A defeat and 4 goals conceded yet it’s impossible to be too downcast after a game in which a United side minus its on-field leader Jamaal Lascelles, its box-to-box Spanish maestro Mikel Merino and its fast as lightening left-midfielder Christian Atsu, gave a positive account of itself and looked very impressive for the first 30 minutes.
Before getting in to the match report I must make mention of the atmosphere on the concourse before kick-off. A load of steaming drunk kids chucking plastic pint glasses is neither big nor hard. It’s utterly pathetic and a little embarassing.
However, on to the match. Pogba was straight back in the side for Man U who lined-up with what looked like a 4231 formation. Rafa started with Joselu and Gayle up top again and Murphy got the nod ahead of Aarons to take the place of Atsu. Clark in for Jamaal.
First chance early on for Lukaku. Valencia played the ball along the six-yard box from the right-wing and Lukaku should’ve scored.
Hayden got a yellow on 12 which would impact on the game in the 37th minute….
And then United started taking control of the game. In the 14th minute Clark picked-up a poor clearing header from Lindelof and laid it off to Gayle. Gayle spotted the run from a quite frankly rocket-fuelled DeAndre Yedlin who proceeded to steam up the wing. Gayle made a brlliant run, Yedlin laid it off, Lindelof slipped and Gayle’s finish in off the post was a thing of beauty. So very good to see Dwight back on the scoresheet and please let it now be that he is back to his clinical best. The scenes in the away end were something to behold. I was in so much shock that I pretty much forgot how to celebrate and stood there like a cardboard cut-out. Overwhelming emotion inducing temporary paralysis.
And then we could have had a second. Shelvey, at his imperious, controlling and visionary best by this point, put a superb ball along the floor for Murphy to run on to. His effort just going past De Gea’s right hand post. If only that had gone in……
We were in control until the 37th minute. Pogba against Hayden out on the right. Isaac blocked the first attempt but from my position in the stand it looked like our man was a little scared to commit again and there’s the possibility that, given he was on a yellow, he didn’t want to risk putting in a hard challenge. Pogba dinked it in, Eliott didn’t come off his line and Martial got up above Yedlin. 1-1.
Going in at half-time at 1-1 would’ve been great but alas it was not to be. Young did well to get the ball in to the six-yard box and Smalling was there to head it in. They’re a big, physical side Man U and they were certainly starting to play to those strengths.
The players heads didn’t go down though and within seconds we could’ve been level. Ritchie and Yedlin played a tidy 1-2 and the former put a ball through to Hayden in the box. Cracking footwork by him only let down by a tame effort that De Gea saved. Gayle didn’t get lucky with the bounce after Ritchie’s follow-up shot was blocked and the ball flew wide. Half-time at 2-1 down but an excellent first 30 minutes from the black and whites.
Unfortunately, it looked like a task too far to get anything out of the game once Pogba scored a tap in after some clinical build-up play in the 54th minute. If Murphy’s cracking effort had gone in to make it 3-2 then things may have got interesting but De Gea produced a proper save for the cameras. It was definitely all over by the 71st minute. Mata and Lukaku working the ball and the latter brushing LeJeune aside before slamming it into the top of the net from around 6 yards out.
Diame came on to huge applause and a standing ovation from both sets of fans in the 77th minute which was really lovely. Mitrovic had also come on by this point having replaced Joselu in the 71st minute. Obviously neither were able to impact on the proceedings given the situation we were now in and I’d imagine the removal of Gayle and Ritchie was to keep them as fresh as possible for this coming Saturday.
The game fizzled out but the energy of the away fans certainly didn’t. Hello, hello, we are the Geordie Boys was so loud and incessant that on the train journey back to London the 2 Man U fans I was chatting with asked me to sing it for them. I duly obliged as they were paying me in lager and cider. I’m easily bought, clearly.
This was always going to happen at some point. The team has been performing better than the sum of its parts and we know where we need strengthening. As Rafa said in his post-match interview, ‘playing against players at this level you have to do almost everything perfect and if not….’
Positives were that we scored a cracking goal at Old Trafford, Gayle is back on the scoresheet and he and Joselu combined well, Murphy showed us that there’s a player in there, Shelvey was excellent in the first half at least and the team didn’t fold like it would’ve done under previous managers. Watford is a very important match. HOWAY.
NORMAN RILEY – FOLLOW NORMAN ON @likethegoat
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