Saturday was shaping up to be a thoroughly enjoyable day. Whilst the sun was pouring in Manchester, the sun was shining in Merseyside, and seemed to be shining down on our lads in particular.
After a first half where we had largely been second best, we managed to go in level at half-time. We’d enjoyed the better chances, forcing Tim Howard in to a couple of brilliant saves, in contrast to Edwin Van der Sar who had relatively little to do, but in terms of possession and ability to get a move going, Everton were far better. They dominated the midfield, despite us putting five men in it, and kept hold of the ball. We’d put a tackle in and the ball was back with them in seconds. It was highly frustrating and not in keeping with the football we’ve seen from the reds so far this season.
However, Darren Fletcher, who just doesn’t seem to be cooking on gas like he was last season, managed to level the score thanks to perfect ball from the ever-improving Nani just before half time.
At that point, I was confident we would get a win. Everton hadn’t made the most of our domination and must be pretty knackered from the effort they’d put in, so we would steam roll them second half.
It went as well as I hoped, with Nemanja Vidic putting us ahead, again, thanks to great ball from Nani, minutes after the restart.
We seemed a lot more confident and assured on the ball and were in the hunt for another goal.
That goal game, courtesy of Dimitar Berbatov, who now has four goals in his last five games (including the Charity Shield against Chelsea) and who is looking every bit the part of a £30m striker. He was our only striker on the pitch but lead the line well. He was happy to go out wide to create chances and was seen sprinting away down the wings on a couple of occasions.
For me, a man on a mission to keep our fans on Berb’s side, I was obviously made up. No Rooney, yet we’d scored three goals away from home, Berb got one of them, and he was our man of the match. Too good to be true, one might say… and it was.
Whilst you’re always going to get nervy when the opposition scores a goal against you in injury time, the better part of you tells you that they can’t possibly score twice. Surely not? Well they did.
It’s hard to describe how that felt, although, I don’t really need to, because you will have felt the same way. Whilst I can get pissed off with the team like anyone else, it really has been a long time since I felt that sheer disgust. Fancy conceding not one, but two goals in injury time? That is pathetic.
I don’t really want to get in to title talk already, but with last year’s champions decided by one point, it’s hard to ignore any point stupidly thrown away. It’s only through experience, of course. After Michael Carrick missed that penalty at the start of last season, there’s that irritable thing in your head telling you that could cost you the league. I tried to suppress those same feelings at Craven Cottage a few weeks ago and am working hard at putting Goodison Park behind me, but this is going to nag at me until we overtake Chelsea. 4 points thrown away after 4 games is pretty shocking for title challengers.
It’s interesting that so much of the post-match conversation has revolved around Wayne Rooney though, a man who was nowhere near the ground when Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta reeled away in celebration.
To score three goals away from home is great going, particularly at a ground we so often struggle to get going at, so what difference would Rooney have made? Well, you can’t look at a game and imagine that game with a player slotted in or left out. I remember watching games when Ruud wasn’t playing and seeing a ball fly past the six yard box and no one getting on the end of it and thinking “Ruud would have put that away.” But you can’t think like that, because the inclusion or exclusion of certain players changes a game. The same things wouldn’t happen with them playing that happened without them.
Would we have been 3-1 up at the start of injury time with Rooney playing? Nobody knows. We could have been 4-0 up or we could have been 2-0 down and playing with ten men. It wasn’t Rooney who let those two injury time goals in, it was our midfield who let them break away and our defence that didn’t clear. But I am honestly getting sick of hearing the defence given for Rooney. Whether you can morally get over what he did or not isn’t really an issue of mine, but the fact that he has missed half our games this season, both of which we dropped points in, because of his private life, is unacceptable. We shouldn’t be put in a position where we’re wondering what difference he would have made, because he should be playing, because he shouldn’t have behaved in such a way off the field that was going to effect our club on the pitch.
Other players we missed were Antonio Valencia/Park Ji-Sung. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it would have been great to have pace on both wings. Ryan Giggs is still a very valuable player who contributes an awful lot, but with a midfield-heavy line-up, we could have done with more speed to get behind their defence. Javier Hernandez would have been handy in this respect.
John O’Shea has started every game this season and I’m sure I’m not alone in being concerned by this. I like the guy, you almost have to, but he is not a player I regard as being at the standard to play 90 minutes every week for United. I know he always takes a few games to get going and I am a firm believer in having players like him in our squad, but I’d much rather see him as a pair of fresh legs with 15 minutes to go than a starting option for us in defence or midfield week after week.
To throw Gary Neville back in for a game like this seemed a puzzling decision too, particularly when Rafael was available. I know the Da Silvas are only young, but if they are to be our future full backs, then get them playing now. Rafael and Nani bombing up that right flank would have been a real force to be reckoned with.
Still, trying to look on the bright side, we’ve picked up points at two grounds we lost last season. That is positive to a certain degree. However, we are likely to drop points against teams we beat last season, so it’s not exactly a full proof equation.
We’ve put the pressure on ourselves to win now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Backs up against the wall and all that. Liverpool next weekend and we need a win, simple as that. Will Rooney be the one to save the day? He best bloody had be.
Fantastic three: Nani has played 90 minutes on two occasions and has started 3 of our 4 games, yet still has 4 assists and a goal to his name. Paul Scholes has started all 4 games this season, was subbed off in one of them, yet has 3 assists and a goal to his name. Berbatov has started all 4 games, was subbed off in one, yet has 3 goals and 1 assist to his name. Well done lads.