Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thrashed

Man Utd 6 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Let's look on the bright side: it could (and should) have been double figures.

Man Utd are the one side you don't want to come up against when you're vulnerable, and they were in no mood to be merciful as soon as they smelt blood. Having survived the first half with our goal intact, we then collapsed in spectacular fashion, conceding six without reply and extending our winless run at Old Trafford to 27 games. Quietly hoping for a 2-0 loss before kick-off felt defeatist, but it certainly didn't once the humiliation was complete.

And yet, incredibly, it all have been different, had Michael Owen's smart finish in the first half not been incorrectly ruled out for offside. We did also have opportunities through James Milner and Damien Duff, but admittedly Wayne Rooney could have scored four times in the first quarter of an hour, and at least one decent penalty shout (Alan Smith's clumsy challenge on Ryan Giggs) was waved away by referee Rob Styles.

We couldn't ride our luck forever, though, and came a-cropper early in the second period. Cristiano Ronaldo plundered a hat-trick, his first a soft free-kick hit underneath an obligingly airborne defensive wall, while Nick Nack grabbed a couple and Rio Ferdinand also volleyed in. The second goal was a calamitious collective cock-up on the part of Messrs Jose Enrique, Cacapa and Shay Given - not content with being sitting ducks, we set about helpfully painting targets on ourselves for the benefit of the Reds' marksmen - and if throwing on an extra defender, David Rozehnal, for Owen was an attempt to prevent a rout, then it certainly didn't work, what with the last three goals coming in the final five minutes.

Only three players in black and white could claim to have done themselves anything like justice: Given, who may have been partly at fault for the second but also denied Rooney and Ronaldo with excellent saves; Charles N'Zogbia, who troubled John O'Shea with some tricky runs and at 2-0 had a curling shot saved by Edwin Van der Sar (though he did also gift Man Utd possession in the build-up to their third); and Steven Taylor, who heroically threw himself in the path of anything and everything that came at him, clearing off the line twice in a matter of seconds at the start of the second half.

Enrique, by contrast, was pathetic, one goalline clearance of his own aside, continually hitting aimless crosses straight to Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, putting Given under pressure with a backpass that led to the second and deflecting Ronaldo's third past the Irishman. Captain Alan Smith, meanwhile, led by example - an absolute disgrace, culiminating in his injury time dismissal for disputing the linesman's call for the sixth goal. At least we'll be deprived of his "talents" for a game or two as a result.

The result wasn't without precedence. In 1999 Steve Clarke, caretaker manager following Ruud Gullit's dismissal, took a team to Old Trafford. On that occasion, though, we only shipped five, and even got a consolation goal (though we had to rely on one of our opponents, Henning Berg, to help us out).

Mike Ashley must have been tearing his hair out - as if trying to sell the club to a new manager wasn't already hard enough... Hughesie, if you are seriously considering taking the job if it's offered, then may I suggest you seriously consider getting your head read?

Other reports: BBC, Guardian
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