Saturday, 23 April 2016

Mercurial Martial Wins Wembley Thriller.

Everton 1 Manchester United 2

The brilliance of Anthony Martial in injury-time booked Manchester United a return trip to Wembley after an enthralling semi-final against Everton.

Playing in the FA Cup final at Wembley is the match that all players strive to achieve at least once in their career. Even the foreign players understand how special it is to appear in the season-ending showpiece.

Representing a last chance of a trophy this season for both sides gave the game that extra bite as United looked to overcome an Everton side who themselves have had a poor campaign.

Both Louis van Gaal and Roberto Martinez have endured a torrid time of it this season with criticism coming in heavy from the media and more importantly the fans for poor tactics and team selection. So it is a pretty safe bet to assume that at least one of them will not be at the helm next season even if they do manage to lift the cup come May.

With almost a fully fit squad to choose from van Gaal decided to pick this as his starting XI: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Blind, Smalling, Rojo, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Lingard, Martial and Rashford.

A few eyebrows were raised when the starting team was announced, but there was only one change from the side that beat West Ham in the quarter-final replay and that was Rooney in place of Herrera.

Fellaini was picked to partner Carrick in midfield. Carrick had endured a tough game up against Barkley in the recent league encounter, but this time around he would get the upper-hand.

The trio of Schneiderlin, Herrera and Mata would start on the bench. After scoring his first goal for the club in midweek Darmian would also be on the sidelines and the promising Fosu-Mensah would start in his place at right-back. Rojo returned to the lineup at left-back to make his 50th appearance for the Red Devils.

Rooney made his 20th appearance for United in midfield against his boyhood club and had the youngsters Lingard, Martial and Rashford ahead of him in attack.

United kicked off the match and within the first five minutes, either side could of and should have taken the lead. The first chance fell to Fellaini who headed a Blind corner too weakly straight into the keepers arms then it was Lukaku who raced down the other end and managed to beat De Gea only to see his goal-bound effort brilliantly headed off the line by captain Rooney.

An inswinging free-kick by Rooney was met in the box by Rojo but his header went wide. The match had started with the two sides on the attack and you felt that both defences were going to be kept busy throughout the game.

The speed of United's attack was breathtaking at times and this was proven when Lingard beat the offside trap and connected with a ball over the top from Rooney that unfortunately was aimed straight at the keeper, who gratefully collected.

Lukaku had a second chance to put the Toffees in the lead, but De Gea blocked his shot after he had raced past Smalling and latched onto a ball from United old boy Cleverley. How many chances were the Reds going to give the Belgian forward?

The fast pace of the game would truly test the fitness of Rooney, who had only just returned to the team after a long injury. He was covering every blade of grass of the big Wembley pitch, in his deeper lying role.

There was a great chance for Martial after a neat passing move, however, when the ball arrived at his feet, he blasted well over the bar from the left side of the penalty area. It really could have been at least 2-2 within the first twenty minutes.

A nod down by Fellaini from a Blind cross fell to the feet of Rashford who side-footed a shot straight at the keeper.

After half an hour and a frantic start to the match Everton managed to slow the proceedings down until the 34th minute when United attacked the left side of the penalty area through the lively pair of Rashford and Martial and when the latter pulled the ball back there was Fellaini to sweep the ball into the net to put United into the lead against his former club. It was no less than United had deserved after their penetrating attacking play.

Half-time and United led by the Fellaini goal and enjoyed a half that was full of attacking play and it was a surprise that it was only 1-0. Martial had a superb half down the left and looked dangerous every time United went forward.

Everton looked poor in defence, especially the full-backs and apart from the two chances for Lukaku were not on the same level as United and if they managed to keep the score down to only one goal it would be a surprise.

Everton started the second half with United hoping to build on their dominance of the first half with no changes having been made by either manager.

The blues started the half brightly and mounted a few forays into the opposition's area to no effect as the United defenders were on their toes to any danger.

There was a golden opportunity that fell to Lingard, but the youngster snapped at his shot from a great position and it had to be put down to a wasted chance.

In the 56th minute controversy hit the match after Fosu-Mensah was adjudged to have brought down Barkley inside the area which he clearly hadn't but referee Taylor decided to award a spot kick.

Up stepped Lukaku who blasted a shot towards the bottom left-hand corner. However, there was that man De Gea to save at full stretch and deny the Toffees an unworthy equaliser. Justice was definitely served and United was once again grateful to the Spanish keeper.

Soon after the penalty miss van Gaal replaced Fosu-Mensah with Valencia.

The penalty miss seemed to provide Everton with more confidence as they piled the pressure on United and had a real go. For all their effort couldn't find a way past United's defence.

There was yet another penalty shout in the 66th minute this time against Jagielka who clearly handled the ball while falling to the ground by the near post under pressure from Fellaini. In all honesty Jagielka should have seen red as well but the referee turned a blind eye to the incident.

Everton at least tried to make more of a game of it and United was caught out in the 75th minute as Smalling unwittingly diverted a wicked low cross into his own net to make the score level.

The Blues were by now on the front foot as United tried to regroup and start all over again. Would they rue the missed chances in the first half?

De Gea was on hand again to palm away an effort from the substitute Deulofeu. Then Lukaku missed yet another chance to put his side ahead when he should really have scored. That was at least his fourth attempt on goal not including the penalty.

As the match entered the final five minutes Martial delivered a smart low cross from the left that Lingard was only inches away from tucking away. This was certainly a game of missed chances as both sides pounded each others area.

Van Gaal made a change in the last four minutes when he brought on Herrera for scorer Fellaini and his first taste of action was to be booked for a rugby tackle on Barkley, who was also cautioned for complaining.

An outstanding game still had one twist in the tale as late as the 92nd minute. Martial started a move from the left-hand touchline and played two one-twos first with Rashford then with Herrera. He collected Herrera's fortunate flick on and strode confidently into the box and as cool as you like slid the ball past the keeper into the bottom corner to send United deliriously into the final.

A goal made and finished by the sensational French striker whose all-round display was brilliant, to say the least. The only downside was the yellow card he received for his celebrations with the United faithful. A ridiculous rule that has to be changed.

An astonishing end to a match that had all the ingredients you would expect from a cup tie. Drama and excitement with no end of chances for both sides and a penalty save to boot.

On another day, Lukaku would have netted at least one of his many chances and the same goes for Lingard, who must be grateful to Martial for eventually grabbing the winner.

Fosu-Mensah and Smalling will also be thanking their teammates De Gea and Martial for saving their blushes.

As a team it has to be said that to a man the whole United side played superbly well and deserve so much credit for keeping their heads when Everton turned the screw during the second-half. At both ends United had two main heroes in De Gea and Martial, but it is the Frenchman that takes my vote for the man of the match award for topping off a mesmerising display with his cool late, late finish.

In the end, it will be United who return to Wembley at the end of the domestic season looking to end the long wait to lift the old trophy for the first time since 2004.

That's all for now as I'm off to catch my breath.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Friday, 22 April 2016

FA Cup Semi-Final Preview: Man Utd vs Everton.

Manchester United v Everton. FA Cup semi-final.

Hopefully, come Saturday evening it will be third time lucky for Manchester United after they face Everton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

The previous two meetings between the clubs at this stage came in 1966 and 2009 and on both occasions the Merseysiders came out on top to reach the final.

In a season that has once again fallen below the expectations of United and their fans the oldest club cup competition is the last chance of silverware for the Red Devils. Standing in their way of reaching the final for the 19th time is an Everton side who has also had a turbulent season.

Both Louis van Gaal and Roberto Martinez have come in for severe criticism from the fans for their management styles in a campaign that has left the sides unable to mount a challenge for the title and is left to concentrate on the cup to salvage some pride.

United will go into the match as favourites after the latest round of matches which saw the Reds defeat Crystal Palace without too much effort, but saw Everton succumb to a demoralising 4-0 defeat to Liverpool.

Having said that league form goes out of the window when it comes to the cup so we can expect a match that will probably be a tight affair but with the pace up front in United's young attack the majority of chances should fall the way of United.

In Martial and Rashford United have two forwards who have the skill, pace and capability to change the course of a game in an instant add to that their all round commitment and desire to win then the Everton defence will not relish coming up against them.

The midfield will be the area where the game will be of great interest and who van Gaal will deploy to try and control the middle will be intriguing, to say the least.

Schneiderlin should be a shoe in after his recent displays, but who will partner him? Carrick has been performing below par of late and in the recent clash against Everton he came off second best against Barkley. Former blue Fellaini could get the nod against his former club, but again, he has not exactly set the world alight this season. So it looks possible that Mata and a deeper lying Rooney will be called upon as they were against Palace.

Van Gaal seems to prefer Lingard to Herrera in the advanced role and the youngster has not let his side down. Herrera would also be a good choice as he has more experience and his partnership with Mata could suit this type of game in which fast passing moves to keep up the attacking momentum will be crucial.

At the back, Smalling and Blind will have their hands full with Lukaku but should prevail as they have built up a decent partnership over a season which has seen the defence keep seventeen clean sheets in the League.

The full backs chosen from Fosu-Mensah, Darmian, Valencia and Rojo have to beware of the threat of the forward runs of Baines and the skills of Spanish winger Deulofeu.

If Everton does get through the Red defence then they will still have to get past the best keeper in the world, David De Gea. He has saved his side on numerous occasions this campaign with stops that have been truly world class and which he makes consistently week in week out. It wasn't a surprise that he was the only United player to be named in the PFA team of the year this week.

In the end, United should have the firepower to outscore Everton and reach their first final since losing to Chelsea in 2007 and in doing so go some way to repay the faithful that have gotten behind the team even through the difficult times.

As a footnote the sooner the FA revert back to using neutral grounds for the semi-finals the better. It used to be the icing on the cake at the end of a long season for both fans and players alike to make their way to Wembley for the end of season Final. However, that special feeling has been taken away, and for two teams from the north-west to have to travel to the capital does not make geographical or financial sense.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Darmian's Stunner Seals Win.

Manchester United 2 Crystal Palace 0

A stunning strike by Matteo Darmian, his first goal for the Reds, guaranteed a win and three more points for Man United in their chase for a top-four finish.

Time is running out for United as they chase an all important place in that top four and their fate lies with the teams above them. All they can do is win their own matches and hope that results go their way.

A midweek match isn't the ideal preparation for the FA Cup semi-final this weekend, but it gave van Gaal an opportunity to make some changes and at the same time have a look at the potential final opponents should United and Palace meet at Wembley in the season-ending showpiece in May.

With one eye on the semi-final van Gaal made three changes to the starting eleven. Rojo, Fellaini, and Depay made way for Darmian, Lingard, and Martial. The team: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Valencia, Schneiderlin, Mata, Lingard, Rooney, Martial and Rashford.

United got the match underway with many seats empty inside the Theatre of Dreams desperately in need of a win to keep alive any hopes of a Champions League place.

There was something for the home crowd to celebrate as early as the fourth minute when an own goal by Palace put the home side ahead. It was Delaney who unwittingly put a low cross from Darmian into his own net when there was no United player anywhere close to the ball.

Following the goal, both teams had chances, including a close effort by Mata followed by Adebayor who pulled his shot wide.

Antonio Valencia enjoyed a lot of the ball down the right wing and was involved in many of United's attacks in the opening twenty minutes that saw Mata and Lingard linking well with Rashford to almost create a couple of openings.

There was nearly a second goal provided by Martial, whose shot from distance was saved by the keeper Speroni at full stretch. Next up it was Rooney trying his luck after a neat lay off from Martial. The captains' drive was collected by the busy Palace keeper. This was Speroni's first match since last May in which he also faced United.

After half an hour the Red Devils were well on top in the game and looked the more likely side to add to their lead with Martial and Valencia providing the threats down the left and right respectively.

That man Delaney almost doubled his own goal tally for the night when he deflected a dangerous cross from Martial just wide of his post.

Teenage goal machine Rashford was played through on goal by his captain Rooney, but the usually prolific striker hit his shot weakly at the keeper. There were then two chances in quick succession the first from Lingard and the second by Martial both of which were well saved by Speroni in the Palace goal.

Just before the break there was a bad two-footed challenge by Souare on Juan Mata that quite rightly received a yellow card and he was lucky it wasn't worse for him and Mata.

Half time and United would have to be happy with the slender 1-0 lead they had. The fact that it was only one goal was down to the man between the sticks for the away side after Speroni made save after save to deny United on numerous occasions.

As the second half began all United had to do was continue in the same vein as they had in the first half and their patience would surely be rewarded. Unless, of course the keeper had other plans. No changes were made by van Gaal as Palace restarted the match.

An early chance fell to Rooney after more great work from Martial who managed to cut the ball back from deep, but Rooney's low shot was just deflected wide by a defender.

The next opportunity fell to Mata who benefited from Rashford's tenacious hard work to fire a shot towards goal that Speroni turned around his post for a corner.

From the Blind corner, United doubled their lead in the 55th minute with a screamer from Darmian on the edge of the box that the keeper this time had no chance in stopping in a month of Sundays. Not a bad way to open his goal account by chesting the ball down then volleying it in off the post in front of the Stretford End.

The third goal almost came when Rashford unselfishly laid the ball off to Lingard inside the penalty area only to see the keeper make a double save from himself and Lingard.

That was Rashford's last moment of action as he was replaced by Memphis. The standing ovation from the home crowd as he left the pitch showed how much his all-round effort was appreciated.

Speroni was at it again when he tipped a Rooney header over his bar. Herrera made an appearance in place of Lingard for the final twenty minutes of a match that United had a firm control of.

The third and final change made by van Gaal was to give Rooney a breather and replaced him with Fellaini.

There was a scare for Smalling as he went into a challenge and he seemed to struggle for a few minutes as he tried to run off the knock. Thankfully, he managed to recover as the match progressed.

The home side went through the motions as the match entered the final ten minutes with the game won it was a case of not risking an injury before the weekend. Dutch winger Memphis tried to get his confidence back on track with a curling effort which was deflected away from goal.

Fresh from his first goal for the club Darmian clearly had a taste for more as he tried his luck again, but this time, it wasn't as spectacular and probably best forgotten.

The match ended with another win and three points in the bag for the home side. The match was a relative stroll for United as Palace offered no threat in attack and it turned out to be a good work out for the Reds ahead of the all-important match at the weekend. This display was an improvement on the win over Villa but far from the polished performance that the fans are looking for and more importantly expect from United.

Rashford impressed once again with Mata pulling the strings alongside Rooney. Schneiderlin proved his value to the side with his unassuming but effective style of play. The defence had a relatively easy night of it which allowed them to play higher up the pitch and provide the extra ammunition in attack.

However, it was Anthony Martial who again stood out as he was involved in the majority of United's attacks and if not for the outstanding form of the away keeper he would have added to his season's goal tally.

All the attention now turns to the semi-final at Wembley and the showdown with Everton in the FA Cup, which is the last chance for van Gaal and his team to get their hands on a trophy.

Lastly, talking about trophies, congratulations to Warren Joyce and his U21s who managed to retain their League title by beating Spurs. A superb achievement by the youngsters, most of whom have managed to break into the first team during this season which shows the fantastic array of young talent currently at the club.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Rashford Strike Sinks Villa.

Manchester United 1 Aston Villa 0

Marcus Rashford came up with the goods again in a match that didn't exactly get the pulses racing but moved United to within touching distance of a top four place at the same time guaranteeing relegation for a poor Aston Villa side.

After earning themselves a place in the FA Cup semi-final, United turned their attention back to the bread and butter of the Premier League and with an outside chance of a top-four finish it was imperative that they dispatched Villa and gained a valuable three points.

Van Gaal decided to freshen up the side with this starting XI: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, Rashford and Memphis.

Valencia, Schneiderlin, Rooney and Memphis all returned to the starting lineup as players were rested bearing in mind the midweek game against Palace followed by the trip to Wembley to tackle Everton in the semi-final of the FA Cup.

Smalling had a landmark to celebrate as he made his 200th appearance for the Red Devils.

Villa started the match hoping to get the win that would delay the inevitable for at least one more week. However, it was the home side that enjoyed the early possession and it would be interesting to see how the Rashford and Rooney axis connects. The early signs were positive as Rashford almost picked out his captain with a through ball but Rooney was flagged offside.

The first effort on goal fell to Rojo who headed a cross from a free-kick just over the bar. It was clear early on that the visitors sat too deep in their own half and allowed United to force themselves on them and if that tactic continued then it would be doubtful if it ended 0-0 at half-time for the umpteenth time this season.

A smart passing move between Rashford and Mata as they turned defence into attack ended up with a corner which was almost flicked in by Rojo.

Villa defender Lescott almost converted a Rashford cross from the right wing into his own net which actually was the closest effort on goal for United in the opening twenty-five minutes of play.

The game during the first half hour was like the Manchester weather during the match bright in parts but mainly dull and damp.

Former Red Kieran Richardson tried his luck from distance but his lame effort sailed high over De Gea's bar. Then in the 32nd minute the deadlock and drabness to the match was broken as Rooney played a delightful crossfield ball to the right channel where Valencia picked it up and delivered a low cross into the penalty area and there to meet it was the man of the moment Rashford to sweep home the opener and register his seventh goal in twelve games to continue his dream debut season.

Just before half time Mata was again involved in a build up with some neat interchange passing with Rooney which came to nothing in the end.

The first half ended and United led 1-0 thanks to the youngster who just can't stop putting the ball in the net. It has to be said that Rashford's goal was the only highlight in a pretty uninspiring 45 minutes in which United struggled yet again to create any chance of worth.

It was an unchanged United side that got the second half underway in the sun at Old Trafford hoping to build on the one goal lead they enjoyed.

It was scorer Rashford who almost doubled his tally when he sprang onto a through ball from Mata only to see his effort squirm inches past the post. The youngster also showed his sporting side when he stayed on his feet inside the area following a nudge from Hutton when most players would have gone to ground as if they had been shot. Great to see from the young lad.

Memphis Depay has not had much to shout about this season as his confidence has suffered, but it was nice to see him at least try to be more positive in his approach play and in one such foray he played a teasing ball towards Rooney but the captain's first touch was too heavy.

Memphis, then beat two defenders on the left and played in a low cross which eluded everyone. He followed that up with a curling effort from the edge of the area that was well off target.

Mata almost squeezed the ball in at the near post following a corner, but that was the only chance in the first ten minutes of the second half that threatened to become as stale as Villa's season.

Van Gaal decided that Rooney had had enough of a workout and replaced him with Lingard for the last twenty-five minutes.

Prior to the change Memphis was unceremoniously brought down and got up to take the free-kick himself which fizzed inches over the bar. Then the Dutch winger tracked back into his own area to shoulder barge Ayew off the ball and straight into the advertising hoardings with the force of a man with a point to prove.

A second substitution was made by van Gaal as the match entered its last ten minutes and that was a straight swap up front when Martial replaced local hero Rashford.

Once again Mata almost found a route to goal via the near post when he flicked on another corner that had clearly been practiced on the training ground.

Villa had decided not to go down without a fight as an almighty goalmouth scramble in the last five minutes almost saw them get the ball over the line until Blind cleared, they then followed that up with a strike from Gestede that struck the post. From the next corner, Clark headed goal ward only to see the brilliant De Gea save on his line. Not for the first time this season did the Spaniard come to his teammates rescue.

As the match neared its end Mata was brought off and the talented Fosu-Mensah was given another run out.

Memphis almost rounded off a good display with a goal after Martial had played him through but he just couldn't find the chip needed to get the ball over Guzan who diverted the ball onto the post.

At the final whistle, United celebrated a valuable three points from an uninspiring match that made sure Villa would spend next season in The Championship after 28 years in the top flight. The win moved United up to within only one point of neighbours Man City for a while at least.

Although there wasn't a standout performance from any player in Red there were a few choices for the man of the match, including Rooney, who had a decent return to the starting lineup, Schneiderlin went about his business in his usual no-nonsense style, Mata didn't stop running all day and Memphis at least tried to conjure up something. However, Rashford deserves the plaudits yet again after his goal secured the win.

Next up is the visit of Crystal Palace in the Premier League in midweek then it's off to Wembley for United's first semi-final in the FA Cup since 2011. Everton stand in the way of United reaching the final and lifting their only silverware this season.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

United On The March To Wembley.

West Ham United 1 Manchester United 2

Man United came out on top in a typical cup tie in which two evenly matched teams battled it out in a replay for a place at Wembley.

The tie took place on a wet evening under the floodlights within a packed house in the last FA Cup tie to be played at Upton Park add to that the goalmouth drama towards the end and it all ensured that nerves were on edge right until the final whistle.

In a season already short on expectations for a club of Manchester United's stature here was a make-or-break cup tie that would determine if once again they would end another season empty handed.

After the capitulation against Spurs over the weekend van Gaal decided to tweak his starting eleven: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Blind, Smallng, Rojo, Carrick, Herrera, Felliani, Lingard, Martial and Rashford.

The impressive young defender Fosu-Mensah recovered from his knock last time out to take his place at right back. There were recalls for Herrera and the much maligned Fellaini. Carrick somehow kept his place after some poor displays of late and Rooney was deemed fit enough to join Mata, Young, Schneiderlin, Valencia and Memphis on a pretty strong looking bench.

The home side got the match underway amid a chorus of cheers from both sets of fans inside the compact stadium.

Lingard showed great early awareness as he played a delightfully weighted pass to Rojo on the left wing who in turn sent over an early cross into the box that was cleared by the home defence.

West Ham put De Gea and his defenders under pressure early doors as they threatened to open the scoring with a flurry of free kicks in dangerous areas all taken by Payet who looked the likeliest of players to score from set pieces.

Fosu-Mensah seemed to have his hands full at right back with both Payet and Lanzini testing the youngsters nerves.

United worked their first shot towards goal following a run by Fellaini. The Belgian chose to pass to Rashford whose effort was blocked for a corner. Martial was left fuming at Fellaini's choice of pass as he was totally unmarked on the left edge of the area.

There was a great chance for Fellaini to put United ahead as he struck from close range, but his goal-bound effort was somehow saved by Hammers keeper Randolph.

Twenty minutes played and after the home side had started well United enjoyed their best period and could have burst West Hams' bubble on a couple of occasions if it wasn't for their usual poor finishing and dire deliveries from corners.

The recalled Herrera enjoyed a bit of freedom in the midfield and showed his quality of vision as he picked out the runs of his forwards time and time again.

United's captain on the night Carrick was booked for a blatant block on the advancing Valencia deep in his own half. From the resulting Payet free kick Lanzini blasted over De Gea's bar. United had to be more careful not to give too many cheap fouls away.

The visitors worked an opportunity for Lingard after a brilliant surging run by Rashford and as Lingard only had the keeper to beat, he placed his shot well, but Randolph stuck out his boot to make the save.

That was the second clear chance to fall for United and you got the feeling that with the space West Ham was giving them the Red Devils should have put one of those chances away.

Next up was Carrick to see his shot squirm just wide of the post. It would have been fitting if he could have scored a goal at his former club in the last cup tie at the ground.

Just before the break Rojo wad cautioned for a careless foul which was followed by a yellow for Carroll.

Half-time and to be honest United had the better of the play and created the most chances and if not for the Hammers' keeper would have gone in ahead at the break.

They managed to pass the ball around well and had a good balance about them as they played the game at their own tempo which took the sting out of the home side's game at the same time quietening down the home fans.

The worrying factor had to be yet another first half in which United had failed to find the back of the net and you worried that the missed chances would come back to haunt them in the second half.

United got the second half underway and van Gaal decided not to replace Rashford with Ashley Young as he had surprisingly against Spurs.

An early swerving effort from Lingard in the opening minutes showed United's intent as they piled the pressure on West Hams penalty area. At the other end, De Gea had to be alert to save low at his near post from a long range effort from Kouyate.

Then in the 52nd minute it was the turn of the man of the moment Marcus Rashford to turn the tie in United's favour in spectacular fashion as he opened the scoring with a piece of individual skill to bend in a screamer into the top far corner of the goal to put United 1-0 up after being played in by Martial.

A lead that they fully deserved and what a strike from Rashford as his confidence knows no bounds at the moment.

The home fans tried to raise the atmosphere and they all jumped to their feet when they believed a penalty should have been awarded against Carrick and Blind but thankfully referee Roger East waved away the claims.

United's lead was doubled in the 66th minute by Fellaini who bundled the ball home with his knee after some poor home defending to put the visitors firmly in control of the tie. The goal led to the 5,000 away fans blaring out the fact that United was going to Wembley.

Following the goal, a jubilant van Gaal decided to replace Rojo with Valencia which meant that Fosu-Mensah switched full-back roles for the last twenty minutes.

Herrera became the third United player to be booked after a high boot against Payet. Shortly afterward he was injured in a challenge and had to be replaced by Schneiderlin. West Hams' captain Noble decided that Herrera wasn't leaving the pitch quick enough so took it on himself to carry the Spaniard off much to the joy of the home fans.

Another Spaniard was called into action as De Gea saved with his feet at his near post. But in the next attack West Ham pulled a goal back after Tomkins headed in bravely from close range. Game on.

The goal set up a very nervy last ten minutes as United tried to relieve the pressure by keeping the ball, which frustrated the home players and fans, but the youngsters in white showed their willingness to get through to the semi-finals.

Then in true FA cup drama as full time approached the best keeper in the world made a brilliant double save as De Gea kept the ball out in outstanding fashion and in doing so kept his side in the cup. The Hammers did manage to get the ball in the net at the third attempt but it was ruled offside.

Wayne Rooney made a return to first team action when he replaced scorer Rashford in injury time. What followed was a frantic end to a match that was true to the romance of the cup as United persevered and made it through to a semi-final against Everton.

There were some outstanding players on display tonight, including the revelation at the back Fosu-Mensah along with Fellaini, Herrera and Carrick holding firm in the middle.

De Gea had yet another superb night in goal and was so close to the man of the match. However, that honour has to go to goal machine Marcus Rashford who once again showed his cool head and quick feet to provide the platform for the victory.

Louis van Gaal is between a rock and a hard place as even if he manages to bring the FA Cup to Old Trafford the campaign will still be considered a failure especially as if expected there will be no Champions League football next season.

In the meantime, the team should be applauded for the way they overcame West Ham and set up a tasty match at Wembley against Everton.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.


Monday, 11 April 2016

United Humbled By Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester United 0

Spurs took advantage of some terrible United defending during a six-minute spell in the second half to keep alive their dreams of winning the league at the same time seriously denting the hopes of a top four finish for United.

Not even a thirty-minute delay to the game could dampen the appetite for a match that had both sides needing the three points in order to keep the pressure on the sides above them. Spurs to keep on Leicester City's tails until mathematically impossible and United to have any chance of a top four finish. Who would deny the others aspirations?

Van Gaal decided to make only one change to the side that had won the last two Premier League matches and that was to replace Darmian with the impressive Fosu-Mensah at right-back. His starting eleven consisted of: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Lingard, Martial and Rashford.

Carrick was given the chance to redeem himself against his former club after a poor performance against Everton last time out and not for the first time this season Memphis and Herrera were left to keep each other company on the bench.

An incredible atmosphere welcomed the teams inside the stadium as both sets of fans tried to get behind their players from the off.

United started the brighter of the two sides and looked lively in attack, especially when Martial was on the ball proving what a handful he is to all defenders. He almost latched onto a ball at the far post, but got his angles all wrong.

Then it was the turn of Fosu-Mensah to try his luck from the edge of the area but his effort was deflected for a corner. One thing the Dutch youngster is not short of and that is confidence.

Confidence is something that Carrick is in short supply of these days as he misplaced a number of passes in the opening twenty minutes which halted United's forward momentum.

De Gea showed his tremendous reflexes with a wonderful point-blank save to deny Harry Kane. But the Spurs and Premier League leading goal scorer was adjudged to have been offside anyway.

There was a mad two minutes for United just before the half-hour mark where they struggled to clear their box, but a combination of Fosu-Mensah and De Gea together with a dreadful headed miss by Lamela ensured that the game stayed goalless.

The pendulum had swung in Tottenham's favour as the half progressed, however, full credit to the Red Devils for standing their ground and defending as a unit.

Half-time and it was a case of the same old story for United as they enjoyed a lot of the possession but created almost nothing of note. The miss of the half had to be Lamela's shocking miss from close range that looked a certain goal.

The one positive that the visitors could take from a fairly poor half was the all round performance of Fosu-Mensah, who followed on from last week's impressive run out with an assured display.

At the start of the second half van Gaal decided to introduce Ashley Young into the attack in place of Rashford. Young slotted straight in at centre forward with Martial and Mata out wide and Lingard in the number 10 position. Young had played for the U21s in that position recently and maybe van Gaal saw something no one else had.

De Gea was called immediately into action with two fine stops from long distance shots. Sometimes he makes the difficult seem so easy, which is a testament to his immense ability.

Once again Smalling was excellent for the visitors as not for the first time he thwarted a Spurs attack by clearing the ball from a position of danger.

As the hour mark approached it was all rather dull and United's only effort was a wayward shot from Lingard. Rojo summed up the visitors afternoon when he found himself in acres of space to deliver a cross from the left but he rushed it and the chance was gone.

Anthony Martial decided enough was enough and took matters into his own hands when he weaved his way through the entire home defence and let loose with a shot that keeper Lloris did well to stop on his line.

As the match entered its final twenty minutes Fosu-Mensah had to leave the play with a knock he received in a challenge with Alli while clearing his lines and was replaced by Darmian. This change proved pivotal in the outcome of the game.

As soon as the youngster had left the field a gap appeared in the visitors defence that Spurs took full advantage of through an unmarked Alli, who was left free to slot home the opening goal of the game. Shocking defending by United and you got the feeling that Spurs would fully capitalise on that change of the United players.

And capitalise they did at first from a set piece Alderweireld headed in the second, followed by Lamela who made up for his earlier miss with a side-footed third to put the result beyond doubt.

How United capitulated is beyond belief, but it is no coincidence that the goals came after Fosu-Mensah had been replaced after being injured in a challenge. The youngster had played an important tactical role on his full debut. Memphis was brought on in place of Mata for the last ten minutes.

It could have been four if not for a great tip over by De Gea from a Kane header. The Spaniard then repeated his heroics with a save from Alderweireld to keep the score down.

All hell broke loose as Memphis and Walker squared up to each other on the touchline that looked in danger of going too far until other players intervened and both players were booked for the fracas.

Full-time and an extremely disappointing day for United and a result that seriously damages the hopes of a top-four finish and with it the absence of Champions League football next season. A lack of concentration and poor defending in the space of six minutes cost the visitors greatly and must surely raise the question of van Gaal's game plan in the second half.

Once the impressive Fosu-Mensah had left the play Eriksen enjoyed more freedom and it was that freedom that allowed him to play in the space on the left to provide the springboard for the Tottenham victory.

If you look closely at United's set up during the match, you have to scratch your head in disbelief at some of van Gaal's tactics. Mata on the wing and two center-backs as full-backs has not been uncommon this season, but to use Young, a winger, as the main striker and Martial, a striker, as a winger beggars belief.

There were players who at least tried to keep United in the game they included De Gea, Martial, Smalling and Fosu-Mensah but unfortunately the others did nothing that came close to being acceptable for United.

Next up for United is another visit to the capital to face West Ham United in their FA Cup quarter-final replay and the last chance of winning any silverware in yet another disappointing season. However, don't get your hopes up too high based on this display.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Martial Unwraps The Toffees.

Manchester United 1 Everton 0

Anthony Martial ensured that United kept up the dream of a Champions League place with the 1,000th strike at Old Trafford in the Premier League.

It was a welcome return to Premier League action for United following the latest round of internationals with the visit of Everton to Old Trafford.

As is usual the international matches brought more injury woes for United with the news that Bastian Schweinsteiger could be out for the rest of the season with a knee injury while on duty with Germany. However, there was more positive news on Herrera and Young, who used the break to get in some important fitness work.

Van Gaal enjoyed possibly his best away performance of the season at Goodison Park in the 3-0 win back in October. But since then the Toffees have vastly improved as a team and have only lost one away game all season so United would have to be on their toes against their possible FA Cup semi-final opponents.

United's starting XI was unchanged from the side that defeated Man City away: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Lingard, Rashford and Martial. Ashley Young and Ander Herrera were named on the bench alongside Memphis Depay whose disappointing debut season continued on the sidelines.

After the unveiling of the renamed South Stand in honour of Sir Bobby Charlton, the match got underway with United attacking the Stretford End looking for the vital three points that would put pressure on Man City.

It was a lively start to the half by both sides as they went in search of an early opener with Martial coming the closest with a rasping drive that narrowly flew past the far post after a slight deflection. A shot that Charlton himself would have been proud of.

The visitors had clearly come to Old Trafford with aspirations of getting a result and looked well organised throughout the side, but a little suspect when Rashford stretched his legs down the right as his pace was too much for Baines.

After half an hour the match was an open affair with the play reverting from end to end. Martial and Rashford were causing all sorts of problems with their pace for the away defence. Blind and Smalling stood firm at the back with the strong threat from the Belgian striker Lukaku.

As the half neared its end Schneiderlin proved once again how valuable he is to the side with another commanding display in midfield as he fed the forward players with the ammunition to attack.

With Darmian providing the width on the right United had a good balanced look about them. The only downside was that Carrick was having a torrid time up against Barkley with the youngster showing up his elder for pace and challenges on more than one occasion.

Half-time and all square at 0-0 for the tenth time at Old Trafford this season with both sets of defenders standing their ground and coming out on top against their attackers with United edging the best of the very few chances and it has to be said slightly on top but with nothing to show for their efforts. A less than entertaining forty-five minutes and at times a cagey affair.

The second half started with a change for the home side as van Gaal replaced Rojo with Fosu-Mensah which meant that Darmian had to switch flanks.

Lukaku had the first chance of the half, but as he turned to shoot from close range Blind was behind him to make a vital challenge before the striker could do some serious damage.

Then in the 53rd minute, United took the lead through their French sensation Anthony Martial to raise the roof off Old Trafford. The move began with Mata on the right wing who played the ball into the feet of Rashford who turned on the style with a backheel into the path of the onrushing Fosu-Mensah.

The substitute collected the pass in the area and played the ball across the goal mouth where Martial was waiting to pounce with a left-footed finish, albeit with the aid of the keeper, to give his side the lead. That strike was United's 1,000th Premier League goal at Old Trafford.

It was a lead that was almost cancelled out by Everton a few minutes later when Jagielka sent a bullet header crashing off De Gea's crossbar.

Carrick's miserable day came to an end when he was replaced by the returning Herrera for the final thirty minutes. Carrick had endured a frustrating afternoon and looked decidedly off the pace.

Since the goal, United looked livelier as Everton were knocked out of their stride and struggled to get a hold of the ball as the Reds went in search of the important second goal to kill the match off.

The link up play between the home sides' forwards was at times exciting to watch, especially between Mata and Martial who between them almost conjured up a chance as the game entered its final fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough of those moments of inspiration throughout the game.

Daley Blind was replaced by Valencia after he received a knock while clearing his lines. Blind performed well at the back and was outstanding against the power of Lukaku. The change meant that Fosu-Mensah switched to centre-back to partner Smalling.

De Gea produced a moment of deja vu after his heroics last season in the same match with a save on the line from a goal bound effort from that man Jagielka again. During this period, Everton enjoyed their best spell of the game and United had to be alert to the danger.

Alert they were as they saw out the match and collected all the three points to move up into one point of neighbours Man City in the fight for a Champions League place.

A special mention has to go to Daley Blind who was brilliant at the back alongside the ever reliable Smalling. Martial proved his scoring ability and his partners in attack never stopped running all day. Fosu-Mensah showed he has the talent to succeed with an assured performance after coming on with an assist for the goal and an all important block when Everton threatened towards the end.

It was vital that United won this match as next week they will be away to Spurs who themselves are chasing the title. So, a victory along with a clean sheet stands the Red Devils in good stead for the trip to London.

After an incredible 60 year association with Manchester United, Sir Bobby Charlton was honoured before the game with the renaming of the South Stand after the legend. A fitting tribute to a man who is after all Mr. Manchester United.

How about renaming the last available stand, the old Scoreboard End, after the man who literally rebuilt the club after the devastation of the second world war and went on to make the club into the giant it is regarded as now, Sir Matt Busby.

To end on another high it was great news to hear that Luke Shaw will start training with a Physio on the training ground this coming Monday. After the horrific double leg break, he suffered back in September let's hope that next season he will come back stronger and full of confidence.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.