Ahead of kick-off, I had hoped the feelings the lads must have endured in the dressing room following the Blackburn draw would be enough to wake them up to what was at stake on Saturday.
It worked. It’s been a long season, so feel free to shout out if I’ve got it wrong, but I think our passing against Spurs was the best I’ve seen all season. Patrice Evra and Nani were having a laugh down the left flank. Lovely little one-twos then perfect chips over the covering defenders. Rafael and Valencia weren’t far behind them. I heard a few people afterwards saying it wasn’t a great game but I thoroughly enjoyed the football we played. Seeing our lads bombing down the wings was just like the good old days and I loved it.
After dominating much of the play in the first half, the first on target shot fell to Spurs, with Roman Pavlyuchenko getting a rush of blood after half an hour and firing straight at Edwin Van der Sar from 30 yards or more out.
This seemed to wake United up a bit and we started to look more lethal in front of goal. Patrice Evra played a ball in to the box which fell to Dimitar Berbatov, but Ledley King made a great block to prevent the goal.
Then there was one of those nice bits of interlinking play between Rafael and Valencia, although like at Blackburn, when Tony wasted our best chance of the game by striking the ball straight to the keeper, he did the same here against Gomes. It was a rare moment when Berbatov was actually justified in throwing a hissy fit at his team mate, as he was placed in a much better position.
Rafael was involved in our attack yet again, leaving his marker on the deck with a nice bit of skill, before crossing in to the box. The ball fell just behind Berbatov, but he controlled it with his first touch and gave it some welly. It was just over the bar though and another source of frustration for our Bulgarian.
Our next attack came from the left, with Evra playing in a ball to Berbatov, who headed down straight in to the path of Darren Fletcher who was just a couple of yards out. The ball went through his legs though and it was another chance missed.
Spurs then had a rare dangerous attack on the back of our miss, with Wilson Palacios riding off fouls from Rafael and Fletch to get a shot away. It was an awkward few seconds as Van der Sar sprawled out and the ball seemed to swerve away from him, but it was easy enough for him in the end.
Jermaine Defoe did nothing and was replaced by Eidur “Chelsea rent boy” Gudjohnsen and the last thing we wanted were headlines of a former blue doing them a favour.
Fortunately, it was us who reacted and just moments later we were 1-0 up. Berbatov, who had played a part in pretty much all our attacks up until this point, picked up the ball just inside our half and charged down the left wing away from Assou-Ekotto. He then brought the ball inside, shrugging his defender off, before delivering a neat little back-heel to Evra. The defender went to ground, got nothing on the ball and the referee had no choice but to award a penalty.
“Who’s going to take it?” was the murmur of thousands around Old Trafford, with Ryan Giggs and Nani seemingly the favourites. I watched Nani take a great penalty at the Audi Cup this summer but it came as no surprise that Giggsy used his captaincy and “elder statesman” status to make the decision that he would take it. Gomes is a handy keeper and saved two penalties from Darren Bent, the third highest scorer in the league, earlier this month.
Giggs went to the left and Gomes went the same way but it was placed deep in to the corner. Bizarrely, the Match of the Day commentator claimed it was the most important penalty of Giggs’ career. We already know he has never taken one in the league before so that doesn’t leave us with very many. Still, I would argue our last penalty in sudden death against Chelsea in the European Cup final was slightly more important, given that we were named Champions of Europe moments later when Nicolas Anelka missed. Honestly, you wonder how some people pick up a salary sometimes.
United went looking for that second goal and kept on pressing. The sight of Aaron Lennon coming off the subs bench with just over an hour played was enough to make Evra throw up and our Frenchman made a quick exit down the tunnel minutes later. John O’Shea dealt with the nippy winger pretty well though, which means he deserves some credit, but Lennon is still coming back from injury. We greeted him with a round of “we all hate Leeds scum” though, just to make sure he felt welcome.
However, much to our disappointment, a lovely Spurs move resulted in a goal with twenty minutes to go. Modric played a great ball out to Gareth Bale on the left, whose cross was blocked by Rafael. From the resulting corner, King outjumped Michael Carrick, who didn’t leave the ground (probably because King had his hands on both his shoulders) and saw Rafael dive out of the way to let it go in. Rafael was stood on the post vacated by the puking Evra and instead of standing still and keeping the ball out, Rafael tried to clear a head-height ball with his foot. Van der Sar looked at our little Brazilian like he had lost his damn mind. It was a blot on what had otherwise been a brilliant game for Rafael, defensively as well as going forward, and hopefully another lesson learnt.
Sir Alex Ferguson then made an attacking substitution, bringing on Federico Macheda for Rafael, and it had an immediate impact. There was some good work between Fletcher, now at right back, and Nani, before Macheda played Nani in with a perfectly weighted ball. Confronted with Gomes, our Portuguese winger dinked the ball over the keeper perfectly and celebrated like it meant everything to him. He was almost as happy as Rafael!
Moments later Spurs were looking fairly dangerous in our box. Peter Crouch dragged his shot wide of the post, followed by shouts of “FREEEAAAK!” from the crowd, before Gudjohnsen and Crouch scrambled around in the box before Paul Scholes booted it clear.
Then to wrap up the points, Nani picked up the ball at the half way line and ran at speed in to the box. He wrong-footed Dawson before Palacious tried to mount him. Who knows what he was thinking? Nani went to ground and the referee again had to award a pen.
Was Nani going to claim it for himself? Nope. Giggs was still on the pitch and he was still wearing the captain’s arm band, so it was his. He held his nerve and booted it in the other corner, the keeper again guessed the direction, but it was again too close to the post to be saved.
It was a good day for United. We played well, we picked up a vital three points, we beat what I hope will be a top four side in a fortnight’s time, and we went top of the table. Pretty incredible considering we were without our one man, who should be back by Stoke, but who I wouldn’t rule out from playing against Sunderland.
Our attacking down the wings was brilliant and something I hope we see more of in our remaining two games. We can stretch our opponents this way and then leave space in the centre of the park for Scholes to work his magic.
Berbatov, love him or hate him, had a very good game and played a very positive role. Not only was he taking chances for himself and creating chances for others, he showed some of the work ethic our fans have been crying out for. On several occasions he chased down the ball as it rolled back towards the keeper and generally did more of the ‘running about’ we want. Anybody a mind reader? Who has money on Berbatov’s thoughts being something like: “Here I go, wasting energy, chasing down balls which will have no impact… but it will keep the fans happy.” Who cares? I’m happier to see more of this in his game because it means all the parts of his game I enjoy the most will be appreciated by more of us. MOTD had a nice little feature on his contribution (17 mins) and he needs to build on this.
It’s funny to think we could be relying on Liverpool to win our 19th title but I will happily cheer those scouse bastards on next weekend. I’ll put on a curly wig, grow a nasty little moustache and wear a shell suit, I’m not arsed, whatever it takes for the vermin to go for a draw. Then we have to beat Sunderland and Stoke and if we don’t, we don’t deserve the league anyway. Simple.
Squeaky bum time at it’s finest. COME on reds.