Our misery over the 1-0 defeat against Bolton was compounded by Arsenal, who were held at home to Wigan, only to go on to score two from the 83rd minute, by Keano’s team getting battered 7-1 by Everton, and by City’s superman scoring a stunning injury time winner. I’m searching desperately to find something to console myself with. I quite enjoyed playing the blame game after watching England crash out of Euro 2008 against Croatia, and after a similarly shocking result away to the Reebok, I wonder, who should shoulder the blame for this result?
A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t even have a place on the bench for our away trip today. With no Scholes or Rooney due to the injury, we were playing what could be a tricky game without arguably our three best and most creative players. Ferguson’s decision to rest our Portugese winger will be questioned further following a poor result with few clear cut chances. Ronaldo scored both goals in our 2-0 victory against Blackburn before the international break, and played 90 minutes for Portugal in both their qualifiers, scoring a crucial goal against Kazakhstan. Still, it begs the question, why on earth did we not even have him as an option on the bench? Did Fergie really not think that Ronnie could handle twenty minutes, which would have been all that was required of him to help United recover at least one goal today? Fergie was left to rue that decision from the stands, after giving ref Clattenburg a piece of his mind in the tunnel at half time.
What about Tevez, can he get in on the blame game action? Of course he can. With twenty minutes to go, and United getting increasingly desperate to break down the Bolton defence, he somehow managed to miss from a few yards out, when Patrice Evra delivered the perfect cross. The ball would have only needed to rebound off his shin to find the back of the net, but somehow his touch managed to screw it wide of the post. Nightmare miss which was reminiscent of the too easy to miss chance he bollocksed up at the council house in our only other defeat of the season. Two unbelievable misses which have cost United points.
Who’s next? Patrice Evra. Three minutes in to the four of allotted injury time, Evra burst in to space, Louis Saha crying out for the ball in the centre of the box. All that would be required was a simple tap in, something even our out of sorts striker could have managed, if Evra had played the ball square. Instead, playing the hero, he lashed the ball high and wide. The player I have praised time and again this season let the pressure get the best of him, desperate to salvage a point and make a name for himself, rather than playing the sensible ball he has played time and again throughout his United career. It was a costly act of egotism and was the final nail in our coffin, on a day we could have pinched the one point we’d arguably deserved from our second half performance of domination.
However the most costly mistake of them all goes to Gerard Pique, our young defender who has done nothing but impress in his prior performances this season. Billed as having a big future for United, he was entrusted to fill in for Nemanja Vidic, alongside Rio Ferdinand. Pique misjudged his jump for a headered clearance (which is something, I hasten to add, Vidic rarely, if ever, does) allowing the ball to drop nicely for Anelka just in front of the goal mouth. The player who Ferguson admitted he has tried to sign several times was never going to make a mistake from there, and slotted home with ease (followed by his camp goal celebration).
Now, do I really buy in to this whole blame game nonsense? To be quite frank, no. In every match there are going to small things, tiny details, which effect the outcome of the match. Silly fouls, misjudged clearances, sloppy passes, bad officiating, missed chances on goal. They all add up and together they decide which team walks away with the points. What separated the sides today was very little in the end, with Bolton never dominating United the way they were dominated for long periods in the second half, but amounted to two mistakes from United players; Pique’s decision to leave his man and make a hash of the clearance, and Tevez not getting enough on the ball at the other end. In between, there were countless passes which should have reached the player that didn’t, silly, niggly and needless fouls which lead to soft free kicks, and possession surrendered too easily all over the park. We can look at the major individual errors all we like, but essentially, football is a team game, and United should have had enough talent on the field to walk away with three points today, and they left with none. That’s football, but there’s no point crucifying our lads for it.
Now to the positives. “Were there any?” I hear you cry. If you look hard enough, there are usually positives from United’s games. Firstly, the introduction of Anderson changed the game for us, and gave a much sharper edge when going forward. He holds on to possession well and releases the ball at just the right time, to just the right player, much more than we’d be entitled to expect from a young player new to the Premiership. We are right to have such high hopes from him, and in future, Ferguson will know that Anderson should get the nod over Carrick, who contributed little today.
After months of watching Ronaldo hit freekick after freekick in to the wall, we saw two quality freekicks from new signing Hargreaves, one which forced a great save from the keeper, and the other rolling off the roof of the net. Hargreaves two attempts came closer than any freekick we’ve seen from Ronaldo this season, and Ferguson should certainly be deligating the freekick duties appropriately from now on.
As the Bolton players booed whenever one of our England players touched the ball, true to form for the cynical England fans, I can still take pride in our players. Today wasn’t our day, we didn’t look “on it”, and whilst a draw would have been a fairer result, we probably did get what we deserved. Is it the end of the World? Should we all have a sulk? No, not today. We will wake up in the morning with sore heads, disappointed to have lost ground on Arsenal, but our team is destined to go forward and put this bad result behind us. Roll on Fulham.