These are the days. Cherish them. Remember them. Get carried away.
United won the game against a more than competent Stoke City side. They should have won it long before they did, but let’s not be picky. Three wins in a row. First time since November 2014. Toddlers weren’t born, Alan Pardew was a manager and we still weren’t that good then. Not like now. Rafa’s-shoe-string mags were good, and they’re getting better.
The day started with a check of twitter and the nufc twitter account telling me there was a 10% of rain. No jacket and a taxi into town therefore it started to rain quite heavily. We headed on a route that would eventually read Five Swans – Junction – Trent. The rest of the lads were at the new North Terrace (which sells true faith Ale) and as usual it was bouncing, with the Premier League filming the lads. We watched ‘well run’ Crystal Palce lose again whilst waiting for the team news and word of if Rafa would keep the same side that won at Swansea.
Rafa changed the full backs and brought back Christian Atsu (oh he so wonderful) and it looked like our strongest available side bar Big Florian, who lost out to the lads who’ve done so well in the last two. Stoke lined up 3 5 2 1 (according to Sky) and it made a nice change that we kicked to Leazes first, like the old days.
Stoke started well. I was surprised not to see the pressing game we used so well against West Ham in effect as we sat off Stoke and they controlled the game. They pressed and probed without creating anything and we looked comfortable without threatening. Their three CB’s were given time on the ball and we concentrated on forcing them out wide, where most of their balls were wasted.
Things changed in the twentieth minute when Perez won back poession in midfield (like the first goal v West Ham) and Matt Ritchie got the ball. Brilliant ball to the back post and the coolest man in NE1 scored a quite simple but brilliant goal. Christian Atsu (oh when he scores a goal, it’s beautiful, magical) couldn’t get in the second division team for most of last season. Now he’s absolutely mint. Rafa, that. One nil and six of us in Block V (which was mint again. I’m so happy there. Move there, if you can) braced ourselves for some defensive action until half time. It didn’t happen.
United dominated and Stoke recoiled. Joselu had the big chance as a fortunate ball found its way to the big man and his touch was good, the finish OK but the keeper in the way. That was the game, we reckoned, if it had gone in. Stoke failed to threaten and their early dominance was a distant memory. Half time came and went and we cracked on from where we left off.
Right at the start of the second half had another chance to win it. Atsu (when he runs down the wing he’s fast as lightening) played a brilliant ball through to Joselu. The touch, the first touch – it’s brilliant. It’s out of his body. It’s the thing me and you can’t do. The finish – we think you’d do better yet we wouldn’t, cos we’re not footballers, but he should have won it there and then. He played well again did Joselu, but he should have three in three. That’s probably why he cost £5m but is worth £12m. Maybe.
Stoke come into because they’re a reasonable side. Elliott’s palms are stung and they’re in it again. The goal comes from nowhere, it’s 19.40 on Saturday and I’ve not seen a replay but it comes from nowhere. A good strike, yes, but once again Shaquiri beats Elliot from distance like down there in 2015. From the back of the Gallowgate it looks like the keeper should save it. I’ll leave that to you lot to decide having seen replays.
United had been Miles on top and the equaliser was harsh. The game should have been won. That’s your difference between the divisions right there. We’d been punished for not taking our chances and they’d scored from nothing. I’m a positive bloke when it comes to NUFC but I feared the worst. We’d been good, but they were level. Shit.
Within ten minutes though Captain Jamal had us back in front from another Matt Ritchie corner. Towering. 23 years old, our captain. Winning us games and that. He’s only going to get better. St James’ breathed a sigh of relief.
The game was unbelievably open from this point. Just before we took the lead Rob Elliot had pulled off a great save from a corner which proved to be crucial. After the goal Stoke had chances but failed to test the goal keeper, one in injury time when they really should have done better.
We could have had a penalty close to the end of the game when Atsu (it’s frightening, and he makes all the boys sing) went clean through and seemed to be tackled from behind. It looked like such a clear penalty that it mustn’t have been? Either way I though Atsu should have shot before that point and put the game behind Stoke. I’ll forgive him though because he’s mint and I love him.
Peter Crouch caused chaos as he always do against us. Dunno why he didn’t come on earlier/start but that’s none of our business I suppose.
The final whistle was was greeted by huge cheers and we bask in the glow of three wins in a row in their Premier League. A massive achievement. The fixtures have been canny, but I’ve seen us lose enough ‘soft’ fixtures (if such a thing exists anymore) in my time not to take this for granted.
Everyone grafts. Everyone contributes. I don’t do match ratings but if I did they’d all get a 10 because why the hell not. The lads from the bench all contribute. Competition for places is fierce. Overall I’m just dead happy. It won’t always be like this. So savour it. It’s why we go.
What a set of lads.
ALEX HURST – FOLLOW ALEX ON @tfalex1892
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