1. A month ago today Manchester United were five points behind Manchester City at the top of the table. The blues’ had a goal difference superior to ours by 13. We are now five points clear at the top with just one goal difference, with us now having scored more than them. By the time City next play, we could be eight points clear at the top, assuming we beat QPR at home. What a turnaround. We have suffered far more injuries than them, we have spent nowhere near as much money as them, yet here we are, top of the league, and it feels bloody brilliant!
2. There were quite a few whinges from the away end last night, most likely due to the frustration we felt as time ticked on, but I thought our overall performance was pretty good. We were playing against a team which stuck eleven men behind the ball and that is difficult to infiltrate, particularly when playing just one man up top. We didn’t create as many chances as we’d like, due to their defence, but we kept the ball well and didn’t ever look like giving up. We had 73% possession in the first half, 74% in the second, and tirelessly kept bringing the ball forward. Three points well deserved.
3. Antonio Valencia, what a player. He was a constant threat last night but with few options in the box to aim at, struggled to have the impact he would have liked. Time and again he beat their left back but he couldn’t find a player to put it away. Eventually, he seemed to just shrug and think “fuck it”, before coming inside and smashing it across the goal. All night he had been linking up with Rafael, so it was fitting that the Brazilian got the assist. Some have said Robinson will feel like he should have done better from that angle. That’s a possibility but as the Blackburn player who was floored for a good minute in the second half, after blocking a Valencia shot with his face, would attest, our Tony has got a wicked shot on him and the power he gets behind the ball is incredible.
4. All night we had just been crying out for someone to get a shot away. Robinson had hardly anything to do, in contrast to David de Gea, who was called upon to make a couple of excellent saves. Goalkeeping coach Eric Steele ran on to the pitch at the final whistle to give de Gea a massive hug in celebration. Ashley Young probably felt the same frustration we did from the bench so when a half chance came to him, he took it. He received the ball with his back to goal, took one touch to turn, the smashed it just inside the post. That was the game wrapped up.
5. What I particularly enjoyed after Valencia’s goal, aside from his passionate celebration, which is somewhat of a rarity where our Ecuadorian is concerned, was seeing the most experienced players rallying the others. Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs were gripping our players and whilst you obviously couldn’t hear what they were saying, you imagine it was along the lines of “concentration now! Don’t let this one slip!”. Ferguson has talked about the importance of experience time and again and we saw it pay off again last night.
6. It was a privilege to be amongst the away support last night, who didn’t stop singing throughout the 90 minutes. “The fans were fantastic, they were unbelievable,” Ferguson said after the final whistle. “They deserve the result tonight because they never stopped, they urged us on the whole way. They almost sucked that ball in.” Song after song, we got louder as the game went on, before finally getting to sing my favourite of them all: “and now you’re gonna believe us, we’re gonna win the league!”
7. The formation was a strange one and I’m not entirely sure we wouldn’t have done better if we’d played Young from the start and gone for our usual 442. Rooney could have still dropped deeper if required but we had no options down the left wing for much of the game and this held us back. Rooney was out there sometimes, then he was centrally deep, then he was pushing forward, and it meant we lacked real shape. Even at 2-0 up, he was racing all over the field, getting in their faces, trying to prevent any counter, and this should be applauded. Having players like Rooney in your team make all the difference but I would prefer to see him playing in his proper position.
8. Phil Jones and Javier Hernandez were probably the only disappointments of the night, with neither covering themselves in glory. Hernandez rarely does well leading the line by himself, so it was strange that the manager preferred him over Danny Welbeck for this one. Jones looked lost in midfield and his first touch gave the ball away time and again. Jones received a mixed reception from his former club’s fans as he left the pitch, with some opting to boo whilst others gave a standing ovation. It can’t happen for all of the players all of the time though, so let’s hope they’ve got something to think about and work on before the weekend.
9. If you read through past reactions, you’ll see that no matter what the score is, I stick with my conviction that we’re going to win the league. Following news of Vidic’s season long injury, our entry in to the Europa League and being five points behind City, I wrote: It’s not all doom and gloom. We’ve got a good squad and we’ve got the best manager. I still think we’ll win the league, even if Vidic’s injury makes that a lot more difficult, and not having the annual Champions League quarter/semi finals to deal with in the last couple of months of the season will help with that. It should come as no surprise that now, with us five points clear at the top, I still think the title is staying at Old Trafford. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be plain sailing from here. We should all know by now that United like to do things the hard way. But our lads won’t throw this one away. “They’re cracking up, they’re cracking up, they’re cracking, City’s cracking up!” we sang last night. Whilst their players are having barneys over who is going to take a freekick, our lads are all pulling together in the same direction. This will be one of the best title wins I can remember and I couldn’t be more proud of how we have coped this season so far. Come on United!