Monday, 23 February 2015

United lose it at The Liberty.

Swansea City 2 Manchester United 1

There was most definitely not a warm welcome in the valleys for the visit of United to the Liberty Stadium.

Swansea had of course inflicted defeat on Louis van Gaal's team in his first official game in charge at the beginning of the season at Old Trafford. This was a chance for United to gain revenge for that defeat and to consolidate third place in the Premier League. Going into the match the Reds had only suffered one defeat in nineteen matches and were also going well in the FA Cup.

The team selected by the manager to return to England with the three points comprised of: De Gea, McNair, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Herrera, Blind, Di Maria, Fellaini, Rooney and Van Persie. The subs were: Mata, Falcao, Januzaj, Smalling, Young, Valencia and Valdes.

Van Gaal tinkered again at the back by making two changes from the side which beat Preston 3-1 in the FA Cup on Monday, Paddy McNair replacing Antonio Valencia at right-back and the fit-again Phil Jones came in for Chris Smalling in the centre of defence.

Wayne Rooney started as a striker in the league for the first time since December. Falcao was left on the bench as Robin van Persie was the preferred choice to partner Rooney up front.

As van Gaal had kept the captain in attack there was also a first start since December for Fellaini in midfield.

The first half started with an early foul by Fellaini who was either trying to stamp his authority on the game or just plain clumsy.

Rojo uncharacteristically gave an early ball away from which Routledge tried his luck, but the Argentinian defender righted his wrong by blocking the shot for a corner.

Swansea went close to taking an early lead but Ander Herrera just, and only just, cleared Gomis's header off the line. That was certainly an early let off for United and a warning for the visitors defence.

The stress on the United players started to show as Herrera lost his temper with Paddy McNair as a simple pass to the Irishman went out for a throw-in. It had been a bad start for United, how many times have we seen that this season.

10 minutes into the game there was another corner from Swansea and again poor marking from the visitors which allowed Gomis a free header which he totally wasted by heading over.

After patient passing from United, McNair won a free-kick on the right. Angel Di Maria lashed a ball into the middle which fell to van Persie, but the Dutchman fired so wildly from an acute angle that it went out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch.

United's marking at the back was woeful, as was shown when Jones was nutmegged on the left then as the ball was crossed nobody was picking up Routledge who could only shoot weakly at goal which David de Gea saved easily.

Fellaini was walking a fine line with his niggling fouls, something that he had to be careful with.

Wayne Rooney started brightly with some fine one touch football around the opposition's box and nearly latched onto a nice ball at the near post from Di Maria.

At the other end, Phil Jones inexplicably gave away a corner, another example of how poor his has performed this season. Too many times this season United's play forward has been halted by passes that have ended up going backwards which has resulted in mistakes at the back.

On 26 minutes Robin van Persie had a good run to the byline and managed a cross which the keeper Fabianski reached before Rooney could get a foot to it, shortly afterward the Dutchman had a run and shot on goal, unfortunately, he sliced high and wide.

United finally started to turn the screw and it paid off in the 27th minute with some fantastic approach play down the left involving Fellaini, Shaw, Di Maria and Rooney that saw the ball fall to Ander Herrera who was lurking unmarked inside the penalty area. The Spaniard struck a right-footed shot into the bottom corner. That was his third goal from his last three starts in the side.

However, the joy didn't last long as Swansea drew level within a couple of minutes as Ki ended a move by flicking the ball past de Gea far too easily in the six yard area. A soft goal to concede so soon after taking the lead, which was down to a total lack of concentration in United's back four.

The majority of United's attacks were coming down the left with Shaw and Di Maria heavily involved in everything. Their endeavours, just before half-time, produced another corner from Rooney, which was played much too close to the keeper again. It should be noted that United have only scored from eleven set pieces all season.

Referee Neil Swarbrick eventually lost his patience with Fellaini, who finally received his yellow card after having conceded four free-kicks.

Half-time and it was all square at 1-1. More purpose was to be expected from the Red Devils in the second half. There were some fleeting glimpses of the old partnership between Rooney and van Persie coming together up front but not enough. However, it was good to see the captain back where he belongs.

At the beginning of the second half, United's first change saw Antonio Valencia replace McNair to add pace and experience to the right back position. Phil Jones began the half by picking up an early caution.

Ki almost grabbed his second from an identical move to Swansea's equaliser, but this time he was thwarted by de Gea. It was good to see Daley Blind lose his temper with Shaw as that's exactly what the defence needed, a kick up the backside. If van Gaal was an animated character he would have surely pulled out all his hair after what he was witnessing at the back.

A flurry of corners from United didn't really trouble the home defence as they easily cleared their lines. As the half settled down United once again enjoyed some nice passing moves across the pitch but lacking any penetration.

After 58 minutes, van Gaal had seen enough and substituted Luke Shaw for Ashley Young. A positive change which nearly paid off immediately with the subs first touch as he laid the ball into the path of Rooney who in turn touched the ball to van Persie whose shot hit the side netting.

You got the feeling that if the Reds could stay strong at the back the game was there for the taking with the speed of Valencia and Young out wide. Young especially was looking lively and putting in some decent crosses from the left.

Rojo headed over a corner when he really should have gone closer with his effort. Then a second corner caused confusion in the box as nobody quite knew where the ball was until the keeper dıved on top of it.

Van Persie came close after some stunning passing in midfield, but he just couldn't connect with his volley with any power.

With 20 minutes left in the match, United were in total control and were pushing for the winner as the away fans kept up their '99 Anthem.

Rooney had a shot blocked resulting in yet another United corner. Everything was going the visitors way, surely it was only a question of time before they found the breakthrough.

Then out of the blue disaster struck as Shelvey found himself unmarked 30 yards out and let fly with a deflected shot that flew past the wrong-footed David de Gea. It's not good to put the blame on a single player when the opposition score, but in this instance I feel I have to as Fellaini gave the ball away in the center circle and made no effort at all to chase down the ball after his mistake.

This is not the first time he has been guilty of this, but at least he didn't fall to the ground clutching his neck this time. After all their promising work, United found themselves chasing the game, not for the first time this season.

United's last change of the match came after 78 minutes when Di Maria, who had looked jaded in the second half, was replaced by Juan Mata.

Ashley Young was booked for what the referee deemed a dangerous challenge after 84 minutes.
Fellaini played the last 10 minutes as an out and out striker as van Persie struggled with an injury and as van Gaal had used up his three substitutes he had to struggle on.

United's fourth caution came after Rojo was booked for a debatable challenge on the keeper from a United free-kick in the last few minutes.

Every ball forward from United in the last ten minutes of the game was aimed long towards the head of Fellaini which would have pleased Big Sam, but today the tactic didn't pay off.

In the end, United had fallen to their first defeat since the home loss to Southampton, but full credit to Swansea, who have now done the double over United this season. The only positive to be taken from the loss is the man of the match performance of Ander Herrera, who once again fully justified the decision to start him. His clearance off the line in the end was futile, but his goal was well taken.

For Manchester United, this was a result which took the wind out of their sails and put more pressure on the challenge of finishing in the top four. Another toothless display from the United forwards who needed to convert the few chances that were created, and rarely did they ever look capable of doing that.

With the new philosophy and system being used by Louis van Gaal gone is the swashbuckling attacking style of old which has been replaced by a dour approach play that is far too predictable. Teams are simply not scared of United in the way they used to be, the fear factor has totally disappeared.

United desperately need a stable back four with players who can actually defend then we might have a chance at competing for the league again.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Sunderland and a chance to put a run of victories together in the push for the Champions League places. It would be a disaster for the club to miss out on the competition for the second year running, but on this performance nothing is guaranteed. It is time for socks and sleeves to be pulled and rolled up collectively by the team.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Rooney's push forward.

Preston North End 1 Manchester United 3

Manchester United returned to the competition that represents their most realistic chance of silverware this season with a visit to Deepdale to take on League one side Preston.

The winners of this match would enjoy a home tie in the quarter-finals against Arsenal.

After disposing of Yeovil and Cambridge this was another chance to progress in the competition that United last won eleven years ago. However, it could quite easily have been a potential banana skin for the Red Devils.

After the struggles of the last few matches, the choice of Louis van Gaal's starting XI was going to be interesting. Would he stick with the under performing Januzaj or recall Herrera, how would the defence line up after the ineffective performance of Evans. Lastly, the main talking point was who would he play up front seeing as though van Persie and Falcao were not exactly setting the world alight.

The questions were answered when the team was announced: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Herrera, Rooney, Fellaini, Di Maria and Falcao.

A strong line up with a first start for Ander Herrera since December but no place in the squad for Robin van Persie who was injured. The defence was strengthened with Shaw and Valencia recalled and Fellaini drafted into midfield. Rooney would at last start in the position the majority of fans want to see him in, striker alongside Falcao.

Subs: Evans, Mata, Januzaj, Young, Valdes, McNair and Wilson.

The match kicked off in front of a full house of over 21,000 with the stadium bouncing as was to be expected.

United started well and won a corner in the first few minutes, but Wayne Rooney's delivery to the near post was headed clear, where is Phil Jones when you need him? Daley Blind was left red faced early on as he tripped over the ball from a pass in defence, maybe he was still feeling the effects of the knock on his head from the Burnley match.

Kevin Davies was still up to his old tricks by conning the referee into awarding him a free kick after a clash with Blind, old habits die hard.

Fellaini received an elbow to the nose and had to go off for treatment but strangely didn't earn a free kick from the challenge. It would have been interesting if it had been the other way around. The good news is that Fellaini would have the last laugh.

The first half was yet another poor showing from United even though they had around 70 percent of the possession they had nothing to show for it. It was a half that lacked penetration up front as Falcao performed poorly and looked out of it and off the pace for most of the time and the majority of the play from the visitors was at a pedestrian pace.

The only threat was from the lively Di Maria who tried to feed the ball through to his captain Rooney at every available chance. All the corners and dead ball situations were of poor quality and wasted from United.

Basically, once again van Gaal had his job cut out in the dressing room to try and instill some urgency into his team.

The second half started with United on the back foot as Preston pressed forward. Their efforts were rewarded after 3 minutes as Scott Laird, who from the edge of the box shot across goal, with his effort taking a slight deflection off Valencia, before flying under De Gea into the bottom corner. 1-0 Preston and most definitely game on.

How would United react?

In the 52nd minute, Preston could have doubled their lead when Davies almost connected with a floated free-kick at the far post. Let off for United.

Then on 59 minutes the change that would eventually put United into the sixth round as Ashley Young replaced the ineffective Colombian Falcao who really didn't perform and on that showing I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't chosen for the next few matches.

His reaction to being replaced was strange as he appeared to be unable to see his number being displayed on the board. Maybe that's the problem with his display, he needs to have his eyes tested.

Garner almost headed the home side ahead after 61 minutes, but David de Gea was alert as usual and saved down low.

It was then that United started to turn the screw once Falcao had left the pitch as Fellaini now playing alongside Rooney tried to bundle the ball home but was prevented from doing so by resolute Preston defending.

Eventually, after good work from Di Maria, Blind and Young on the edge of the home side's penalty area the ball came to Herrera who slotted his fourth goal for United into the bottom corner of the net. A perfect time to equalise and now the away support could be heard in full voice as the goal had quietened down the home fans who must have been expecting the worst.

Since coming on Ashley Young had made such a difference to the team giving not only a good balance but also badly needed width.

Marcos Rojo was booked for a foul close to the edge of the penalty area therefore being the only United player to be cautioned in the match. Kevin Davies was very lucky to escape a red card after bringing down Smalling. He should have gone in all honesty and Preston knew this and substituted him shortly afterwards.

Then in the 72nd minute Fellaini became the hero yet again as he netted after his initial header was saved he powered home the rebound in from a tight angle. A well taken goal from the Belgian who has impressed this season with his gung-ho displays.

To lead 2-1 United had shown true character under pressure to fight their way back into the tie and after the second goal looked comfortable with Fellaini partnering Rooney in attack. The Belgian is such a difficult player to play against as he is just so ungainly and brings something different to the attack that defenders can't seem to handle.

There was the usual panic defending from Smalling in the last ten minutes which almost allowed Preston a way back in but they wasted their opportunity. Other players were being sloppy with their passing including Valencia. The defence do have this habit of trying to play the ball around to each other which does cause palpitations in my chest area.

On 86 minutes, Rooney won and converted a penalty to make it game over and more than guaranteed their place against Arsenal in the next round. As he chased a ball in the area the keeper Stuckmann dived at his feet, Rooney went to ground after little or no contact.

There were decisions in the match that the referee didn't give United's way so for me the penalty was justice. That was Rooney's first goal this year and a very welcome one.

Preston, to their credit, did try and make the scoreline respectable and if not for De Gea and Young, who cleared off the line, they could have reduced the deficit.

Full-time and the match ended 3-1 to United. A win that they fully deserved after their spirited display in the second half. With outstanding displays from Di Maria, Herrera, Fellaini and Rooney who helped to pick the Red Devils up and through this tricky tie.

Rooney really had shown his enthusiasm playing up front and definitely looked happier in that position as opposed to being stuck in midfield. For me, he was the man of the match closely followed by Di Maria.

This was a game of two halves as the match didn't really came to life until Preston had taken the lead then United woke up. Also, the substitution of Falcao forced van Gaal to change the team system pushing Fellaini up front alongside Rooney with Young in midfield.

United are now seven games unbeaten and on another run with only one defeat in nineteen games but will van Gaal stick with the eleven that performed so well in the second half or tinker again for the next match.

What a mouth watering quarter final we have to look forward to Man United versus Arsenal at Old Trafford with so many past confrontations in the cup down the years this is really a tie to get the pulses racing. With the momentum building in the United side, I fully expect them to overcome the Gunners and they now have a great chance to go all the way to Wembley.

United's next match is over the border into Wales for a difficult Premier League visit to Swansea City. Remember this was the team who beat United at Old Trafford in Louis van Gaal's first official match in charge at the beginning of the season. I am expecting a difficult match but believe United will come back to England with the three points.

This week also sees the Champions League resume. It will be surreal to watch without United being involved, so I probably won't. Having said that the United players should watch the matches as a way of spurring themselves on for that all important top three finish. Forget top four there is no reason we can't end the season in the first three and not have to sweat on the qualifying match the fourth team has to go through.

We are on the way to Wembley, hopefully!

Thanks as always.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Smalling is Man United's Head Boy

Manchester United 3 Burnley 1

Much criticised defender Smalling turned hero against Burnley with two goals to put a shine on another low key display by United.

After the poor showing against West Ham at the weekend, it was a quick return to action for United and a chance to get back on track with the visit of Lancashire rivals Burnley. The first meeting between the two sides ended 0-0 earlier in the season.

Louis van Gaal had an interesting pre-match press conference trying to debunk accusations of a 'long ball' syndrome by providing evidence to the contrary. His well-known stubbornness came to the fore as he got his point over to the watching world. That same stubbornness showed itself again as his team was announced: De Gea, McNair, Jones, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Rooney, Januzaj, Di Maria, van Persie and Falcao.

Once more no place for Herrera in the starting XI, his last start was back on the 2nd of December. Rooney would continue in his midfield role, Januzaj was given yet another start even after some mediocre performances of late and van Persie would be partnered by Falcao a partnership that hasn't exactly had the pulses racing of late.

Subs: Mata, Smalling, Herrera, Valencia, Fellaini, Valdes and Wilson.

The match kicked off in front of the visiting Glazer owners who made a rare outing to watch their team play.

It was Burnley who started well with ex-red Michael Keane heading over at the near post after not being picked up by Jones. At the other end, Paddy McNair had a powerful shot from outside the box which was well saved by keeper Tom Heaton.

Within a few minutes of the match starting Phil Jones had to be replaced by Chris Smalling. This change provided the first breakthrough in the match as in the 5th minute Smalling opened the scoring from a corner with his first touch since coming on as a sub. The corner was lofted into the box and after a little bit of head tennis, involving Falcao, the ball was headed in by Smalling who managed to jump above the rest to get a good contact on the ball. Great start from United.

However in the 11th minute Smalling went from hero to zero as Burnley striker Danny Ings managed to evade his marker Smalling too easily to head in a cross from the right. After his heroics in putting United ahead Smalling reverted to his normal game in allowing Ings to get away from him as he was ball watching.

The goal gave Burnley the confidence to attack and after poor clearances from Evans and Smalling they earned a flurry of corners.

After 20 minutes, it was really poor quality from United clearly they are not learning from their past mistakes and the two center backs are a disaster together. When Rooney was nutmegged that summed up United's night so far.

Blind went down with a knock to his head, which some of our other players needed to knock some sense into them. The Dutchman had to leave the field for a few minutes so the doctors could assess the damage.

On 26 minutes, Di Maria was brought down at full pace on his way to the Burnley box. However, from the free-kick taken by Rooney nothing materialised.

In the first half hour United had been completely outplayed by a Burnley side lying second to the bottom of the league at Old Trafford, something was obviously not right.

Blind came back onto the pitch but after a while it was obvious he could not continue and he was replaced by Herrera in the 37th minute.

How embarrassing it was to hear the away fans cheering every pass their team made.

Then as the half entered the 47th minute it was 2-1 to United totally against the run of play. A short corner between Di Maria and Rooney was eventually crossed to the far post by Di Maria where Chris Smalling was waiting to head in his second of the night. At that moment, he had made up for his mistake for the Burnley goal.

Half time United led 2-1 although it was still a very disappointing performance yet again from the Red Devils who were totally outplayed by the visitors. Lucky to have gone in at half time leading but it couldn't hide the fact that more organisation was needed for the second half. Louis van gaal had his job cut out at half time. The forwards were receiving absolutely no service therefore not a single chance on goal.

The second half got underway with no further changes from United who only had one more substitution to make. Di Maria started brightly on the right managing to get past the defender and get in some crosses. But once again a mistake almost let the visitors back into the game when Smalling and Herrera combined to give Ing a chance on goal which de Gea did well to save then the Burnley striker blasted the rebound over, good chance for the visitors but again United's keeper came to the rescue.

Falcao was so poor that with every 50-50 challenge he was easily barged off the ball showing no conviction at all in his play. Surely it wouldn't be long until he was replaced by either Fellaini or Wilson.

At last Januzaj, who had been relatively quiet, had a positive run and shot which he hit well, but keeper Heaton saved well. On the hour mark, you still got the feeling even leading 2-1 United were in no way guaranteed the three points as Burnley still kept pressing and taking advantage of the home teams uneasiness.

United's first yellow card was given to Rooney on 59 minutes shortly after that Di Maria tumbled in the penalty area after swerving this way and that way but referee Friend didn't see any offence and waved play on.

The pacey Argentinian, Di Maria, was the one player in the United side who at least tried to conjure up something, but even he was guilty of some rather poor finishing.

On 68 minutes, Falcao was the second United player to be booked, which basically was his last contribution as he was replaced by James Wilson in the 73 minute. Falcao left the field with shouts from the visiting fans ringing in his ears of "What a waste of money." To be honest on this ineffective display, there was some truth in that. 4 goals in 18 matches is not up to his impressive standard.

At the time Falcao departed we were still awaiting a shot on or off target from United's two strikers.
Di Maria sent a cross over as United attacked at pace with four on three, but his cross was cleared by defender Trippier for a corner.

Then in the 82 minute Di maria earned reward for his persistence as he went on another of his runs and was brought down in the penalty area. Up stepped Rooney but it was Robin van Persie who was given the responsibility to score United's first spot kick this season with his first shot of the night. The penalty was United's first in the Premier league since last April. Game over.

Wilson was the third player into Field's notebook as he was booked towards the end of the 90 minutes and he would be joined by Di Maria. United went searching for a fourth goal and there was a mad scramble in the Burnley box as both Di Maria and Januzaj had efforts cleared, one of them off the line. There was still time for one last chance for Wilson to score, but his shot found the side netting.

The match ended in a flattering scoreline of 3-1 to United but a win is a win and a valuable three points had been gained. The fact that Burnley won more corners than the home team told a story that it was not as easy as the scoreline indicated.

Evans and Smalling are proof that we should have strengthened the defence in January. I hope we can get through the rest of the season with that pair.

Van Gaal persists with Januzaj even though he has had no impact on games in which he's been involved. He needs to be taken out of the limelight for his own good or his confidence will suffer greatly.

Rooney was the name on everyone's lips this week. The debate on his best position filled the web site pages and United forums debating whether van Gaal should move him to his striker position or persevere with him in midfield.

Statistics don't lie and in a season where the side has struggled for goals, one fact remains true and that is Rooney has only contributed with 8 goals in 22 matches. Of course, this is due to his deeper position in the middle of the park. My opinion is that he is a natural goalscorer and not a midfielder and that's where he should play.

Paul Scholes had the ability to make the switch with ease, but Rooney doesn't have that style of play in his locker. He is a striker and, therefore, his talent is being wasted. Robin van Persie and Falcao are not gelling as a partnership and in the last three months of the season it's goals we need, and quickly. We have Fellaini, Herrera and when fit Carrick who are more than capable of playing in the captain's position, after all that's why the club bought them.

Next up is a visit to another Lancashire side in the 5th round of the FA Cup as United make the short journey to play Preston at Deepdale. If the team has any chance of winning something come May this is it. I predict another tough match but United will progress.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Blind rescues a point for United.

West Ham United 1 Manchester United 1

United have a good record in the capital this season including two wins and a draw, but would they lose their heads at the Boleyn Ground or could they escape to the North with another valuable three points?

After confirming their place in the 5th round of the FA Cup in midweek with a comfortable win over Cambridge, it was back to the Premier League and a must win match over West Ham. Three points gained would put United within one win of local rivals Man City, so the incentive to win was huge.

How would van Gaal utilise his squad bearing in mind they have another match coming up on Wednesday? Here was the answer. Man United: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Rooney, Januzaj, Di Maria, Falcao and van Persie. No starting place for Herrera as once again Louis van Gaal gave another chance to Januzaj. The Subs were: Valdes, Mata, Smalling, Herrera, Fellaini, McNair and Wilson.

The match was a milestone for two players. Robin van Persie was making his 100th appearance for the club and Adnan Januzaj his 50th.

At the beginning of the first half, both sides started positively but both made early mistakes. Robin van Persie was almost put through in the box by a rash back pass which the Dutchman just couldn't react to in time. Then at the other end de Gea made a rare error by under hitting a clearance which Jones cleared up, strange as it's usually the other way around with those two.

West Ham pressed forward in the first 10 minutes without really creating a clear chance as United held firm at the back with the help from the likes of Di Maria and Rooney backing up from midfield.

David de Gea redeemed himself for his earlier mistake with two fine stops from Enner Valencia. The first from a long range effort that he turned away around for a corner at full stretch, that was followed by a superb reaction tip over from close range. At this point, the home side was in the ascendancy. United had to get a grip on the match or they could find themselves in trouble.

When United did attack unfortunately the last ball into the danger area was poor as has been the story of the season so far. A series of poor deliveries, especially from corners, didn't help the cause.

It was good to see the commitment shown by Di Maria as he ran back at full pace to help out Antonio Valencia to thwart a West Ham counter attack. I just wish he was using his speed at the other end to the same effect.

Van Persie was fortunate, not to receive a yellow card on the half hour after his elbow connected with a defenders cheek. I've seen cautions given for a lot less.

De Gea's third save in the match came from a header at the far post, which he cleared with his size 10's. The pressure was mounting on United as the home support were getting behind their team and calling for every decision to be given their way. United needed to get control of the ball and stamp their authority on the match.

Januzaj wasn't getting involved in the game and you got the feeling that the match would have suited Fellaini's style of play more. Rooney wasn't enjoying himself in the middle of the park and was slowly losing his temper with some of the referee's decisions as the game was slipping from United's grasp.

Rojo received United's first yellow card for a professional foul as West Ham broke forward. Di Maria had an effort from distance saved by the keeper and that really was the visitors only effort on goal in 40 minutes. United ended the half with a flurry of corners which amounted to nothing of worth due to poor service.

Thanks to David de Gea the score was 0-0 at half-time with United not producing anything near their capabilities. Something had to change in the second half. The main worry was the partnership of Falcao and van Persie which had no teeth and was drawing blanks. A lot of huffing and puffing but with no incisive play.

The second half started poorly for United as they allowed the home side to get at them from the start, which paid dividends in the 48th minute with a goal of great close skill in the penalty area from Kouyate as he juggled the ball, span and shot past de Gea in a crowded penalty area.

Would United react positively? They did through Valencia who broke down the right and provided a cross which eventually struck a defenders arm in the area. However, referee Clattenburg was having none of it.

United upped their game as they had to. Falcoa tried his luck from distance but pulled his shot wide, Van Persie was flagged offside as he attempted to convert a through ball and Falcao almost got his head onto a Luke Shaw cross. Game on!

Shaw was involved in an ugly collision with goal scorer Kouyate in the opposition box as he tried to get on the end of a one-two with Januzaj. Luckily Shaw got up and ran off the knock.

United had a lucky let-off as an effort from West Ham somehow squirmed agonisingly past the post with Valencia and de Gea hopelessly looking on from the touchline.

A change had to be made and eventually van Gaal made it in the 71st minute by bringing on Fellaini for Januzaj. Could Fellaini continue his habit of scoring as a substitute? His presence was felt almost from his entrance as his height advantage was working in United's favour.

Clattenburg awarded a free-kick to United for a foul on Rooney which was taken by Di Maria from distance and sailed high over the bar. This is exactly where United is struggling, dead ball situations, an area they have to improve on.

In the 76th minute, Falcao was played through on goal by a delightful van Persie flick but he prodded his shot wide as the keeper closed him down. That was United's best chance by far and in reality Falcao should have done a lot better.

Home keeper Adrian saved with his feet from a van Persie effort when, as with Falcao the Dutchman should have done better in a goalscoring position. This was immediately followed by a caution for Luke Shaw as he stopped a break from the home side.

As the match entered the last five minutes de Gea once again came to the rescue. Then at the other end Fellaini came so close to grabbing the equaliser but Adrian managed to get a hand to it down at the near post. Van Persie went down questionable on the edge of the box to earn United a free kick which Rooney fired straight into the wall. As the ball was put back in by Rojo it eventually came out to Blind who fired home with aplomb. A great finish by the Dutch midfielder similar to his goal at West Bromwich earlier in the season.

The downside to the excitement of earning a point was a second yellow and subsequent red for Shaw for a high challenge at the death. He will now miss the Burnley match on Wednesday. Until his dismissal, he had been United's man of the match.

The match ended 1-1 and a point shared for both sides, but you felt that Man United were the happier of the two teams.

Poor performances from too many players contributed in today's result, none more so than Januzaj and Falcao. Big Sam Allardyce's team is difficult to beat this season but United should have done a lot better in their approach to the match. The home side will be very disappointed to concede the late equaliser and will surely feel they let the Red Devils off the hook.

A big concern is the partnership up front of Falcao and van Persie, which in all honesty hasn't worked all season. I would be interested to know how different past results would have been if Rooney had been in his striker position with the Colombian or Dutchman as a partner. At the start of the season, my mouth was watering at the prospect of a forward line which included Rooney, van Persie, Falcao and Di Maria.

They didn't seem to be any urgency in United's play until West Ham scored and Felliani came on to the pitch. With Man City dropping points, we had a chance to close the gap on second place but didn't take it. Sure we didn't lose but we are United and over the years have always turned the screw after the New Year that is just not happening.

I will say it again Rooney's goalscoring talents are wasted in midfield and how van Gaal can not see that only he knows. Rooney is not a playmaker in the mould of Scholes and never will be.

Slightly worrying is the statistic that United haven't won a game in which they have conceded first in the Louis van Gaal era and they haven't won any away game in which they conceded first since December 2013.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Burnley this coming Wednesday and a chance for United to pick up a valuable three points before the break for the FA Cup clash away at Preston.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Munich '58: The Flowers of Manchester.

On this day 57 years ago a group of young men and officials of the most famous football club in England were waiting at Munich-Riem airport for their Elizabethan aircraft to be deemed ready to brave the snow and freezing temperatures to carry them on their journey back to Manchester.

The club were returning from a successful match in Belgrade and had stopped in Munich to refuel.
The events that unfolded after the party boarded the plane for the last time would be engraved not only in the memories of those who lived through the terrible tragedy that would unfold, but also in the generations of supporters who would carry the light of their lost heroes forward so that no one would ever forget.

On the day of the tragedy seven players lost their lives in the plane crash, they were Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Liam Whelan and Geoff Bent these were followed by Duncan Edwards, the greatest player of his and possibly later generations, who passed away days later in hospital after a brave fight. The heart of the Red Devils had been ripped out in the cruelest of ways. Matt Busby was left fighting for his life, not knowing the truth about his beloved Babes.

The club also lost Walter Crickmer, club secretary, Tom Curry, trainer and Bert Whalley, chief coach.

Many words have been written down the years detailing that fateful day and I like millions of others have read most of the accounts, which have not only included biographies of the victims but also the stories of heroism by some of the survivors. Heroes like Harry Gregg who risked his own life to help the people trapped in the wreckage.

There were many contributing factors that led to the crash the biggest of which was the pressure on Busby to get his team back to England in time for their upcoming match on the coming Saturday. If only they had been given a little leeway on the return time they could have delayed the flight until the terrible weather conditions had cleared. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

We should also remember the people who were left behind to carry on and try to pick up the pieces. None more so than Jimmy Murphy, Busby's right hand man. He was left with the unenviable task of rebuilding a side that had been decimated while Busby fought his way back to full fitness.

Murphy & Busby.
Along with the survivors of the crash Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes and the legend that is Bobby Charlton. Murphy begged, borrowed and almost stole players so that United could put out a team for their first match.

The match was at an emotionally charged Old Trafford in the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday. Charlton wasn't fit enough to play but Gregg and Foulkes took part in a match that United won 3-0. A poignant match programme had a blank team sheet where the names of the babes should have been.

It is a true testament to the man that he managed to take the side all the way back to Wembley for the FA Cup final. Even though we lost the match the result didn't really matter, the occasion did, as Matt Busby managed to join his team at the stadium where most of his fallen babes had played the season before.

Matt Busby and his boys were the pioneers of English teams in Europe, it should never be forgotten that they died for a dream that Busby had of taking his team to the pinnacle of European football. A dream they would surely have realised if not in the same season then in the next.

It should also be remembered that the English FA was strongly against Manchester United entering the European Cup beginning the uneasy tension that has been evident between the two ever since.

There is no doubt that with the talent in the team they would have matched and most probably surpassed the great Real Madrid. Already dominant in England it was a formality that Europe would fall at their feet. The average age of the team was only 24, so it is safe to say they would have been together for many years ahead. Many of the players were England internationals and could easily have helped to win the World Cup before 1966.

Not only did United lose a team but also the world of journalism lost it's valued colleagues including: Frank Swift (News of the World), Henry Rose (Daily Express), Eric Thompson (Daily Mail), George Follows (Daily Herald), Archie Ledbrooke (Daily Mirror), Alf Clarke (Manchester Evening Chronicle), Tom Jackson (Manchester Evening News) and H D “Donny” Davies (Manchester Guardian).

As each year passes it's only natural that people connected with the events surrounding Munich pass away, but what is important is that we should never forget that this one heartbreaking disaster is the bedrock of our truly great club. The tears for our lost Flowers of Manchester should never stop flowing and nor should people forget the legacy that Matt Busby and his Babes gave to the greatest team in the world and football.

They are the team that will never die.

Miles Dunton.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Man United replay joy.

Manchester United 3 Cambridge United 0

After the anti-climax of the transfer deadline day it was back down to business with the visit of Cambridge United in the 4th round FA Cup replay.

Following United's disappointing performance in the first match it was time they stamped their authority on a tie that they should have settled first time around.

For the visitors it was a no lose situation as they expected a financial windfall from their well earned replay. The Cambridge players were certainly enjoying their final as they took 'selfies' from inside Old Trafford before the match.

Louis van Gaal showed his intent by choosing a strong line up made up of De Gea, McNair, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, Di Maria and Van Persie. Interestingly van Gaal seemed to have chosen his tallest players, excluding Mata, to counter the height advantage in the opposition.

Fellaini would be used up front alongside van Persie but once again there was no starting place for Ander Herrera who was joined on the bench by Valdes, Jones, Falcao, Young, Valencia and Wilson. Herrera's omission once again sparked debates between fans as to why he had been overlooked again.

The kick off was delayed for 20 minutes due to heavy traffic but when it did start it was almost a dream beginning for the lowest ranked team left in the competition. Elliott hit the outside of the post after only 1 minute following an uncharacteristic mistake in midfield by Blind who stumbled while attempting a back pass.

Elliott was winning all the early balls knocked up to him as Cambridge started full of confidence and were clearly enjoying their big night out.

It took United ten minutes to get into their stride and to start to make in roads into the visitors defence mainly via Di Maria from the inside left position and youngster Paddy McNair filling in as wing back on the right. Fellaini, playing in a forward position, utilised his height to great effect when balls were played up front.

United got the breakthrough their play deserved after 25 minutes following good work by McNair who brought the ball out of defence then fed a fine pass to Di Maria out on the left. Di Maria in turn lofted the ball to the far post where Fellaini rose to head the ball back into the penalty area for Mata to pounce and flick the ball home. 1-0 ahead after an excellent move with Fellaini using his height to great effect.

Mata almost grabbed his and United's second but miss hit his shot which then rebounded out to McNair who fancied his chances from outside the box. He connected well with the ball but his shot was well blocked for a corner.

On the half hour mark defender Marcos Rojo claimed his first goal as a United player by heading in a wonderful chip into the box by Robin van Persie after he had collected the ball from Fellaini's attempted shot. The way van Persie dinked the ball onto Rojo's head with the outside of his left boot was sublime.

By this time Fellaini was causing all sorts of problems for the Cambridge defence with his presence inside their box. At 2-0 the tie was virtually over and it became a damage limitation exercise for the away side. However, to their credit they kept going and Donaldson had a shot across goal when he should have done better.

Chris Smalling provided a rare moment of class with a superb through ball for Di Maria but as quick as the Argentinian was the keeper managed to get to the ball before him on the edge of the box. On another break forward Di Maria played a great weighted cross field ball aimed for Rooney who met it on the volley but fired well off target.

Half time and so far so good from United. It was refreshing to see the team using the wide areas when on the attack, something that has been lacking in recent games. Di Maria is so much more effective out on the left, as he proved in the first 45 minutes in this match. Paddy McNair was also putting in a mature performance as the right sided wing back.

At the start of the second half Rojo's debut goal had clearly gone to his head as he ventured forward down the left and attempted two crosses which both ended up way too high and behind the goal. At least he was trying. McNair was making a better go at crossing than Rojo with one nice cross to van Persie who headed wide.

The Dutch striker had a chance again after a lovely ball over the top this time from Mata, but was disappointed with his weak header. After 53 minutes Rooney had a shot well saved by keeper Dunn, as the ball spilled out van Persie just couldn't tidy up the leftovers.

The fans enjoyed seeing the tricks and flicks on show by van Persie and Di Maria, the latter trying hard to score direct from every corner he took. You got the feeling as though it was not going to be van Persie's night and so did van Gaal who replaced him with James Wilson on 66 minutes. The striker headed straight down the tunnel, maybe he had a prior arrangement that he was desperate to get to.

Two minutes later Di Maria had a powerful effort pushed over the bar by the keeper for a corner. If it wasn't for Dunn in the visitors goal the score would have been a lot higher. That was the last action for Di Maria as in the 70th minute he was replaced by Ander Herrera. The midfielder got his chance to impress the manager, who for some reason doesn't seem that enamoured by the Spaniard.

United's third and final goal came in the 73 minute through James Wilson with a fine left footed strike from just outside the box. A well taken goal from a player who is growing in confidence with every game. It was a shame RvP wasn't there to see it.

Another youngster who was having the match of his career playing down the right was Paddy McNair. He continually delivered some fine balls into the danger area especially to Rooney who unfortunately couldn't take full advantage.

The last change of the night for United was the substitution of Rojo for Ashley Young who came on to make his 100th appearance for the Red Devils after being out injured.There was still time in the match for Smalling to make a customary mistake and give the ball away in a dangerous area, which thankfully led to nothing.

The visiting Cambridge supporters kept on singing until the end and nearly got their reward as the visitors had the last effort at the death.

The match ended with a 3-0 win for the home side who in the end were too organised and purposeful and fully deserved their win with quality performances from most of the players against opposition that would not lie down. They will now face Preston in the 5th round at Deepdale.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish Darren Fletcher all the best for his future after leaving United to join WBA after almost twenty years on United's books. A true gentleman of the game and one of the most generous personalities in football. On the same day Anderson returned to his native Brazil and Fergie's last signing Zaha rejoined Crystal Palace. The only player in was on loan defender Andy Kellett from Bolton.

Before United face West Ham over the weekend it will be a time for reflection on Friday the 6th as it will be the 57th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in which our club, country and football lost the majority of a team that was on the brink of European glory, a team made up of young men who were doing something that they fully enjoyed, playing football. There can be no bigger incentive for the present team to qualify for a competition that half a century ago the pioneers gave their lives for.

The Flowers of Manchester. Never forgotten.

Roger Byrne, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Geoff Bent and Duncan Edwards.

Thanks for reading my thoughts.

Miles Dunton.