So here we are, the last game of the season, and United need three points against Stoke to stand a chance of winning the title. Jon Owen from the Stoke City website, Why Delilah, has given me a few minutes to have a chat about the game ahead. Truth be told, Stoke fans haven’t left the best impression on me in our few meetings over the past couple of years but Jon is honest and humble in his assessment of our teams and it helps we have a shared enemy in Arsene Wenger!
Scott the Red: Who has been your best player this season?
Jon Owen: There’s quite a few candidates in this category – definitely a good sign! If I was pushed I’d go for Matthew Etherington. He signed from West Ham in January 2009 and has given us genuine Premier League quality. He won player of the season last week and despite an injury hampering his season, he has been excellent, both providing and scoring goals. People may laugh but when you see Stewart Downing being picked for England, I think Matty deserves a chance. He wouldn’t look out of place. Other mentions have to go to Ryan Shawcross, who seems to be getting better and better, Robert Huth, who has been a great signing for £5m, and Ricardo Fuller, who we always miss when he doesn’t play.
STR: Which of your players has surprised you the most this season?
JO: Dean Whitehead. He signed from Sunderland for £5m in the summer and most fans weren’t exactly jumping for joy. For the first couple of months he really didn’t look any better than what we’ve already got. But since the turn of the year, he’s been “let out of the cage” a bit more and has become an all action midfielder. If he’d played similar in the first half of the season to the second, he would have been nailed on to be our player of the season.
STR: If there was any player in United’s squad you could have, with the exception of Rooney, who would it be?
JO: Ronaldo. I mean Tevez! Sorry haha! I’ve been hugely impressed by Valencia and he looks like he’ll be even better next season. The right side of midfield has been a problem position for us this season too. If I could choose another one, I’d go for Giggs. I’ve seen him twice at the Britannia and he has changed the game with passing like I’ve never seen before. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen “live.”
STR: Yeh Valencia has had a great first season at United and it’s nice to see some recognition of Giggs’ ability even now. I’m glad you mentioned Ronaldo too. Your fans have seemed fairly obsessed with him the past couple of seasons and tended to spend more time singing about him than singing about Stoke when we’ve played. Will you miss him this weekend?
STR: Well, he certainly enjoyed scoring against you in response! Stoke haven’t scored against United since joining the Premiership. Fancy your chances this weekend?
JO: Probably not. It’ll be ten men behind the ball with Fuller upfront chasing and harassing your defence. Maybe we’ll sneak one from a Rory throw in. We haven’t really tested your lot from our famous throw ins have we?!
STR: The Delap throw-in was pretty enjoyable last season actually. After 70,000+ people joined in cheering the build up and then cheered even louder when it amounted to nothing, Delap bottled it and stopped with the long ‘uns. Still, United need to stop the throw-ins again and hope desperately that the three points is enough to win us the league. Who would you prefer to win it?
JO: Well Chelsea embarrassing us in front of the cameras a couple of weeks ago, I’d be inclined to say Manchester United. To be fair, I’m not too fussed who wins it. If I had to choose? I’d go for United seeing as they’re closer to us geographically!
STR: Good man. The Chelsea battering was obviously a low point, but do you think Stoke have had a good season overall?
JO: An outstanding season. We’ve managed to gain 47 points, two more than last season, which is a brilliant achievement. There have been blips, what with the 7-0 defeat to Chelsea and reports of dressing room bust ups. But nobody said it was going to be easy. We’ve built a decent platform to build on and that’s thanks to chairman Peter Coates and manager Tony Pulis.
STR: One of the blips could arguably be the hammering that Stoke got in the press after playing Arsenal. What did you make of Shawcross vs Ramsey?
JO: It was a complete accident. Nobody wants to see that sort of thing happen. You saw Shawcross’s reaction. He was devastated. Luckily, he looks to have come back the same player and Wenger’s comments haven’t affected him.
STR: Yeh, Wenger accused your players of deliberately going out to hurt the opposition rather than going out to win the ball. What do you think of this?
JO: Utter rubbish. And he can talk! What about Gallas’ challenge on Davies in the Bolton game earlier this season? Stoke are a fair, honest, and hard working side. But to accuse us if trying to intentionally injure the opposition is rubbish. Tackles are part of football and Wenger needs to realise that. Anyone else think he’s past his best, anyway?
STR: Well, he hasn’t won anything for five years and could even finish behind Spurs if they don’t beat Fulham at the weekend, which of course I would be devastated about… And finally, what are your predictions for the weekend?
JO: I think you’ll win 2-0. Vidic and Berbatov.
STR: There aren’t many reds backing Berbatov to score! But he did open the scoring against you at your place and I would love to see him to do the same on Sunday. Although, it could go in off O’Shea arse and I’d still be happy! Your atmosphere wasn’t up to much but I have no doubt the travelling support will be lively enough this weekend! Cheers.