YANKEE CAPITALIST BRAND Inc. 1 PEOPLE'S CLUB 0
Mickey Blue Eyes
Wonderful Spring days are ideal for The Beautiful Game. At least it was mostly clear air on the coast; inland was a different matter. The day before the away game at Man United I was in a light plane flying along the coast line. Looking toward the centre of the country all you could see was polluted haze. Apparently dahn sarf our unloved capital was up to its neck in the muck, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has to visit the place on business. You get out as quickly as you can. I figured our next day visit to the unfortunate landlocked end of the M62 would be similar. I couldn't see our make-do-and-mend midfield making much of a fist of it against a title chasing team, valiant efforts or not. Even the colour and smell of blooms and grass couldn't dispel the notion that we were going to get caned by two or three goals. Christ, I thought, I could be sitting out on the balcony in free salt-air sunshine watching multi-coloured sails of the yacht club weaving all over the river to avoid coaster traffic. Instead, I'm driving into that sickly haze to fill my lungs with carbon monoxide and my head temporarily with a sound sports pasting. No wonder people outside the game think footy fans are crazy.
The last time I was at the Theatre of Dweebs we lost 2-1 to a penalty conceded by Steven Pienaar just as it looked as though we had earned a draw or a win. The days of Walter Smith's abject, surrendering teams in this fixture are long gone. With Everton under Moyesy, the Mancs know they're going to be in a fight. We may not be able to afford the kind of player they can, but by jaysus they have to sweat to get anything out of us even with half our team in the infirmary. And by and large that's how it panned out. Overall, I figured we did well in near-impossible circumstances. For a long time it looked as though we would get a deserved draw. Fleetingly you felt we might even pinch it. So it was a bit like my last visit there.
They had two clear chances and one half chance in the first half. One hit a body on the ground and Tim saved the other two brilliantly. We had the first shot of the game after ten minutes when Leon hit a tame one from the edge of the box left side. And though they had most of the territory and possession it was far from one sided, especially in midfield where I thought we might get overrun. But we weren't; their main threats came down the wings and mainly on our right where initially Seamus didn't double back as well as in previous games and often Tony was on his own dealing with two players. But Seamus tightened up and that threat gradually faded.
When we did get into their half it was the story of the season. You got on the edge of your seat waiting for a decisive pass that never came. Becks was completely snuffed by Rio I Went Shopping Guv Honest Ferdinand. This was largely because nobody played him the kind of ball that enables him to turn and run off the shoulder of the centre back. It's no good asking him to win the ball in the air or show the first touch of Louis Saha. He can't do either. And just to make sure he didn't, Ferdinand dropped him a few times to make a painful point.
I am delighted to say our midfield was mostly a good match for them. Leon, Jack, Seamus and (particularly) Phil Neville never stopped. If they had, we would have been swamped. Only Bily was fitful. Time has almost run out for him, a great pity for him and us - I fear he's going to be one of those players we get wistful about in the future, along the lines of, "If only........" At half time he was subbed by Tim Cahill and Becks by Vic Anichebe. Later, Maggie came on for Seamus.
The difference between the two sides in this area was Wayne Rooney. Without him, they wouldn't have a strong midfield, depleted or not. Everything went through him and he never seemed to break into a sweat or anything more than a canter. He has become the great midfield player many of us thought he would even when he was a kid. He wasn't allowed to dominate this game, but gawd help the team that allows him to. He was a street ahead of the other United players and often got frustrated when they failed to make the runs he opened up for them. When they did, Jags and Buzz were superb in their timing of interceptions, some of which were almost an art form. We were on the back foot for most of this game but we never looked rocky and never panicked.
In the second half Vic made a difference and immediately won two headers to unnerve The Shopper, who now knew he had a match on his hands. Vic's physical strength gave him problems for the rest of the game. But not his pace, of which has none, and which is why he has become the new scapegoat for the idiots amongst our fans. Nevertheless, at one point he got clear of Ferdinand down our left, in the box and closing at a narrow angle. Ferdinand handled him and dropped him clear as you like. The referee funked it and waved play on, the kind of officiating cowardice almost routine at the Theatre of Dweebs. Maggie was clearly overawed by the occasion but he still managed to contribute more than Bily. At this stage we were holding our own admirably.
Twenty minutes from the end the tempo stepped up, as it was bound to. The Brand got a series of corners and Tim made a magnificent save from a point blank header. Then the storm seemed to ease a little and we began to hope we might get a point out of it. Alas. An attack at mid right was broken up, but as Buzz went to make a clearance he slipped - this happened to a few players during the game, possible excess water on the pitch - and gave the ball away. It got transferred right to an unmarked player, Buzz raced back with him, as he had to, but crucially left us without tall cover in the middle. It got crossed to the far post and headed in with seven minutes left. So near yet so far.
But still we weren't done for and there was enough of a threat for The Brand Consumers to be whistling frantically for the whistle as the clock ticked down. All round it was a creditable display that showed just how much we have improved under David Moyes. In this match I was glad to see him out at the dotted line in his track suit. He's one of those characters who just doesn't look well in a dress suit. At this stage of your career stick with the tracky, David, and leave the formal wear to the older men. They are apprehensive when they face you now, and they know it. So do all the sensible fans.