Thursday, 28 May 2015

Manchester United Season Review 2014-15

Well, he did it the Dutch maestro delivered on his promise of a top four finish.

In his first press conference as the new manager of United Louis van Gaal arrived straight from the World Cup and promised that his target was to guide the team into a Champions League qualifying place.

The season was an improvement on the previous one which wasn't exactly difficult, but to be honest it has been a season of ups and downs that left us sweating on that top four finish.

Of course, there were times when the team excelled by beating rivals that had embarrassed us last year. The outstanding results included beating Arsenal away the home victories over Man City and Spurs and the display at Stamford Bridge even though it ended in defeat, but the highlight had to be doing the double over Liverpool.

In the middle of the season, there was a run of eleven games undefeated in league and cup which showed signs of a move in the right direction.

These positives were tempered by the woeful displays against supposedly weaker teams. Defeat at home to Swansea, West Brom and Southampton add to those the poor away performances at Leicester, Swansea and especially Everton, which had to go down as our worst away match of the season. These games seriously dented our ambitions of ending higher than fourth.

It looked like United would go on a good run in the FA Cup, their only real chance of silverware, but that was halted by old boy Danny Welbeck in the quarter-final at Old Trafford. It pained me to see him score the winner as I wholeheartedly agreed with the manager that he was not good enough for his team and apart from that goal the manager was proved to be correct.

David de Gea performed heroics between the sticks for United as on countless occasions he somehow managed to get a fingertip, a toe, a leg in fact almost every part of his body to the ball to rescue valuable points for the team.

His stand out match among many had to be the victory over Everton at Old Trafford in which not only did he become the first keeper to save a Leighton Baines penalty in the league but his last minute save at full stretch to deny a certain goal was truly world class.

The latter part of the season was marred by the continued speculation that Real Madrid, as they do every season, wanted the Spaniard to return to his hometown to be their number one. United have offered De Gea a substantial pay increase to try and lure him to stay so the ball is firmly in his court. I hope his head is not swayed and with the uncertainty of who will manage the Madrid side he could decide to stay at a club where he is loved by the fans.

The fact that De Gea was chosen as the player of the year for the second season running tells you how terrible our defence was for most of the season. Due to a combination of injuries and poor performances the team never really had a stable look about them.

The player worst hit by injury had to be Luke Shaw who had a wretched time in his debut season. In the beginning, he was deemed to not be match fit by van Gaal and had to wait for his chance.

However, when he was fit he proved exactly what a talent he is with some outstanding link up play with Ashley Young on the left wing.

Another of the new signings blighted by time on the treatment table was Marcos Rojo but like Shaw became a crowd favourite with his all-out style of play.

Through necessity rather than choice, we saw the introductions of a couple of reserve talents in defence Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair. To their credit, they can hold their heads up high within the team but without an experienced player to guide them they seemed to lose a little confidence towards the end of the season.

At the start of the season Louis van Gaal experimented with three centre-backs usually a combination of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones but they were like the teams very own 'Bermuda Triangle' as strange events would take place when they were together.

Evans seems to have blown his chance under van Gaal and could depart for pastures new, Jones is still battling with confidence and decision making in his game.

To be fair to Smalling he pulled his game together and scored some important goals and when he was made captain for the Arsenal match that was a great endorsement from the manager following his contract extension.

In that system, Ashley Young was used as a wing back which totally limited his potential to create any forward momentum that resulted in a lack of assists. The same could be said of Antonio Valencia who filled in at right back all season, not his favoured spot.

The side looked distinctly more comfortable and balanced once the system had reverted to the more traditional flat four at the back and gave players like Young the licence to attack the wings which provided the much-needed outlet of goals that had been lacking.

The team is crying out for new blood at the back with experienced players to help guide the youngsters and provide that all important defensive partnership that United have been used to in the past. Many have been linked including Alves, Otamendi and Hummels so it will be interesting to see who comes.

Ander Herrera and Juan Mata were both a breath of fresh air in the middle, but it took the manager a while to blend them into his system but when they did great things happened.

Herrera's brace against Aston Villa and Mata's double at Anfield, his second winning him the goal of the season, were the icing on the cake for both of the Spanish amigos.

Their guile and skill combined with an eye for the killer pass should benefit the team more next season with the right forwards to get on the end of their creativity.

Michael Carrick started the season late and ended it early due to injuries, but when he did play the team looked more stable. At his age, he will not play a whole season which is all the more reason to buy a midfielder who can help him carry the workload.

It was a positive debut season for Daley Blind who was asked on many occasions to play in different positions including right-back, central defence and holding midfield. In fact, I was waiting for him to play in goal in the last match of the season.

He is a good utility player but the energy and work rate he put in over the season began to show in his legs towards the end.

Now, what about the bushy haired Belgian who had endured a horrible time under Moyes at United last season, what a transformation Fellaini was this term. He was a totally different player, a player who was used intelligently by the manager which paid off big time in some important games.

Used for his height he became unmarkable in attack but that wasn't the whole story he actually showed that he can play football and scored some crucial goals. A player who seemed to enjoy his game after the ridicule of last year. I'm turning a blind eye to his GBH attack on Paul McShane and subsequent red card.

After a bright start to his Old Trafford career record signing, Angel Di Maria became the enigma in the side. His poor season has produced a huge debate to exactly what went wrong. Was it an early season injury, loss of confidence or the manager not being able to find his best position?

Maybe it was all of them but it will be interesting to see how van Gaal manages the situation. I think it was a case of the right player at the wrong time as he was not suited to United's transitional period hopefully he will get a second season to repay the money spent.

Newly appointed captain Wayne Rooney flourished after his move back to his favoured position as the main striker after being wasted in midfield earlier on in the season. Once he returned there the goals quickly came with the two best being the winner away at Arsenal and the volley on the turn at home to Villa.

Robin van Persie has had a season to forget and found it hard to get into his normally lethal stride not helped with time spent on the sidelines.

I believe that like Blind his fitness was affected by the long run in the World Cup. I admire van Persie as a player and will be forever grateful for what he achieved in his debut season but with his age and injury concerns maybe it's time for a new younger version to spearhead the attack.

Lastly, is the Colombian Radamel Falcao. I for one had high expectations when he came last summer perhaps like everybody too high. He came to United on the back of a lengthy knee injury that in hindsight proved to be his downfall.

Undoubtedly talented and charismatic he seemed a perfect fit for the reds but sometimes who have to bite the bullet, shake hands and say thanks but no thanks. Exactly what the manager has done.

Fringe players like Januzaj, Wilson and Pereira still need time to develop at United so maybe going out on loan for a season will give them a confidence boost and important game time. It didn't do any harm to the likes of David Beckham in the past.

The manager and his assistant Ryan Giggs seem to have gelled over the season if the head slaps dished out by van Gaal are anything to go by.

Louis van Gaal has built up a rapport and respect from the fans after his no-nonsense press conferences along with the willingness to change his system when there were clear indications it wasn't working.

His end of season speech at the Player of the Season awards also showed his lighter, less stern side.

My opinion is that the season, on the whole, can be qualified as a success. As with everything time is a great healer and van Gaal seems more than capable of taking the team further.

I feel that with new additions to the team we can compete next season with a squad that has cover in all positions both at home and in Europe. I'm excited about the possibilities after van Gaal's bedding in season has come to an end.

Enjoy the summer break and thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 25 May 2015

To Hull and Back.

Hull City 0 Manchester United 0

"The Hull coach is a child of Manchester United, but we will be fair to the Premier League and Newcastle." Words which were spoken by Louis van Gaal in his press conference on Friday before the last match of this season.

A Premier League match that had far more importance for the Tigers than the Red Devils.

Hull desperately needed a win to have any chance of avoiding relegation and hope that Newcastle would come unstuck.

On the other hand, United had a very slim chance of finishing third but that would have depended on Arsenal losing and United scoring a hatful of goals.

So after an uninspiring away season, which United would turn up for this match? The one that won at the Emirates and Anfield or the side that lost at Goodison Park and the King Power Stadium. The answer was most definitely the latter.

Here was the final starting XI of the season: Valdes, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Blind, Mata, Herrera, Di Maria, Young and Rooney.

Subs: Januzaj, Lindegaard, van Persie, Fellaini, McNair, Blackett and Wilson.

Wayne Rooney returned to spearhead the attack and Victor Valdes made his first start for the team in place of the still injured David de Gea. Angel Di Maria made a rare start for the side as Fellaini took his place on the bench. There was no place in the squad for Falcao who had played his last part for the team last week.

United kicked off their final match in the change strip of all white.

Tha atmosphere, as expected, was nervous from the home crowd, but the away fans were in typically fine voice with their special tribute to George Best who would have celebrated his birthday this week.

Hull started on the front foot and in the first minute Valdes was called into action to save a header on his line. One minute later Rooney nearly opened the scoring at the other end but fired over the bar after a pass from Rojo.

6 minutes in and a there was a slight hesitation by Valdes in goal as Hull attacked that nearly let the hosts in with a chance. To be fair to Valdes, he must be short of match timing after a lack of games due to the form all season of De Gea. Then Di Maria went to ground after a collision on the half way line which left him winded.

The first ten minutes and it was all the home side as they peppered the visitors box with crosses from corners and free kicks which were haphazardly handled by the United defence.

United struggled to get into any type of rhythm this was not helped by the fact that Young was used more in the middle to accommodate Di Maria on the left.

In the 17th  minute Hull thought they had scored after the ball was bundled over the line after Valdes fumbled a cross, but the linesman had raised his flag for offside. Straight away, Valdes redeemed himself by making a world class save down low to his left post following a chance from Elmohamady. From the following corner, the ball was in United's net once again but for the second time offside was the ruling.

On 21 minutes Louis van Gaal was forced into a change as the hugely disappointing Di Maria came off to be replaced by Adnan Januzaj.

Without the reliable De Gea behind them the away defence seemed jittery with everything Hull were throwing at them.

On the half hour it had been a lacklustre performance by United who had not created anything since the Rooney effort at the start of the half and honestly looked like they were just going through the motions as news had come through that Arsenal were up 3-0 so fourth position would be the best United could finish.

The captain showed his frustration five minutes before half-time as he lost the ball near the corner flag and as the defender cleared his lines Rooney had a sly kick at him that was luckily ignored by referee Lee Probert.

United had an opportunity to break the deadlock however Herrera couldn't get on the end of the cross from Young. Good vision again by Ashley Young who was back in his preferred position on the left wing.

Half-time 0-0 and a poor first 45 minutes from United and not the season ending high the fans were expecting. Although Valdes pulled off a brilliant save he and the back four looked on edge as Hull tried their hardest to bully them into mistakes a tactic that almost paid off.

Di Maria didn't last long in his first start for ages and with him in the side the team looked so unbalanced and without any imagination, moreover, Young must have been displeased having to move from his favoured left wing spot to make room for the Argentinian after the excellent season he has had.

The second half started with end to end football but with no penetration. Herrera had a strike blocked followed by a Hull counter attack with Meyler wasting a chance.

Ten minutes into the half and Hull won a free-kick after Blind was adjudged to have committed a foul right on the edge of the box which came to nothing.

56 minutes and Herrera broke forward in so much space but couldn't pick out the killer pass to one of his teammates. One minute later Mata played a wonderful ball over the top aimed at Rooney, but the captain just couldn't reach the ball.

Two minutes later there was a second change of the day as Fellaini came on for Young. Following the change the lively Herrera had another chance with a right-footed strike from inside the area which flew slightly wide of the post.

Hull was almost gifted a goal from another Valdes mistake as he missed the ball with a punch and Blind cleared off the line. Former red Paul McShane almost got his toe on a cross from the corner. At this time in the match, Hull was edging closer and closer to opening the scoring.

68 minutes United were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous spot after a mazy run by Januzaj but once again the chance was wasted.

Then in the 70th Valdez proved his class as he was more alert this time saving comfortably from a deflected shot on goal.

The third and last change for United came in the 72nd minute as youngster James Wilson replaced Juan Mata. Following the change Valdes made another excellent stop low to his left. The keeper showed glimpses of his former self with two world class saves but also showed his fallible side when dealing with crosses.

There were two moments of madness in the last twenty minutes, the first when Hull were lucky to not have been reduced to ten men after Abel Hernandez clearly punched Phil Jones in the stomach in the United area, but the referee waved play on.

Then to rub salt into the wounds, Fellaini was given his marching orders after following through on McShane which the refereee decided was dangerous play and issued a straight red card to the Belgian. McShane needed stitches in a leg wound and a head bandage.

After a lengthy stoppage time, Hull attacked and again Valdes was alert enough to parry a shot in a crowded penalty area.

The pressure was building in the stadium as news filtered through that Newcastle were leading by two in their match. Attack as they might it looked to be all over for the Tigers as the match entered the last five minutes.

With 90 minutes on the clock there was a late chance for United to take all the points as Januzaj won a free-kick right on the edge of the box. Rooney took the responsibility and fired over the wall, but the keeper Harper tipped it over.

The referees assistant showed an extra seven minutes to be played which evoked memories of when Steve Bruce was the hero all those years ago at Old Trafford when United beat Sheffield Wednesday to all but win the league with a similar amount of added time in his United days. Unfortunately for him and his team it wasn't to be as good today.

Full time and United's last match of the season ended goalless which meant they had finished the season in fourth and Hull City were relegated. Try as they might Hull couldn't find the breakthrough needed. As for United, it was a typical end of season display with nothing really to play for. The biggest disappointment being the ridiculous challenge by Fellaini which earned him a deserved red card and blighted a fine season for the Belgian.

In a week that saw, as expected, David De Gea win both the players' and fans' player of the year awards speculation continued about the keepers future along with a number of other players. The manager promised that all would be resolved after the last game of the season and he reiterated his stance that he felt De Gea would remain at the club.

Louis van Gaal has delivered on his promise of a top four finish and I look forward to him strengthening the squad as that was the biggest problem this season, a lack of depth. We desperately need a couple of defenders, a holding midfielder and at least two forwards as I can see him clearing the decks of players who do not match his renowned philosophy.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who took the time to read my blogs throughout the season and I really appreciate all the feedback and kind words that you gave to me. I write about United because the club is my passion and has been for a long time but it's the fans who make it all worthwhile and without them United would be nothing.

I look forward to next season and sharing my thoughts on the new campaign which I hope will be another step closer to the return of past glories.

Thanks as always for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 18 May 2015

United end home season with a draw.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1

Louis van Gaal delivered on his promise of a top four finish as United went into their final match of the season at Old Trafford.

After Liverpool were defeated at Anfield by Crystal Palace it confirmed United's place in one of the Champions League spots.

Arsenal held the advantage of finishing third as they have an extra game to play but United had a chance to issue a statement of intent and gain revenge for the defeat by the Gunners in the FA Cup quarter-final which was United's only realistic chance of silverware.

With transfer speculation ripe in the build up to the match, especially concerning player of the season David de Gea, the question was which players would be playing their final matches for United at the Theatre of Dreams?

I would be disappointed if De Gea departed for his hometown club after United have invested money and time in his development only for Real Madrid to benefit from his undoubted talent. I would prefer him to stay a few years longer and help United to get back to former glories and become a red legend therefore making it more difficult for him to leave. However, I wouldn't hold it against him if he did go as it would be too tempting for him to return home.

Other players who could have said their farewells if reports are to be believed are Januzaj, Falcao, Evans and Robin van Persie.

Unfortunately, Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw hadn't overcome their injuries in time for selection so here was Louis van Gaal's team: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Mata, Blind, Herrera, Young, Fellaini and Falcao.

Chris Smalling had the honour of captaining United, Falcao was given a start in the absence of Rooney and Rojo returned after injury to take over from Shaw at left back.

Subs: Valdes, Blackett, McNair, Di Maria, Januzaj, van Persie and Wilson.

No starting place for van Persie against his old team. It is not a good sign for the Dutchman who couldn't even get a start ahead of underperforming Falcao when he’s playing his old club. The manager has always said he generally plays players against their old teams because they have that extra edge. Yet again, Angel Di Maria started on the bench.

United kicked off the match attacking the old Scoreboard End.

It all started very scrappily in the midfield as both sides took their time to settle into the game.
Ashley Young had United's first chance on goal in the 6th minute with his trademark cut inside followed by a right-footed effort that sailed over the bar.

As you would expect from these two rivals it was a highly combative start backed up with both sets of fans in fine voice.

8 minutes in and Young and Fellaini nearly repeated the Palace goal, but the Belgian couldn't reach the ball with his head at the far post. From the resulting clearance, Falcao was played through but his effort was cleared for a corner which when taken fell to Smalling whose shot was blocked for another corner.

First 10 minutes and it was the home side doing all the attacking. With Smalling leading as a captain should with some fine build up from the back.

Mata won a free-kick right on the edge of the area in the 13th minute which Falcao lined up, but it was Mata himself who fired the ball tamely into the keeper's arms. Where's Depay when you need him?

After 20 minutes, there was still no breakthrough for either side but Arsenal were slowly creeping into the match with Sanchez and Giroud looking like their biggest threat.

In the 21st minute, Phil Jones cleared the danger with a header while lying flat on the grass before Giroud could pounce. Great, if not comedic improvisation.

Just before the half hour Arsenal broke with a long ball which Jones nearly touched past De Gea in a mix up between the two. If David De Gea does leave for Madrid I guarantee he won't miss the likes of Jones and Evans that's for sure.

29 minutes 1-0 United. A superb goal by Ander Herrera after a great cross from the left by Ashley Young. Herrera ran to the far post after anticipating Young's ball and hit a beautiful rıght footed volley into the net.

That's his sixth premier league goal from seven attempts an impressive strike rate.

Young has been excellent since the turn of the year and his assists have helped United into the top four that's for sure.

Since the goal, the play went a little quiet with the ball stuck between the opposing midfielders.

38 minutes in and Mata did well to work a cross from a tight angle on the byline Falcao tried his best to steer home his header but was put off by Koscielny. Summed up Falcao's contribution so far by easily being knocked out of his stride.

The half ended with United enjoying most of the possession and with Blind attempting to put the home side ahead before the break with a couple of efforts the first of which was blocked on the way to goal by a combination of Rojo and Smalling.

A good 45 minutes from the home side who controlled the majority of the play and deserved to be in the lead. Arsenal didn't really offer anything in the way of chances even though Phil Jones did his best to help them.

Up front, Falcao offered nothing to the team and surely it wouldn't be long before he was replaced by Robin van Persie.

The Gunners started the second half with United attacking the Stretford End for the last time this season.

Louis van Gaal made no changes to the side at half time so Falcao would have a last chance to win over the home fans. The Colombian started the half in a feisty mood battling for the ball and winning a free kick which was taken far too quickly.

The 49th minute saw a nice passing movement involving Mata, Fellaini and Young with the winger managing to cross the ball into the danger zone, but it was too close to the keeper. One minute later Alexis Sanchez had a great opportunity to equalise for the visitors but his volley was high, wide and handsome.

54 minutes. Rojo tried his luck from outside the box which Ospina managed to save low down on his line.

Smalling was commanding at the back as he stopped everything that Arsenal threw at him. Maybe wearing the armband brought the best out of him.

Blind almost played Young in on goal, but the flag was raised against Falcao who was standing in an offside position.

An hour into the match and van Gaal had seen enough of Falcao as van Persie replaced the striker. As the Colombian left the pitch he waved to the home fans as if signalling that was his time over at Old Trafford.

One thing I noticed is that Falcao's reaction time is nowhere near good enough as on too many occasions he was slow on the uptake and lost the ball far too easily. He spent more time falling over than on his feet. As good as he was in the past he is not good enough for United now.

Following the change that man David de Gea came to the teams rescue yet again this season this time blocking a shot from Giroud with his legs. Which prompted the ground to start chanting his name and asking him to stay a red.

Two minutes later it was Rojo's turn to be the hero as he intercepted a through ball just in time.
The action and challenges were heating up as Arsenal tried to get back into the game but at the same time leaving themselves open for counter attacks by United.

In the 69th minute, Rojo was in the right place at the right time again to clear the danger which gave the visitors another corner. Rojo was having a great match on his return as his full-blooded style of play stopped Arsenal in their tracks at every opportunity.

Then in the 72nd minute David de Gea left the pitch with what looked like a leg injury but could have a deeper meaning. He was replaced by Victor Valdes who made his debut appearance for the first team. De Gea received a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful as he made his way to the tunnel.

Is it possible that De Gea gifted a chance of a run out to his compatriot Valdes?

At the same time, the impressive Rojo was replaced by Tyler Blackett.

A quarter of an hour left and Young had another run down the left and his industrious work earned a corner. When the ball was cleared by Arsenal a huge cheer rang out as Valdes got his first touch of the ball.

In the 81st minute, Arsenal got the equaliser in a somewhat fortunate fashion as Walcott's shot was deflected over Valdes by Blackett. The keeper was unlucky there, but the visitors had been threatening since the introduction of Walcott. The goal was given as an own goal to Blackett.

Following the goal Daley Blind literally had a blind moment when he passed the ball to, well, no one.
Van Persie had a great chance to restore the lead but fired the ball over the bar from inside the area in the 87th minute. What an opportunity!

Try as they might United couldn't find the winner in the closing moments which would have taken them above Arsenal.

The game ended all square and once again United will rue their missed chances which have blighted the season. Not being able to capitalise on the high percentage of possession has been one of the reasons we are not higher up the league that and the shoddy defence.

It now looks certain that United will end the season in fourth place and will have to play a tricky European qualifier to get into the Champions League proper. Tough ties in Greece, Turkey and Russia could lie ahead for United.

There were positives to be taken from the match with the form of Young and Rojo down the left, the work rate of the two amigos Mata and Herrera in midfield and Smalling putting in a captain's role. Unfortunately, there were also negatives including Falcao's lacklustre performance, the early departure of de Gea and the none appearance of Di Maria.

After the final whistle Louis van Gaal grabbed the microphone and thanked the Old Trafford faithful for their support and said he would see them again next season.

This was followed by the players making their way around the stadium rather solemnly after the draw and, of course, empty handed.

Wayne Rooney's son Klay delighted the crowd by sticking the ball in the net at the Stretford End which was more than Falcao had managed.

Only one match to go and that is at relegation-threatened Hull City.  They need a win over United and hope that Newcastle lose. I feel for red legend Steve Bruce as he is one of the honest managers in the league and I would rather the Geordies were relegated, but United need to end the season on a high. In the drop zone, it will be an exciting and nervous last day of the season.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

United vs Arsenal 1979 Cup Final: A personal memory.

12th of May 1979.

I woke up early that May morning jumped out of bed and opened the curtains to let the bright sunlight fill my bedroom. Today was going to be a great day but I had a lot to do that morning, clothes to organise, a visit to the hairdresser with my brothers, collect the rental cars and pick up the flowers.

You might be wondering why I was going through all this trouble for a United cup final against Arsenal at Wembley well the answer is all that preparation was in fact for my mum's wedding to my stepfather. Yes, that's correct my dear mum had booked her wedding on the same day that Dave Sexton would be leading out my beloved Red Devils at Wembley.

To make matters worse all my step father's family were Arsenal fans and my side were reds through and through.

In my mums defence, she had gone ahead and selected the date before United had played and beaten Liverpool in the semi-finals not believing that United would prevail, Oh woman of little faith.

The biggest worry that morning was as the wedding kicked off, sorry ceremony began at 2pm would we make it to the wedding reception before the match started and would there be TV's with which to watch the match.

The ceremony went smoothly and as the confetti was being thrown my brothers and myself were already in the cars tuning in the radio as the match had started five minutes previously. The score was 0-0 so far so good.

We arrived at the reception and quickly sought out a TV while mum was busy meeting and greeting her guests. We found one behind the bar and our hearts sank as Arsenal had taken the lead in the 12th minute through Talbot.

As everybody took their places for the meal and awaited the speeches there was another goal from Arsenal this time scored by future red Frank Stapleton. At half-time United trailed 0-2.

The best man's speech thankfully didn't drag on too long and once the formalities had been observed we headed straight to the bar area where four TV's had been set up for the last 10 minutes of the match, and what a last 10 minutes it was.

It must have been a funny old sight as all of us were sat in our best wedding outfits glued to the television as first Gordon McQueen, playing up front as he was totally knackered, pulled a goal back then the equaliser that lifted the roof of the reception hall. Sammy McIlroy had pulled United level with a superb solo goal.

2-2 and Arsenal would surely be deflated going into extra-time as United were in the ascendency this was going to be our day again.

The next few minutes didn't really sink in until a considerable time later as I was still bouncing from the equaliser and looking forward to the 30 minutes of extra time.

I didn't really take much notice as the ball was crossed in from the left high into United's area and over the reach of keeper Gary Bailey and fell for the approaching Alan Sunderland, who beat Arthur Albiston to poke it home.

The cheers from the Arsenal side of my new family snapped me out of my stunned silence and disbelief of what we had just witnessed. The game was lost at the death after a typically valiant fightback by United.

It was back to the wedding celebrations which continued late into the night. My mum Jayne and stepfather Peter spent many a happy year together but after this experience they were very careful about the dates of future family celebrations.

Memories you can't beat them.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ashley Young is flying again.

With the announcement, last summer, of Louis van Gaal as the new manager of Manchester United there must have been a few players at Old Trafford instructing their agents to start looking for pastures new.

Among those, was possibly Ashley Young who had endured a torrid season under David Moyes as had most of the team.

Having been brought to United three years previously in 2011 by Alex Ferguson his career started well enough that season with some encouraging performances and eye-catching goals. He was outstanding in the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal at the start of his Old Trafford career contributing with a double.

His encouraging start was brought to an abrupt halt when he suffered an injury that kept him out until February 2012. In his absence, United had been knocked out of the Champions League and had to compete in the Europa league.

Although he chipped in with goals in the remainder of the season he wasn't quite the same player as when he had arrived.

In Ferguson's last season as manager, 2012-13 Young made a total of 18 appearances and didn't find the net once. His season was blighted by accusations from all parties about his unsportsmanlike diving in the oppositions area for penalties. It became a regular event and certainly didn't bring him any sympathy from the United fans.

Once Ferguson had stepped down it was the turn of David Moyes to try and bring the best out of Young but the new problem for Young was the form of a certain Adnan Januzaj.

Januzaj made more appearances than Young that season and chipped in with one more goal than him. To rub it in the teenager even replaced Young as a substitute to make his league debut.

It was frustrating to watch Young play as he clearly had so much talent, but he seemed to be struggling with his form and even the diving question raised its ugly head and once again blighted his reputation.

So, with yet another new manager entering the arena last summer the writing seemed to be on the wall for Young along with other players including Fellaini. Young had even lost his place in the England set up since being involved in the 2012 Euro's.

However, here we are coming to the end of the season in which United look to have claimed a priceless fourth place in the Premier League thanks in no small part to the performances week in week out of Ashley Young.

Originally used as a left wing back in Louis van Gaal's dreaded 3-5-2 formation at the beginning of the season Young never gave up or complained about how difficult he was finding it and how frustrating it was to play in that position.

He was cautioned for diving against Sunderland back in August which van Gaal must have reacted strictly to as there has been thankfully no repeat of it since.

Once the manager saw sense and realised that his side wouldn't win anything with that setup and reverted to a more traditional four at the back and wingers Young was off and flying.

So far this season his has made the most Premier League appearances of his United career, 24 and contributed with 4 assists and 28 shots netting twice. However, it's not his goals that have impressed it's his wing play that has made him one of United's success stories this season.

Like his teammate Fellaini who had also endured a tough season under Moyes, Young has been rejuvenated under van Gaal and is finally repaying the loyal supporters with some sterling displays.

His work rate down the left against Crystal Palace in United's latest victory summed up his transformation and earned the win and a valuable three points. It could also see him recalled to the England squad. He deserves nothing less.

Even with the imminent arrival of Memphis Depay I still feel that Young has a lot to offer United and it could be Adnan Januzaj who becomes surplus to requirements and loaned out next season.

If so, how the tables have turned.

Update: Ashley signed a new 3 year contract at United on August 7th 2015.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

United soar over the Eagles.

Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 2

United flew away from the capital on a high as they won a hard fought match over a plucky Crystal Palace.

On the back of three successive defeats and with only three matches to play it was imperative that there were no more slip ups.

United fans received a boost after a difficult three weeks with the news that Memphis Depay will be joining the Red Devils from PSV. Louis van Gaal admitted that he had to act quickly to ward off the attentions of PSG.

This is a great signing as Depay is only 21 and ended a fabulous season in Holland by winning a league winners medal and showing his worth by scoring 21 goals in the process. A talent that will surely blossom under van Gaal next season.

The signing does raise a few questions about a few current players especially Adnan Januzaj. The young Belgian has endured a torrid season and with the imminent arrival of Depay it could signal a loan move away from Old Trafford, allowing Depay to wear the iconic No.11 shirt.

On the negative front, there was bad news that Michael Carrick would miss the rest of the season with a calf injury. This was indeed bad news as United had struggled in the middle of the park without his presence in the team.

The manager chose the following team: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Blind, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Young and Rooney.

Subs: Valdes, Evans, McNair, Pereira, Januzaj, Wilson and Falcao.

Luke Shaw had recovered from his injury that kept him out against WBA but there was no place even in the squad for Robin van Persie who had a virus or Angel Di Maria who was injured in training.

United got the match under way playing in their white away strip. Rooney started up front with Fellaini patrolling behind him and they were immediately in the thick of the action as the away side started brightly.

In the 4th minute, the first corner of the match went to United as Valencia powered down the right and his cross was deflected.

The passing from United in the early stages was falling short of what was needed.

7 minutes and Daley Blind let fly with a shot from distance that the keeper Speroni just managed to fingertip onto the post and out for a corner. A good effort from Blind and it is good to see a player try his luck from outside the area.

In the first ten minutes, United were in total control of the match however as in recent matches their final ball was left wanting.

Former Red Devil Zaha tried to conjure up something on the left but he was well marshalled by the defence.

13 minutes into the match and It was Ander Herrera's turn to try a shot from outside the area which wasn't even close to the target.

Fellaini showed his worth to the team as his was back in his own area to clear away a Palace cross then continued up the field to help start an attack.

After a quarter of an hour, the home team started to ask questions of United by peppering De Gea's area with crosses from both left and right which were dealt with fairly comfortably.

Then in the 20th minute United were awarded a penalty as a harmless cross by Young was handled in the area by Dann.

With no van Persie and Rooney relegated as penalty taker it was left to Juan Mata to confidently dispatched the ball beyond the reach of the keeper into the bottom corner.

Great start for United who seemed to grow in confidence from the goal even Herrera tried a Rooney volley on the turn but it didn't quite have the same result.

Quite clearly van Gaal had instructed the team to shoot on sight as it was Rooney who had an attempt easily saved after 23 minutes.

The brilliant away fans were once again in fine voice easily outsinging the home support.

Palace had a great chance to equalise after 25 minutes following a corner given away by Phil Jones. The cross was floated deep into the box and Jedinak rose the highest to power a header just wide.

Shortly afterwards, Mata gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position which Palace worked well to open up a chance that didn't quite come off for them.

The warning signs were certainly there for United who needed to show composure when all the Palace players were over reacting to every decision.

On the half hour mark and there was a worrying sight as Falcao was spotted warming up on the touchline as Rooney struggled to shake off a knock to his thigh.

With ten minutes of the half remaining Luke Shaw received treatment after an elbow to his face which allowed Rooney the time to discuss his thigh problem with the physio.

It was clear Shaw couldn't continue and after treatment he was replaced by Jonny Evans. Yet another blow, literally,  for Shaw who has been the most injured player at United this season.

A defensive reshuffle saw Jones move to left back and Evans partnered Smalling in the middle of the defence.

Five minutes before the break and United had a second shout for a penalty as the defender Delaney clearly handled a Rooney effort but referee Oliver wasn't interested this time.

In the 42nd minute after great work down the right by Valencia, the ball was eventually crossed in by Herrera to the far post where Fellaini, unfortunately, didn't react quick enough.

A minute of normal time was left on the clock and hero Mata nearly turned villain as he almost played Jones into trouble with a crazy back pass that was thankfully tidied up by Smalling. With United's past history in defence, it could have been worse.

United ended the half on the attack with a corner which was well won by the impressive Ashley Young. However, It was clear to all that Rooney would not appear for the second half.

The first half wasn't pretty from United but was all about doing a job which they completed well. Although Palace did have a few chances to score they never really threatened David de Gea's goal.

It was a blow to lose Shaw as he and Young had once again combined well down the left and the potential loss of Rooney could have an adverse effect on the team in the second half.

As expected Falcao did replace Rooney at the start of an important 45 minutes in the Red Devil's season.

Palace started the strongest and gave United's defence, and the fans, the jitters on a few occasions as they went in search of an equaliser.

It was understandable that the United players were nervous and the fact that they showed a maturity in their play speaks volumes to the work van Gaal has done this season.

In the first ten minutes of the restart, De Gea dealt well with all the high balls planted into his area, which proved how well he has improved his all round game.

54th minute and Ander Herrera was harshly booked for a foul in which he hardly touched the player.
Two minutes later and Palace drew level as Smalling gave away a foul right on the edge of the penalty area.

Up stepped Puncheon who planted the ball into the net all too easily. United's wall made no attempt to block the ball and remained rooted to the ground as the ball sailed into the goal.

A soft goal for United to concede but with Evans, Smalling and Jones reunited in defence it was certainly no huge surprise.

On the hour mark, Smalling lost the ball in the centre circle and gifted a chance for the home side who couldn't capitalise on the chance.

After the goal, it was all Palace with United definitely on the back foot and if not for some poor finishing by the home forwards it could have been a lot worse.

Not for the first time this season United needed some inspiration from somewhere.

It almost came from Blind who set up an attack in the 66th minute as he released Valencia whose cross was met weakly by the head of Fellaini.

70th minute and it was  David de Gea to the rescue as he has done so many times this season with a point blank save of a certain goal.

Three minutes later it was Ashley Young who started to increase the tempo down the left and he had an effort deflected for a corner.

One minute later Mata had the ball in the net but Fellaini was ruled off-side. Better from United but at the other end the defence was having huge difficulties coping with the speed of the home side's attackers.

76 minutes and United's best player, Young, flew down the wing and into the penalty area where he pulled back a pass to Mata who fired over.

Then one minute later the all important breakthrough came for United when that man Young crossed over a wonderful ball to the far post to allow Fellaini the simple task of heading the ball into the back of the net for his sixth goal of an impressive season.

A great goal not dissimilar to the one that Fellaini scored against Man City made from the industrious work of Ashley Young who has been the best player since the turn of the year once he reverted back to an out and out winger.

Even at 2-1 up the stress of the situation was evident as Palace still threatened the United defence.
Bearing that in mind Paddy McNair replaced Smalling which provided a fresh pair of legs at the back for the last eight minutes.

In the 85th minute, it was De Gea to the rescue again time as he saved a shot with his legs to stop a certain goal.

The Fellaini goal seemed to knock the wind out of Palace as United almost added a third in the last minute after Herrera had an excellent shot tipped over by the keeper.

That move involved the hard working Young and Falcao. It was the Colombians only really telling contribution to another disappointing outing in a United shirt.

Full-time and it ended 2-1 to Manchester United and how important a win that was. Palace put up a fight but United hung on to record their first victory in the last four games and earned the three points needed to put them in the driving seat for a top four finish.

Ashley Young provided another fine performance and it was his cross that led to the penalty and his assist that led to the winning goal. Deserved the man of the match accolades.

Where would United be without their Spaniard in goal? On at least two occasions, David de Gea came to the teams' rescue with point-blank saves to keep United ahead. Let's hope his head hasn't been turned by the attentions of Real Madrid and he commits his future to United.

Down to the last two matches starting with the visit of Arsenal to Old Trafford next Sunday. If results elsewhere go United's way we could have a guaranteed Champions League place by the time we meet them. Even so, this brings with it a chance to avenge the defeat at the hands of the Gunners in the FA Cup quarter-final.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.