayne Rooney played a beautiful ball through to Berbatov, expertly using the outside of his foot to flick the ball through a crowd of Burnley players, before Berbatov struck at goal. The defender slid in to block but inadvertently lifted the ball past his keeper.
Five minutes later we made it 2-0, with Rooney scoring the goal that took him top of the Premiership scorer leaderboard. Berbatov got a powerful shot away which the goalkeeper could only parry. Rooney picked it up, and with the Stretford End urging him to put it away, patiently waited and picked his moment, taking it past his opponent and slotting it in the bottom corner. The game was won now.
It could have been a different game though, as before taking the lead, Burnley had the best chances of the game and could have been 2-0 up. I’m not entirely sure where Wes Brown and Jonny Evans went but Gary Neville was left chugging back by himself to try and put a foot in. This is not something which should ever be repeated. I would have thought Saturday would have been a good opportunity for whoever is playing right back against City to have a go. I’m hoping the manager plans to have Vidic in the centre of defence and Wes at right back, because the idea of Neville marking Bellamy/Robinho/SWP is enough to give me sleepless nights. If Rafael is going to start, he should have played on Saturday, although I relish the opportunity to see Robinho in his back pocket again (but Mancini probably knows better than to start the Brazilian, who never wanted to join City in the first place, at Old Trafford.)
The massive bonus is having Edwin Van der Sar between the posts, who showed no signs of his long term absence and wife’s illness having a negative effect on his game. He had only played in five league games before Burnley but on Saturday he looked as though he had never been away. Bravely pouncing on the ball and making correct split second decisions that worked to our benefit.
“I am not sure whether I was feeling my age or whether it was the two months away but I was a little nervous before the game,” Edwin confessed after the game, but you never would have known.
By the end of the match, we’d had 24 shots, 10 of those on target, which is a good indication of how much we dominated. Whilst the first two goals killed the game off, Mame Biram Diouf scored a third right at the end to give us a more respectable result. With Chelsea scoring seven, we could have been blown out of the water in terms of goal difference, but fortunately our three goals and the two goals they conceded means they only gained +2 on us.
Anderson, who replaced an ineffective Michael Carrick on 65 minutes, played a great ball through to Diouf who beat the offside trap to head over the keeper. Composed finish from a striker who we might be seeing more from in light of Berbatov’s knee injury.
After Birmingham away, I said we needed to get six points from our next two league games otherwise I would worry, so a solid 3-0 win is good enough. We were fortunate Burnley bottled it when their two chances came, something a better side, like Arsenal in two weeks, probably wouldn’t do. Chris Eagles had a great game and respectfully applauded the Stretford End when he left the pitch. But the likes of Arshavin and Fabregas will give us more to worry about, in what will be a six-pointer for us.
But we have to play City twice and get a result against Hull before then, something we should have more confidence in managing to do after scoring three times at the weekend.
Whilst the match started with silence, it finished with passion and anger towards the Glazer regime (and the stewards!). As the anti-Glazer chants grew in volume and ferocity, a LUHG banner was dangled over the Stretford End scoreboard. This was allowed for some time before security were informed, with the higher ranked orange jacketted staff making their way down to take away the banner. The fella with the banner legged it through the corporate side of the quadrant, leaving his mates behind to reveal a smaller LUHG banner. The security weren’t going to let these get away though and hauled them away, which incensed the crowd.
Expect more of the same in coming weeks.
WE WANT GLAZER OUT