I got on to the concourse just in time to catch the Chelsea game from the 89th minute onwards. After Villa had gone 2-1 up I thought at best Chelsea would score an injury time equaliser, at worst, an injury time winner but kept my fingers crossed they would drop points regardless.
There was a roar at the final whistle before then pouring up the steps in to our seats in anticipation it what could be a table topping result.
United were on them from the start so it was no real surprise when we went 1-0 up on five minutes. Patrice Evra played a great ball in to the box which Michael Owen met with his head. Zat Knight somehow managed to direct this off-target attempt in to the back of his own net.
Less than half an hour later Antonio Valencia had doubled our lead and it looked to be game over. Gary Neville rolled back the years with his sprint down the right to help out Valencia and neatly pushed the ball back to the winger with the outside of his boot, setting up the Ecuadorian perfectly for his first Manchester United goal.
As Michael Owen dragged a shot wide just after half-time, I said the fateful words: “Today should be an opportunity for us to boost our goal difference.” You can blame me, I tempted fate, and that is why we missed chance after chance and spent the last ten minutes of the match fearing a Bolton equaliser.
I want Owen to do well so badly, not because I give a shit less about his World Cup place, in fact, I would rather he stayed at home and left England fans with one less United player to blame it on when it all goes wrong, but to prove the manager right. I was amongst the incredulous fans wondering what the fuck the manager was thinking about when Michael Owen was pictured at Carrington, having spent the past ten years thinking Owen was a horrible scouse twat. But to learn that Owen agreed to a very modest contract with incentives to score goals and play well, to hear how fondly he speaks about the club and manager, and to see how he celebrated that late winner on derby day, has certainly helped start to change my opinion of him.
So whenever Owen is on the ball inside the box I’m urging him to score. He had two great chances yesterday and he didn’t take either of them and that is frustrating, but it is one of those things. On another day he would have scored both of them but there’s no point making a big song and dance about it. That goal against City has bought a lot more time to prove himself as far as I’m concerned.
It was Owen’s strike partner, Dimitar Berbatov, who pulled all the strings though. After a few silly mistakes early on, maybe the result of the late nights he will be having as a new dad, Berbatov wowed the fans. The tide is definitely turning. The Stretford End sang his song several times yesterday indicating that his talent is finally being recognised on a much larger scale than it has been previously.
Berbatov keeps the ball brilliantly, regardless of how many players are around him, and he pretty much always plays the most intelligent pass. A lovely little flick to Giggs’ should have set up a Jonny Evans goal but Jaaskelainen saved brilliantly, with a performance which has the masses questioning why a keeper who is that good is at Bolton.
Ryan Giggs, who has today been short-listed in to the top 30 players in Europe, had yet another brilliant game. Last season I scoffed at claims that Giggs was better than ever. Yeh, he had a really good season, but to compare Giggs then with Giggs at his peak was insulting. Whilst I’d still argue the standard a young Ryan Giggs set is still higher than his current level, our Welsh winger certainly has added strengths to his game that he didn’t have when he was younger. But he is making the difference for us at the moment so we have to hope that the knock which will probably keep him out of our trip to Moscow won’t be causing any problems next weekend when we travel to Anfield.
Speaking of which, I wonder if the reason why all those beachballs on the Liverpool website have been sold is because loads of reds have thought paying a tenner is well worth the hilarity of showing up at Anfield next week and throwing hundreds of Liverpool beachballs on to the pitch ahead of kick-off. Can you imagine it? The goal should have been ruled out in accordance to the rules, which makes the fact a Liverpool fan punched a beachball on to the pitch to fool Pepe Reina even more funny. Black arm bands next weekend for the little scrote who surely will have been hunted down by then?
A win at Anfield would really set us on our way and give the lads a big boost in confidence. We’ve played some brilliant football this season but have rarely managed to keep up the pace over the 90 minutes. Last season at their place we had an explosive three minutes and then it all went pear-shaped, so I’m hoping for a much more consistent performance, which would doom any hope Liverpool have of winning the title and then start to put their top four finish in doubt.
Here we are, a quarter of the way through the season and top of the table. I imagine this is a situation that confuses a lot of people, given that we were ruled out of winning the title in the light of Ronaldo’s departure. I honestly think there were some people who just didn’t consider it a possibility, particularly given Liverpool were just a player or two short of a title winning team and Chelsea were under the guidance of experienced Ancelotti. Fortunately for us, whilst not firing our all cylinders, we’re still having our best start in years and our rivals are crumbling around us. Chelsea lost their second game in three and hopefully will start to build up a bit of a complex about their performances on the road. Given that we are a team trying to prove ourselves without The Best Player In The World (TM) it’s nice being afforded a bit of breathing room to do so.
Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed we need to start picking up a few more clean sheets but that might be difficult than you would imagine. Whilst easily the better side over the 90 minutes there were several occasions when a better opponent would have made us pay for our sloppy defending. Failing the close players down just outside the box and leaving men free when crosses were coming in could have seen us concede more than the one goal yesterday. There was little Patrice Evra could do about the goal with Taylor having the advantage of a run up and using Evra’s shoulder for leverage in to the air. It has to be said that Evra was brilliant yet again, quietly getting on with his job and proving to be possibly our second most consistent player this season, behind Giggs. Rio Ferdinand didn’t have any lapses of concentration that were too noticeable, although along with Jonny Evans, has to take responsibility for the unmarked Bolton players having several headers in our goal’s direction.
All in all though, we can’t really grumble and our satisfaction should be heightened by the defeats both Liverpool and Chelsea suffered. We play them both away over the next month which provides us with a great opportunity to really prove ourselves. But for the time being, I’m just going to enjoy us being top of the table.