I’m trying to think when the last time I had a good feeling about a game was. With the way United have been playing this season, it’s hard to have total faith we’re going to end the day with the right result. More often than not, this is what we’ve managed to do, but we’ve been far from convincing on several of these occasions.
However, for whatever reason, I feel fairly hopeful about our game at the Riverside. The team have started to play the way we’ve been hoping they would all season. We looked good against Portsmouth, we were devastating in the second half against Spurs, and this good form carried through to Arsenal. Maybe I’m being pessimistic but have we had three good performances on the trot this season? It’s been a long time if we have!
Wayne Rooney has really begun to find brilliant form (which usually means he’s due an injury! Please God no!) and has even been incredibly influential from the left. Cristiano Ronaldo, more often than not, is actually putting some effort in to winning the ball back. Darren Fletcher is like someone possessed, chasing down everything. Michael Carrick has been playing some beautiful, defence splitting balls. Christ, even John O’Shea had a bloody good game midweek, so things must be going our away (no offence!).
I know the Riverside can be a tough place for the top teams to go, with their team able to drag out a gutsy performance from somewhere, which frustratingly for their fans, they can’t seem to muster when playing against the shit teams (they got battered 3-0 by West Brom a few months back). Regardless, United seem to have their hunger back and an early goal should be enough to shatter what was remaining in Middlesbrough’s confidence.
Gareth Southgate reckons his team has nothing to lose and hopes that mentality will inspire them to victory, but I beg to differ. If this game was being played back in November, then fair enough, but Boro have just three games to play after us and they’re second from bottom in the table. They have everything to lose and regardless of whether they’re expected to get a result against us or not, their aim should be to come out and play us and go for the points they desperately need.
If this is to happen, then it helps our cause tremendously. We’ve had real difficulties against teams who have parked the bus the season, relying on a dodgy penalty to open the scoring against Bolton and an injury time winner to secure three points against Sunderland. If Boro come for us then it gives us more space to work in.
I imagine Scholes will return to the start line-up, with his fresher legs bringing sublime passes for our forwards, with young players like Federico Macheda, who is tipped to start, needing extra encouragement. Park will probably start to give us that bit of tenacity and no doubt Rooney will be about. The back five is predictable but it is hard to imagine which team Ferguson will pick, given his insistence that there will be changes ahead of the Arsenal second leg. Will Bebatov be back in the team? Will Boro’s favourite player be rested? Who knows.
I do feel good about this game though and hope that’s not tempting fate. I can’t imagine it is though, given I didn’t go in to our games against Liverpool or Fulham feeling we’d play them off the park. I just want them to see this continued self-belief and desire to be better than what they have been. The games are running out now and with tougher Premiership fixtures to come, this one really has to be a three pointer to keep the pressure off.
Come on lads, do us proud!