I only wrote the match report for Everton after I got back, at about 03.00 last night. It’s 12 hours later, I’ve had two hours sleep and I’m now writing a match preview for United’s next game on Saturday. It’s less than 24 hours since I left Goodison after the second went in and it’s less than 48 hours until we kick off against West Brom. I’ve just realised this is perfect training. Ideal….for writing for true faith in the Championship. You play three times a week and your demanding editor wants a Special contribution, a podcast, a match report, a previewand a fanzine piece in the space of 2 days (Ed: get back up that chimney). Hopefully the players are feeling the same this week, the short turnaround time preparing them for next season’s mid-October schedule reading ‘Bristol City (a) 10.10.16 – Villa (h) 12.10.16 – Ipswich (a) 15.10.16. Obviously many will leave. Perez, Winjaldum will fetch big fees. Mitrovic maybe. Townsend and Shelvey will be off, Mbemba,Janmaat & Krul too. Who wants to bet against Bristol City away next season featuring the same back four bar Janmaat as 2009. That’ll be a question in the true faith radio quiz 2022 by the way. NUFC 1980 – 1994 will still be winning it then too.
How to preview this game this weekend. MASSIVE. But so was Everton. Lee Ryder has reported there will be ‘talks’
before the West Brom game between the board and manager. I presume Charnley, Carr and McClaren would be on for massive payouts should they all lose their jobs (which all should have done by now) so there’s a chance the main focus of the conversation could have been ‘more of the same Steve. I’ve got my eye on a new double breasted rain coat and all Sport Direct have got is shite. So the sooner we get out of here the better.’ But that’s not true. It’s not true because Steve McClaren is an honourable man. He talks a load of rubbish, but I genuinely believe it’s for the good of the players (so he thinks) rather than to inflate his own ego or protect his position. I think the man loves football. He took a coaching job at QPR for god sake. He was that desperate. The former England manager, who’d managed in the Champions League and assisted the treble in 1999, went to work underneath Harry Redknapp. Not assist him, just work for him. That’s because the man loves football. Could you see Pardew, or even Carver, going back into coaching just to be involved in the game. So this is sad. McClaren’s last chance of being a respected manager has already gone really. Performances like Everton were peak Carver and Pardew. Think Everton away LAST season. Think Southampton away. Other clubs just don’t have to put up with what we do. Not well run ones anyway. But back to McClaren and I would imagine he’s foaming about not getting a left back or a striker. He’s been let down again, but he can’t claim to be surprised. Lee Charnley is his boss. He knew what he agreed when he sold his soul to the devil – for one last shot at the big time.
He has to go. Say United play well tomorrow and stuff an average West Brom with problems of their own. Norwich away is a massive game. The evidence suggests a performance like Everton, not spurs. His team cannot score away from home. They struggle at home as well normally, bar two games, United have scored 10 league goals in 9 league games. He has to go. Not starting Mitrovic or even the new lad from Roma was criminal at Everton. If there was a plan (10 days in the making), it didn’t work. There’s enough been said about Everton though, so on to Saturday.
It’s the first week of February and if United lose a home game we’re down, unless the manager was instantly replaced by any number of competent options available – which of course he won’t be. If Charnley was happy to let John Carver experiment his way to oblivion losing 9 in a row, he’ll give McClaren more time to ruin all of our lives. Something needs to change. In fairness United’s last home game against an excellent West Ham was brilliant. But we can’t stay up playing well at home and losing all of our away games. Something has to give. The next 5 games after Saturday are Chelsea (a), Stoke (a), Bournemouth (h), Leicester (a), mackems (h). In this glorious era (assuming we play well on Saturday) of being OK at home and disgraceful away I can see maybe 7 points from the next 6 games – in which time Norwich play Villa – so we wouldn’t be able to catch them assuming they lost 5 in a row after Saturday as they’re already two points ahead of is. Grim. Deserved though.
The thing we’re really really bad at is ‘dragging sides down with us’. We played Everton on Boxing Day and they were nine points ahead of us. If we’d have won we’d have got them to within 6 points with a couple of winnable games to come (most of which we lost). Last night they were eight points ahead of us. If we’d have won, we could realistically looked to have been 2 points behind them on Saturday night. The same applied to West Brom, who lay 5 points ahead of us on the 28th. They got away – 11 points ahead (!) but have slipped back to find themselves just 8 points ahead of us. Win and it’s 5. They’re back in it. We need as many teams as possible to be in the race for the drop. Not just us, Norwich and the mackems. W Brom got a last gap equaliser on Tuesday. They were still booed off the pitch. Pulis always finds away. I hope he doesn’t this weekend. West Brom have won three times away from home this season, at Stoke, Vile and Norwich. All of those wins were 1 0. So the message is clear. Score and we’ll likely not lose.We need to start like a house on fire. Like we did against West Ham. They’ll play for set pieces. We need to play football and get the ball into the box. Make the defenders defend – they’re not good enough to do large amounts of defending and not concede. The keeper is ropey. So let’s have some shots on goal. A novel idea I know but it seems like it wasn’t in the game plan on Wednesday. No silly formations. No attacking midfielders and left back. Just a professional performance full of intent, skill and application. That’s all it takes to beat sides like West Brom.
West Brom have very few players in their starting eleven (bar the left back) who’d I’d take in our side. Make sense of that one with their additional points and a manager unpopular with fans. But that’s Pulis. He’ll keep you up every year but he’ll bore you to death in doing so. Brunt, McManaman (ha!), Evans and Morrison are all out. That’s three of their first 11. They’ve scored once in their last three games. They’re there for the beating.
I hope it’s loud at SJP. It rarely is but this season the atmosphere has actually been getting better. We don’t need a draw. Our problem recently has been we’ve been losing games but not getting pastings (until this week). So we’ve been bad enough to be in the relegation mire all season, but good enough to keep the manager in his job. A cocktail for relegation. A defeat needs to see a change of manager (to a quality choice) and a win needs to be built upon. A draw probably see’s McClaren cling on and Norwich will beat Vile so it’ll probably be the end.
A draw is the result I fear the most.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892