COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
A first half that was in truth dominated by the visitors gave the predictors of such events reasons to be satisfied yet I saw improvement from recent games whilst acknowledging that the force was with the visitors and they seemed a little arrogant with their pass and move and interchange of position and seemingly knowing a goal was enevitable. We gave them the odd scare, like when Saha had a goalbound shot blocked, also more possession and less hoofball gave this observer just a little hope.
However, just before the 20-minute mark, it was noticeable that Utd had upped the ante and were probing more and on the 23rd minute mark a delightful move saw Giggs spot the darting run of Fletcher with no Blue shirt in attendance and his pass gave the Scots captain a chance he couldn't and didn't miss. 1-0 down... I wonder how many thought that was just the precurser to a rout as Utd were in total control and but for three excellent Howard stops within a minute they may have had those fears realised.
Just a few minutes from the break, Rooney sensing birthday presents and 100th goal was thwarted by the scrambling Yobo. The Blues reminded the visitors that we had not thrown the towel in when the Yak caused a mix up between Vidic and the keeper and his well intentioned loop toward goal was off target.
We pressed again and gained a throw that was almost like a corner for the long throw of Nevile but just on his run up the ref decided to blow the half time whistle to the dismay of the gathered faithful.
The half-time chat was "Should the manager change it as Utd had dominated?" I put in my view that we should leave it at least for twenty minutes as I had seen improvement from previous games; even though we had looked out-classed at times, you just had to be mindful of who we were playing and they were just the goal to the good.
I have no idea what the manager said during the break but that second half belonged to the Blues who out-fought, out-muscled and dented reputations as though their lives depended on it — well, if not their lives then their season.
Flashpoints occured, Neville's hard but fair ball-winning tackle on Ronaldo saw the winker roll about five times yet need no attention, Ferdinand rush to the ref in aggressive mood (England captain showing respect) the outcome a booking for Neville.
An over-the-top tackle on the shin of Saha saw Vidic booked when others have been sent off for such misdemeanours. Rooney booked for studding Arteta's side seemed to upset him enough to kiss his badge and offer an outstreched arm V sign toward the Park end faithful which provoked a witty-ditty and the said Rooney being hauled off by the Scotish 'Sir' before he was sent off.
All this and more was brought about by our lads standing up and being counted and by the end they could easily have won it as, in the space of a minute just after the hour mark, we scored by way of a cross into the box from the excellent Neville, which saw Fellaini rise highest and nod home. Then, immediately after, Yak spooked Ferdinand into a poor backpass, he was onto it in a flash and, but for the ball deflecting off the keeper and on to the post, we would have won it.
On the death, Ronaldo had the chance to test Howard when clean through but ended up putting the ball into the side-netting, probably spooked into a hurried shot while expecting another hard but fair tackle.
The half ended in similar fashion to the first but this time in reverse. Utd earned a corner but just before they could take it the ref blew up, much to the dismay of the travelling fans.
Overall, a game I thoroughly enjoyed, a game that just shows predictions are just that. The second half form showed we have a half-decent first team but a look at the bench indicates we can't countenance injury, suspension or loss of form.
Wednesday in Bolton will show if we can take some of today forward and a positive result could well propel us to January in a decent position, when any positive business can bolster the second half of the season charge.
Today I could not nominate a man of the match but would find no argument with anyone offering Jags, Pienaar or Fellaini. I also thought Osman played an important if non-eyecatching part in the way he chased, harried and closed down in midfield.
I expect the Scottish 'Sir' to find many things to bellyache at but in a quieter moment I am sure he will agree both teams were examined, either could have won and ultimately a fair result was the outcome.
In conclusion, I have to say that in a hard-fought thrilling encounter, the actions of excellent footballers like Ferdinand, Ronaldo and Rooney showing the maturity of an oxygen starved goldfish should be high on their managers to-do list and also the report of the ref to the hierarchy so that grass roots junior football gets a better role model.
See you Wednesday. UP THE BLUES
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