Ifs, Buts, Maybes – Manchester United Thoughts

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Manchester United 2-0 Latics
Saturday 20th November 2010

“If you’re going to be a Latics fan, son, then you’re going to have to get used to living on scraps and ifs buts and maybes. Either that or you’re going to find life very upsetting”.  That’s just about the best advice I never got as a youngster.  Then again, as a bit of a dreamer it probably came naturally.  Maybe it’s one of those things that’s best left unsaid to help us find the team most suited to us, and the best way to support them.  Knowing as a ten year old that your team is never going to win the FA cup would just spoil it.  Maybe if they signed you and you were as good as Kevin Keegan they could do it, but they might have to get promoted to the second division first.

If the ten year old Perm thought that Latics were capable of cup glory, then he’d have found the thought if winning at Old Trafford almost incidental.  What he would have thought of celebrating a defeat because it wasn’t by more than two goals is anyone’s guess, but here we are on another Monday morning cheering progress on the pitch, if not in the table, for exactly those reasons. 

But celebrate we will, firstly because, by most measures, a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford is a decent outcome but also because, eleven on eleven we looked the better team in this game.  The reason that we aren’t celebrating more is the stupidity of two of our players, the reluctance of the referee and a sneaky suspicion that, if we’d have kept eleven on the field we’d have over committed at some point and let the sneaky buggers in for a couple of extra goals late on.  As I’ve said in Latics’ defence a couple of times this season, having men sent off can focus the mind a lot more on the task in hand, and that was certainly the case here.

Still, let’s not dwell on the negatives when there’s a referee to have a go at.  Of course Hugo should have gone (and not “in the current climate”, two footed tackles have always been looked down upon) he might have got the ball and little if any of the man but it was ugly, off the floor and unnecessary.  Big Tony made two silly tackles and if they’d been by two different players no one would think to argue that either were yellow cards so any talk of leniency is naïve.  Especially if you’re the away team at Old Trafford.

I’ve seen Bobby get some stick about his comments on the referee and I expect some too, but getting the big decisions right doesn’t mean that the referee had a good game and it certainly doesn’t mean that he didn’t affect the outcome of the game with his decisions. 

It’s easy to brush aside any complaints with a quick “you had two men sent off, so you would have lost any way”.  But would we have had two men sent off if we’d have gone in at half time level, or maybe a goal to the good?  Would we have been chasing the game so much?  Would Alcaraz have lost his head chasing a ball out to the wing?  Would Rodallega have jumped in like that if we’d still had ten men on the pitch?  Who knows, but the point is that the game could have been very different.

If Martin Atkinson had given that foul against Charles N’Zogbia then maybe he’d have given a penalty but then he’d have had to send Vidic off.  Everyone knows that would have been the outcome had it been Caldwell on Park up the other end and on such things games turn.  I choose Park because he provided plenty of examples of the (…what word to use?…) home bias that Latics had to put up with on the day.  I’ll admit that my picture wasn’t the clearest and I don’t expect to see the incidents on a highlight reel any time soon but the first half was typified by a series of soft free kicks some of which it all most seem sufficient that he be in the same postcode as the Latics player that “fouled” him.

But United still couldn’t make the most of it, and Latics were the team making most progress.  The majority of it coming through Rodallega and N’Zogbia and leading to a few good half chances, including a lovely breakway from the Frenchman who initially lost Carrick and burst towards a crowd of players on the edge of the United box.  An impossible task?  Maybe, but as the ball came through, a slightly delayed Charlie squirted out only to be denied by Van Der Saar. 

Looking back it wasn’t that good a chance, but I remember shouting at him for not going down.  I realised a little while later that he had himself down for nothing if he did.  I’m still convinced that he could have “drawn” a foul a penalty and a card, but as he proved a few minutes later, it probably wouldn’t have been given and he’d have probably walked away with a booking for good measure.

I’ve mentioned it twice now, so I’d probably get on to the Vidic incident.  If you’re reading this then I assume that you’ve seen it, but my reading is this.  As N’Zogbia goes past the Serb, Vidic tries to hold him back (foul 1), then he pushes him (foul 2) and as they break into the box he’s still pushing him (foul 3) and the winger goes down.  Any one of those fouls was worthy of a free kick, but all N’Zobia could see was the inevitable chance on goal and he tried to stay on his feet.

Apparently Atkinson thought (at the time, I’d be interested to know if he’s since changed his mind) that Charlie went down easily.  Three fouls is easy?  Right?  Honestly, I’d have taken the free kick outside of the box, I’d probably have taken a yellow card for Vidic, but the easiest way to avoid the decision is to convince yourself that there was no foul.  The joke of the evening was that Latics finished the game with 9 men which was three less than United, not that I’d suggest any referee would be deliberately biased, but with 70-odd thousands Surrey stockbrokers and Norwegian tourists breathing down your neck it can’t be easy to make calls that can be avoided. 

In the end though, defeat at Old Trafford is nowhere near as damaging as losing Alcaraz and Rodallega for their respective bans.  There’s a blessing in that one of Hugo’s games will be the Carling Cup tie (but with many fans eyeing the tournament for success this year a frustration at the same time) but the games against West Ham and Stoke are probably key if Latics are going to make anything out of their improved performances.  My optimistic side says that this presents a chance for Boselli or Di Santo to step up and prove a thing or two.

My less optimistic side says… well, you’re better off not knowing.

Thanks to Bernard Platt and WAFC for use of the picture

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