Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First? Among equals!

Manchester Utd 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A point! A glorious, unexpected, thoroughly deserved point at Old Trafford - a place we haven't won at since 1972.

The start of the season is always an exciting time, at which (despite my pretty pessimistic comments) I always harbour the faintest belief that maybe, just maybe, this could be our year. For one weekend, all teams are equal, and having watched Sunday's match, you couldn't really tell which of the two teams were reigning Premiership and European Champions.

Unsurprisingly, the home team started the brighter, but after weathering the early storm, thanks to a couple of smart saves by Shay Given, we started to force our way forward. Debutant Gutierrez was involved in all our best attacking play, regularly abandoning his left wing berth to pop up all across the pitch and pose problems for Man Utd. What was perhaps even more encouraging was his willingness to track back and defend when needed.

It was Gutierrez who raced through only to be blocked off by Vidic, Mavis Riley deciding that he didn't have the bottle to test Man Utd's adherence to the FA's Respect Campaign, and simply ignoring our claims for a free kick.

However, a breakthrough came shortly afterwards, with Martins' powerful header giving us the lead from Guthrie's corner. Unfortunately, as Martins was somersaulting in jubilation, Steven Taylor was being helped off the pitch in need of treatment for an ankle injury.

With us temporarily down to ten men, Man Utd raised the pace, and Darren Fletcher did enough to get ahead of Charles N'Zogbia to meet Giggs' cross, and level the scores.

However, that goal aside, the team defended well, with Taylor and Coloccini forming what looks (at first glance) to be a very promising partnership. The Argentine looked strong and composed, and certainly showed enough to suggest that our defence might not be as paper-thin as it appeared at times last season.

The third debutant, Guthrie, also showed signs of promise in midfield. Constantly moving, his composure on the ball suggested that he could well develop into a very tidy player for us as the season progresses.

Now, before I get too carried away, it is worth bearing in mind that we've seen countless false dawns before, and you should never make too much of early season form. It may be cliched, but it's fair to say that the league isn't won in August. However, given my relatively pessimistic predictions for how our season would unfold, this game represented a very encouraging performance. We're still some way short of being the finished article, and our squad still looks worryingly thin in places, but this game at least showed that the new players we've bought in might just have a touch of class about them, and if we can add a couple more faces before the transfer window closes, this season might just be one which is full of promise.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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