Do you remember the days whenever the opposition got in to our half, you felt nervous? I’m not talking about that long ago. The 2004-2005 season was probably when it was at its worse. Our midfield was easily bypassed, with Kieran Richardson, Alan Smith and Darren Fletcher not up to the job, but our defence was alright. Mikael Silvestre left us with our hearts in our mouths at times, but Rio Ferdinand, Gabriel Heinze, Wes Brown and Gary Neville could do a job for us.
But if the ball got behind the defence, heaven help us. I remember tensing every time one of our players even passed it back to the goalie. Whether it was Tim Howard or Roy Carroll the manager had opted for that day, I didn’t want the ball anywhere near either of them.
Carroll played in 2/3 of the league games that season, Howard in the remaining 1/3 with Ferguson chopping and changing between two dependent on who looked the most shaky. The epitome of this indecision was the games against AC Milan in the last 16. We lost the first leg at Old Trafford after Carroll let a Clarden Seedorf shot pounce off his chest in to Hernan Crespo’s path to score. Howard got drafted in for the second leg but the scoreline was repeated after Howard just watched Crespo’s header sail past him.
By the end of the season, with United playing Arsenal in the FA Cup final, Carroll was definitely the favourite. After battering them for two hours and it coming down to penalties, I was certain the manager would use our last substitution to bring on Howard for Carroll, whose reactions were more impressive. But it wasn’t to be, Carroll didn’t come close to saving, and we lost. I’m not blaming that defeat on Carroll but merely pointing out what a total farce our goalkeeping situation was that season, with them being swapped when they shouldn’t and kept in goal when they should have been dropped. It was a shambles and made what was already a depressing season fairly unbearable.
As West Brom levelled the score yesterday, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I would have one looked like one of those dopes the Sky Sports camera zoom in on, hands covering my mouth and eyes wild. Van der Sar couldn’t have just spilled that cross, could he? We looked to the linesman, the referee, the players… anyone to give some clue that the goal hadn’t stood, for whatever reason. But that was desperation. Of course the goal stood and it was, like Ferguson said, an inexplicable mistake.
I’m not going to get on Edwin’s case though because the guy is worth lots of points a season in terms of the saves he makes that he couldn’t be expected to. My heart went out to him as the clock ticked down and he stood on the edge of his box, watching the players down the other end, urging them to score and let him off the hook. It was fairly painful. I love the big guy and it will have been excruciating for him when that final whistle went.
But that is the worst mistake he has ever made by a long way. Trying to scan back, there was that poor use of judgement at Anfield a few years back when he came charging out to push a cross in to Wes which resulted in an own goal. That was pretty dreadful. But the fact it’s so difficult to think of his clangers indicates how rare they are.
Gutted about yesterday, gutted that Van der Sar made that mistake, but it emphasised to me just how far we’ve come… and just how important it is for us to get his replacement right!