Cruel run ins – Man Utd report

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Latics 1-2 Man Utd
Monday 6th March 2006

If luck is one of those things that balances itself over the season then Latics have either had or are due a massive slice of it. The headline over this result is that nobody deserved what they got or indeed how they got it. After two lukewarm performances against United, the blues suddenly decided it was way past due time to show everyone that we could cause them trouble and boy did they manage it.

The most important aspect of this game was how the disappointment of last Sunday could be turned into a performance that showed the lads weren’t in awe of the Old Trafford team. Before kick off the result was almost secondary, but come the final whistle it was gut wrenching to see three points disappear up the East Lancs. Even without Pascal Chimbonda’s injury time own goal there would have been a sense of injustice amongst the 18,000 that had turned out to cheer Latics on.

If you needed a measure of how different this game was going to be it came within the first couple of minutes. De Zeeuw tracking Ronaldo out wide, and unmercifully knocking him into the boards. A marker for the game or revenge for his arrogance at Cardiff? You can take your pick, but either way it set the tone for what was coming. That challenge added to the 5 bookings dished out to Latics players might lead you to believe the press’s line that a thuggish Latics team were taking their frustrations out on United’s show ponies. In truth Neville and co gave as good as they got, and the differences in foul and card counts was more down to their additional pace and trickery.

In a first half were Latics really dominated, it wouldn’t be fair to single out any player for extra credit. They played as a team, keeping our shape, getting tight in the right areas and attacked with the strength and pace that has become a hallmark of the season. This was a performance that harked back to the opening day of the season, even when in possession the visitors couldn’t muster any real chances, whilst up the other end the strike partnership that had struggled to little effect in the last game were busy making sure that Ferdinand and Brown knew they were in a game.

A combination of rearguard action from the Reds and wasteful finishing from Latics meant that no real advantage was taken from the good chances presented to the strikers and wing men. A lovely ball from Camara presented Teale with a great chance from 10 yards out, but the winger made a real hash of it, although to be fair the pitch did him no favours. Roberts was equally wasteful, curling one just over the bar and dragging another shot wide. As half time approached you got the feeling that there’d be a price for missing those chances.

If the hairdryer didn’t come into play in the break it could only because Ferguson was in shock that a team that had swatted Latics aside 8 days earlier were doing so poorly in this one. The won’t be many teams this season that have kept United chanceless for 45 minutes let alone kept them on the back foot for most of it. Waiting for the second half to kick off they were a strange sight, the defenders running around trying to psyche themselves up whilst the attacking players held a study group in the centre circle.

To be fair, the second half saw a more determined performance from United, but any thoughts that they’d let Latics play in the first half were banished as the blues kept pushing them back and dominated in terms of chances.
The first real opportunity fell to Wayne Rooney, his diving header flashing past the left hand post. Shortly after it was first blood to Latics, Bullard’s corner well met by De Zeeuw, his header cleared off the line by Giggs who could only knock the ball into the path of McCulloch. A scramble ensued and it was Scharner who finally knocked the ball in from a yard out.

The goal stung United into some sort of action, but De Zeeuw and Scharner were equal to most of what was thrown at them. The lack of any end product saw Ferguson concede ground in his supposed mind game with Van Nistelroy, the Dutchman replacing Park. Not long after he was instrumental in leveling the scores. The goal started with Latics in possession, Kavanagh’s ball wide, well inside the United half, forced Chimbonda into an athletic slide to keep the ball in play. The first thought was well played but as Ronaldo picked up the loose ball and set off towards the Latics goal you couldn’t help wondering if the cause would have been better served by conceding the throw.

With the Latics defence back peddling, Ronaldo slid the ball through to Van Nistelroy who snatched at his shot. Unfortunately the miss hit was enough to see the ball past two defenders and into the path of the waiting Ronaldo, who slotted home with ease. Surely this was the point that the home team would lay down and die? The goal prompted United’s best spell of the game. Again Latics were equal and in fact were still probably edging it.

The game was all but given up for a draw when Saha collected the ball inside the box. His shot was covered by Filan but deflected from Scharner’s boot onto the crossbar. Chimbonda’s attempts to clear the rebound were to no avail, his knee saving the waiting Van Nistelroy a job.

This performance really was even bit as good as the opener against Chelsea, if not better. A world class goal won the game on that day but not this one. At least they had the, unusual, dignity to admit it. Ferguson’s praise seeming a little more genuine than it did post Cardiff. United may feel that they had earned their luck from other past injustices, but that doesn’t help us any.

It would be too easy to dwell on the downsides though. If this is anything to go by, the lads have finally remembered what won them the respect of all and sundry. The next job is put that into practice over the rest of the season. There are only two teams to come that we haven’t beaten this season and whilst a run of 10 games unbeaten may be out of the question, there’s plenty of chance to finish the season with a bang.

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