Manchester United have come under a lot of criticism of late, from the media, from rival supporters and from our own fans. The anger and resentment we feel towards the state of the club off the pitch has lead to frustrations with our feelings at what is happening on the pitch.
There have been some disappointing results and some disappointing performances this season, like there are every season, but our desire for success and perfection has left us wanting. The media work us up in to a frenzy, trying to put across the belief that if United don’t win the league this season, we are in decline, even though us winning the league this May would make us the first English team in footballing history to win the title four years on a trot. That’s how high the expectations are now, with the whole country egging on for us to fail.
After losing 2-1 at Wastelands, I believed strongly that we would be the team to go on to Wembley. We had been the better team and had lost the game because of a ridiculous refereeing decision, something which has dogged our season so far in the big games. Awarding the penalty for Rafael’s tug on Bellamy outside the box changed the game but it also provided us with all we needed to win the second leg: Carlos Tevez.
Oh how we loved him and his work ethic. Most of us could see his flaws – the poor finishing in front of goal, his dreadful control and his bad attitude, but we could ignore that because he worked so hard, kept telling us he loved us and wanted to spend his entire career here.
So when he celebrated in front of our manager like that, whether it was meant for Sir Alex Ferguson or not, the anger and disappointment we felt was all our club needed to boot them out of the cup. At that point, there was no way our manager was going to lose to City. He already wanted that win desperately, which was demonstrated by the strength of team he put out in that first leg. But after Tevez’s behaviour, then subsequent comments in the press the week following, all designed to humiliate our manager and captain, the tie was in the bag.
With Ryan Giggs getting our goal in the first leg, it was nice that Paul Scholes got the opener in the second leg. Here we have two United through and through legends, who some have said are past their best, yet here they are scoring important goals to put us in a final. It was Giggsy who did all the hard work for Scholes’ goal too, charging past City’s back line, getting the ball in, before it fell to Scholes to strike past Shay Given. I’m struggling to remember a time when he’s celebrated a goal of his more heartily. He went pretty mental after opening the scoring against Liverpool a few seasons back on his 500th appearance for the club, but this was something else. He charged towards the Stretford End, surrounded by his ecstatic team mates, like a man possessed and I loved it.
Twenty minutes later it was starting to look as though the game was wrapped up, when Darren Fletcher’s hard work set up Michael Carrick to put us 2-0 up. The usually fairly placid midfielder was seen kissing the badge, after being ambushed by Rooney in a similar celebration to the one that followed his important goal against Wigan towards the end of last season.
A couple of minutes later Rooney should have put it totally out of reach but missed from six yards out. When Tevez scored the all important away goal that City would need after extra time to take the game to penalties, Rooney’s miss became all the more painful. He’d had a great game but we were left frustrated that he’d blown it when it really mattered.
But as if we should have ever doubted him. He came up with the goods in injury time and sent United through to the final. Giggsy whipped in a great cross which Rooney sent flying past Given.
This result was important for so many reasons. Firstly, because it means our first chance of silverware this season and the opportunity to retain the trophy we won last season. Secondly, because there has been so much talk about the power shift in Manchester in light of our huge debt and their status as The Richest Club in the World (TM) so this put our noisy neighbours in their place. And finally, because we had put an end to their hope of winning something, beating them in their first semi-final for 28 years.
We couldn’t have a better platform for another important fixture which we will play today, a game that our manager has named the most important game of our season so far. After beating Arsenal at home this season, following a less than impressive performance, to get the win today in what is an essentially a six pointer at the top, would be brilliant. Depending on the performance, we would have to be happy with a point ahead of kick-off, although a win would really set us on our way.
Antonio Valencia has been rested this week, which is great, given his positioning far out right has been successfully used in his past few games. Nani has grown in confidence following some decent performances in recent weeks and does enjoy a good game against Arsenal. Rooney is in the form of his life, currently topping the Premiership scorers leaderboard, and he often scores against the Goons. Our defence is more certain, with Van der Sar, Rafael and Jonny Evans featuring in plenty of games lately, and Nemanja Vidic is expected to fill in for the suspended Rio Ferdinand.
The last time we played at the Emirates we totally battered them and that painful experience will be lodged in their memories. But we’ve got a Premiership title to win and I really hope we give it our all. Arsenal are a quality side, but if we can stick Fletch on Fabregas all game then our chances of a win increase, with him keen to set the record straight following the criticism from Wenger.
We’ve had a great couple of weeks so let’s hope we can kick on later today and do ourselves proud.