To be honest it’s probably too early to work out how best to feel about this game. Expectations were never that high but after a performance that could best be described as disappointing, you would be excused for wondering if that bitter aftertaste had nothing to do with the Brains bitter. Let’s not get it wrong though, all this result did is underline the gulf of class that we first experienced at Old Trafford a couple of months back.
The most pleasing aspect of the game was that we had a go, but arguably this was our biggest failing. Contrast our two performances against Chelsea, based on organisation and energy, to the two against United, and the more gung ho approach, and you have to wonder whether the players really think that the gap between those two sides is that big. Both times we’ve played them our defence has been without support in the face what is arguably the best front line in the country.
And there lies the key to this result. Roberts and Camara struggled manfully against the United defence, but at the end of the day proved no more than an annoyance to the excellent Ferdinand and Brown. Of our attacking players, Teale got most joy and yet no matter what quality was on the cross, Van der Sarr and the two centre halves snuffed out the threat with ease. At the other end things were a little bit different. The occasion seemed to have got to Chimbonda, Henchoz didn’t look fit and De Zeeuw was anything but his normal, steady self.
Baines was the only one of the back four to come out of this with credit, but despite an excellent performance he was hampered by the lack of a wide player in front of him. Bullard’s tendency to slip into a more central position left Baines exposed, not just to an in form Ronaldo, but again and again to the overlapping Neville.
Could the game have gone any differently? What if Pollitt hadn’t got injured in the first 5 minutes? What if Camara had taken his chance early in the first half? What if our defence hadn’t had a collective off day? Any one of those things might have changed the score line, but this was a match that United wanted and deserved to win. The wind was blowing in their favour, and in reflection they never had to get into top gear. Even the strongest blue tinted glasses can only produce a shade of purple out of this one.
It would be remiss to leave this without finding some positives. As has already been mentioned, Teale and Baines had decent games. Roberts got a run out after his three games out and McCulloch got half an hour. To some extent the lads never dropped their heads, their speed to line up after each goal a credit to them, but this wasn’t quite an example of the never say die attitude that has run through our season. We were well beaten, and the lads on the pitch knew it well before they dragged their weary and disappointed bodies onto the podium to collect their medals.
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