Thursday, September 27, 2012

A missed opportunity

Man Utd 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

So that's that for another year. A disappointing night - and not because we got the customary battering at Old Trafford. On the contrary, in fact - it was a narrow defeat, the disappointment centring on the fact that our hosts were there for the taking and yet we didn't seem to believe in ourselves enough to do the job.

As anticipated, the Silver Fox drafted in a raft of fringe first-teamers, with only Mike Williamson and Perchinho remaining from Sunday's starting XI against Norwich. That meant starts for Rob Elliot, James Tavernier (in the unfamiliar position of left-back), Dan Gosling, Obertan Kenobi, Sylvain Marveaux, Haris Vuckic and Big Lad - though there was also the welcome sight of both Sideshow Bob and Mr T back from injury to give us some steel through the centre.

Meanwhile, Taggart fielded his own fit-again star, Shrek taking up his place in an ominous-looking Man Utd attack alongside Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. Darren Fletcher was also included as captain, but it was a back four with just one full senior appearance and one senior sub appearance between them - and the presence of flappy-handed David de Gea between the sticks - that should have given us real encouragement of a victory.

Not that you'd have guessed it from our first-half performance. Vuckic and Big Lad failed to form a functional partnership, and our best opportunity of scoring seemed to come from dead balls delivered by Marveaux's left boot. Gosling horribly fluffed a volley from a Big Lad flick-on, while the striker should have done better than planting a header straight at de Gea and Tavernier concluded an adventurous foray forwards by firing a skimming shot wide.

At the other end, Hernandez made a mess of a near-post header from debutant right-back Marnick Vermijl's cross while Elliot, carrying on where he left off in Portugal last Thursday, pulled off a superb reaction stop to deny Anderson before pushing away a fierce Welbeck drive. Tom Cleverley came even closer, firing into the side netting when a goal looked certain, but sadly we weren't destined to make it to the break on level terms. A quick scurrying burst from Anderson was enough to create some space and, holding off a tame challenge from Gosling, the Brazilian bent his shot in off the inside of Elliot's right-hand post.

The Silver Fox's half-time team talk no doubt drew renewed attention to Man Utd's potential defensive frailty, and when we emerged from the tunnel for the second period it seemed to be with rediscovered vigour and vim. Forcing our opponents onto the back foot, we fashioned a handful of half-chances before tricksy footwork from Vuckic ended with the Slovenian curling inches past the base of the far post. But the difficulty of the task at hand doubled shortly afterwards, Cleverley afforded just too much room to place a shot clinically beyond Elliot from the edge of the area.

2-0 down at Old Trafford usually translates as game over, but within four minutes we'd reduced the deficit - and all the plaudits have to go to the Silver Fox. He threw on Shane Ferguson and Papiss Cisse for Sideshow Bob and Vuckic, and the former's deliciously whipped left-wing cross was headed in at point-blank range by our previously goalshy Senegalese striker - just the sort of chance-on-a-plate he needed (particularly after Sunday's excruciatingly bad spot-kick miss).

From that point on, we bossed possession and took the game to our hosts, asking plenty of searching questions of de Gea and his inexperienced defence with a succession of angled crosses and aerial balls. The closest we came to an equaliser was when Cisse - that familiar spring suddenly back in his step - smashed the crossbar with an audacious overhead kick, while Gosling curled one long-ranger just high and wide before prodding another presentable opportunity from a Big Lad knock-down straight to de Gea.

That's not to say, though, that we weren't slightly fortunate not to concede a third, Hernandez testing the durability of the Old Trafford woodwork himself and Shrek looking increasingly menacing before being mercifully withdrawn with a quarter of an hour remaining.

When tallying up the evening's cons, next to the result and the consequent cup exit you could list Vuckic's inability to show anything more than flashes of quality and our French wingers' failure to roast their rookie full-backs. None of them did much to advance their claims for a regular place in the first team. However, the performance of James Tavernier was a major plus, suggesting we have a pacy, assured player who can operate on both flanks, as were the incident-free returns of Sideshow Bob and Mr T (the latter in particular superb in the tackle). Perhaps most crucially, though, it was a relief just to see Cisse back on the scoresheet - hopefully a hot streak will follow.

Another silver lining? Man Utd's victory earned them a nasty trip to Stamford Bridge in the next round - something we could have done without...

A Man Utd fan's perspective: Red Rants

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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