In many ways this was a depressingly familiar conclusion. We performed pretty well and with ten minutes to go, a draw looked like a result that we deserved. Then United hit us with a couple of late sucker punches and we end up losing by a rather comprehensive margin.
Those expecting a flowing game of football with plenty of chances, would have been disappointed with the first half, with neither side really threatening. What did look a threat though (to us unfortunately) was the sight of Assou-Ekotto masquerading as a right back.
Some have said that Harry should have retained Younes Kaboul after reasonably impressive performances against Arsenal and Chelsea, but surely the point is that we should have retained some actual right backs in our squad instead of sending them all out on loan. Then there’s Kyle Walker, who may have had a bit of a stinker away at Sunderland, but is at least at home in the position.
Instead we were left with BAE is an accident waiting to happen and happen it did in the second half. Berbatov made one of those runs turning off the shoulder of the defender, which he used to do so often for Spurs, but seems to do so rarely for United. As he jinked and turned within our box, Assou-Ekotto made a rash tackle and gave away the penalty that Giggs cooly converted.
At that point I figured it could be game over, because we hadn’t looked cohesive going forward. Playing Defoe and Pavlyuchenko together is something that we can get away with at home, but on our travels against the best teams, we need to be able to hold the ball up better and drop back to link play between the attack and midfield. Neither of our starting strikers looked dangerous and they combined to fluff a great chance early in the second half, where we really should have tested the keeper.
Gudjohnsen had come on for Defoe just before the United penalty and with the further introduction of Lennon, Harry reshuffled his pack to great effect. Bale had been kept in check by the pace of Valencia and Rafael on United’s right flank, but looked more of a threat as he was pushed up to the left of our midfield.
We started to really control the play and got our reward when King rose well to head home an equaliser, with 20 minutes remaining. At that point it seemed like the momentum was with us and we were at least on course for a draw, but you can never rule United out and before long they were back in front.
Nani’s goal was a great finish, but poor from our perspective as Bale failed to track his run. We then added to our woes as Wilson Palacios became the latest out-of-position-right-back to clumsily give away a penalty, allowing Giggs to make it 3-1.
It was a disappointing result, but there were positives to take from the match. Had we had a proper right back available, then who knows what might have been. We were beaten, but by no means outclassed and let’s face it, had we been offered 6 points from the last 3 games, someone would be standing around with a bloody stump where once was his right arm.
Other results helped to calm the mood. City picked up a decent draw at Arsenal, but still trail us and must now play the rest of the season with a keeper from the Faroe Islands (sadly not the bloke that wore the bobble hat). Villa’s win saw them go level on points with us, but I see that as a positive, as it will mean that they will be fully committed when they face City next week. Finally, Burnley’s relegation ensures that on the last day of the season, we will be facing a team with absolutely nothing to play for. Life could have been sweeter, but it’s still pretty sweet.
It’s Bolton next up, in the last home game of 09/10. A win will see us going into the season’s last week firmly situated in fourth place. You couldn’t ask for much more than that and destiny remains within our own sweaty grasp.