Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Devils may care, but we certainly don't

Newcastle 0 - 4 Man Utd

According to some, the current Newcastle side is lacking in targets and ambition. Nonsense. They remain resolutely focused on their objective: making a mockery of the Premier League's claim to being the best league in the world by finishing in its top half despite being chronically awful.

Given our wretched run of results at St James' Park since Christmas, the last thing we needed was a visit from the side with the best away record in the league. But, with all eyes on their forthcoming Champions League tie with Bayern Munich and perpetual tormentor Shrek out injured, Man Utd were clearly there for the taking. Not for a team devoid of anything approaching form, motivation or inspiration, though. Despite the best efforts of Papiss Cisse, there was never really the remotest possibility of us turning them over as we did at Old Trafford in December, the Red Devils enjoying an easy ride and racking up their biggest win of the season.

HBA and MYM, both hauled off at half-time at St Mary's, were dropped to the bench, with their south-coast replacements Luuk de Jong and Davide Santon stepping up. Meanwhile, Moussa Sissoko's injury and the paucity of alternatives gave the Silver Fox a headache. His decision to hand Dan Gosling, a player who pulled up no trees at all while on loan at Blackpool earlier this season, only his second ever Premier League start for the club speaks volumes about the damage the sale of December's matchwinner Dreamboat and our transfer window inactivity have wrought on the squad.

Rob Elliot had been critical in keeping the score down at Southampton, and Tim Krul's stand-in was soon called into action as it became apparent he would again be in for a busy afternoon. Phil Jones did get the ball into our net, but only after the whistle had blown for a handball by Marouane Fellaini in the build-up. At the other end, Cisse's first effort on goal was a flying flicked header from a Santon cross, which Anders Lindegaard tipped over.

Gosling was aggrieved when penalised for a foul on Fellaini - bizarre, given that the Belgian had swung an elbow that was careless if not definitely malicious - but couldn't have too many complaints when conceding a free-kick for an ill-timed challenge on Darren Fletcher. Juan Mata may be yet to show he can combine successfully with Shrek and Robin van Persie, but, given his ineligibility for the Munich game, he clearly saw this as an opportunity to start repaying some of that hefty transfer fee, and promptly curled the dead ball over the wall and in at Elliot's near post.

It could have been worse before half-time, Javier Hernandez striking the base of the post via Elliot's fingertips, and indeed it was shortly after the break. Sideshow Bob got hopelessly caught out and Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa combined to set up Mata, who sidestepped our skipper's desperate attempt to redeem the situation and passed the ball past Elliot and into the net.

The Silver Fox - who you'd hope has free minutes, given how much time he spent on the phone up in the stands - waited until the hour mark before withdrawing the abject de Jong and introducing HBA, but before the substitute had any opportunity to make his mark the gulf had widened further. This time Kagawa broke into the box and pulled the ball back for Hernandez to supply the smart finish.

While all around him heads hung low, Cisse at least refused to join in with the meek surrender, stinging Lindegaard's palms with a right-footed shot and then pressing the Swede into urgent action to keep out a close-range attempt.

But there was no chance of us overturning the deficit, and Adnan Januzaj placed the cherry on the dog-turd-flavoured cake by firing home from Mata's backheeled pass in stoppage time. Four efforts on target, four goals - stats we can only dream of.

After the Manchester derby, my City-supporting friend Graham was somewhat non-plussed by the extent of his side's superiority, commenting that beating Man Utd has become like kicking an old drunk tramp. What, then, does this result make us - a side so poor as to be thrashed by said old drunk tramp?

In the eight home games since Boxing Day, we've won two and lost six. Even that paints a flattering portrait, though - the two victories have been by a solitary goal to nil, and in the six defeats we've scored none and conceded 17. Not even the positive omen of having Kevin Friend on officiating duties was enough to spare us from another tonking - he'd previously reffed nine of our matches and we'd won them all. In that ninth victory, though, he dismissed the Silver Fox for the headbutt on David Meyler, and it's hard to overlook the fact that our current run has coincided with our manager's absence from the touchline. Much more of this and that absence will be made permanent by Jabba.

A Man Utd fan's perspective: Red Rants

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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