When Manchester United took to the field in Valencia on Wednesday night it was in the knowledge they’d already qualified for the next round of the Champions League and that’s exactly how they played, like a team with nothing to win rather than nothing to lose.
The unfortunate twist in the sorry tale, that had many of the assembled United fans leaving well before the final whistle, was that the Reds could have finished top of the group after Young Boys unexpectedly gained a win over Juventus.
As is the story of United’s season though, it was farce followed by frustration and more farce as the Reds began the game like it was a training exercise before being schooled by a Valencia team who at least looked like they had a bit of pride in their performance.
Yet there was one moment of relief in an otherwise frustrating game, a goal that will go down in history as one to add the pantheon of great finishes in a United shirt, rivalling the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Denis Law and Cristiano Ronaldo in the exquisiteness of its finish.
Phil Jones’s own goal was indeed a thing of beauty and deserves to go down as another example of the defenders’ dedication to the not only the Red cause but also the cause of comedy, football is nothing if not entertainment and no player understands that better than Phil. Other players would do well to follow his example, many at United actually are.
Let’s take a look at Phil’s top five best moments in a Red shirt.
5. Heading a ball – downwards. That’s already on the floor. Arsenal (H) 2015.
When Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud went through on goal at Old Trafford, one can imagine all sorts of things ran through his mind. Glory against one of the Gunners’ latter day rivals, the adulation of Arsenal fans, scoring a goal at the Theatre of Dreams, the scene of some of Arsenal’s greatest highs and lowest ebbs. What he won’t have imagined is a burly bloke from Blackburn with a questionable IQ trying to head the ball down into the ground.
Like much of Jones’s exploits in a United shirt, it was unorthodox but in many ways got the job done.
The defender explains: “The only thing I could do was improvise and try to head the ball away, because Giroud was through on goal, it looked silly at the time but it did the job.
Looking back on it, it was the slipping and trying to get up stage that was the funny part.
All my mates take the mick out of me for it.”
We are all your mates, Phil.
4. The worst penalty in the history of association football. Sunderland (H) 2014.
If ever a game summed up United’s time under David Moyes it was the League Cup semi-final second leg against Sunderland. With the Mackems winning the first leg 2-1 at the Stadium of Light United needed to win by two goals to ease through to the final, a task that should have been relatively easy even for a team managed by the Hapless One.
After all, despite United having their own problems, Sunderland were an absolute car crash of a team, seemingly doomed to relegation and with a side that was made up of United players deemed surplus to requirements, a future sex offender, someone who once killed a woman in his car and Lee Cattermole.
The Reds looks to be heading out after Phil Bardsley’s late extra time goal made it 3-2 to the visitors on aggregate before Javier Hernandez, still remembering that the objective at United was to actually try and win games scored a late, late winner.
So to the penalties and to be fair to Jones, Danny Welbeck set the tone for the Reds with a penalty that should have brought about his immediate transfer to a League One side, or somewhere less challenging.
When Jones stepped up Adnan Januzaj and Welbeck had already missed, heaping pressure on the defender’s sturdy shoulders.
When Jones ran up it was almost as if someone had tied a piece of elastic from his back to the Stretford End as he seemed to stop slightly before he got to the ball and almost had to stretch to kick the ball, it was baffling and his shot still hasn’t landed all these years later. United of course went out, Moyes was eventually sacked, but Phil, our Phil, remains forever Red.
3. ‘Tackling’ Jordan Henderson. Liverpool (A) 2015.
It’s easy to bash Phil Jones, unless of course you are Phil Jones in which case you’d probably miss, fall over and injure yourself, but let’s not forget the defender has been at United for over seven years and its not been all bad. In 2015 the Reds went to Anfield under Louis van Gaal, facing a team that had come within a slip of winning the title the previous season, dismantling United at Old Trafford in the process. Van Gaal’s United were different to David Moyes’s United in the sense that it was the dross the Dutchman couldn’t beat, while the likes of City and Liverpool often proved easy fodder.
United’s performance at Anfield was one of the best displays the Reds have put on in the past five years, they simply played the home team off the park and the 2-1 scoreline flattered Liverpool. The game will be remembered for Juan Mata’s wonder strike and Steven Gerrard’s 38 second cameo, but it was Jones who arguably contributed to that sending off more than anyone else, other than perhaps Ander Herrera. In the first half Jones channelled his inner Norman Whiteside going through Jordan Henderson like he was Steve McMahon.
The crowd were incensed, Jones looked bemused and Gerrard watched from the sidelines fuming, as the referee failed to send the United man off and Henderson limped on. No doubt the Liverpool club captain was dying to get stuck in, thankfully he’d get the chance.
2. Scoring a stunner for Valencia. Valencia (A) 2018.
Picture the scene, it’s half-time in Valencia and United are 1-0 down, with Juventus struggling against Young Boys, the Reds have the chance to top the group, avoiding a difficult draw for the next round. Jose Mourinho gives a team talk to his embattled troops.
“If you get the ball and you’re through on goal, shrug off your opponent, open up your body and place it past the keeper” and that’s exactly what Jones did.
There’s own goals and there’s a Phil Jones own goal. Wednesday’s game against Valencia saw the defender score a goal that was worthy of any striker. Jones doesn’t deserve criticism he should be praised for such a wonderful piece of finishing, as soon as he works out which way we’re shooting, he’ll be golden.
1. Sir Alex Ferguson loses the plot. Aston Villa (H) 2013.
Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we say things we regret, ‘I love you’ ‘yes that’s fine just buy it’ ‘of course we should have a fourth child’ and this gem for Sir Alex Ferguson:
“Jones arguably the way he is looking could be our best ever player.”
In Sir Alex’s defence the Reds had just lifted title number 20 and Jones wasn’t quite the disaster he’s become labelled since those glory days, but one has to question how much Ferguson had been on in the celebratory wine to claim Jones would turn out to be better than George Best, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton or even Jonny Evans.