‘The busy, festive period’ (sic) done then, and despite a couple of disappointing results, United now look a sure-fire bet for a top four finish and are still hanging onto the coat-tails of the league leaders. Although we’ve started winning games whilst not playing particularly well, we haven’t yet demonstrated an ability to snaffle late goals that tends to be the hallmark of title contenders. In truth, it’s the first month of the season that’ll cost us this season. Whilst making up 9 points on City or Chelsea is still a remote possibility, it remains very unlikely that both will slip up with such a commanding lead.
Still, stranger things have happened. In January 1996 we were 7 points behind Newcastle having played a game more and nobody beyond the toppest of top reds gave us a cat in hell’s chance of getting anywhere near them. Yet, of course, that season United ended up winning the double with a far less developed squad of players than what we possess now. I dunno, maybe I’m totally deluded or simply in denial, but I just sense that this season isn’t quite the foregone conclusion that most people assume it is. If we can get to the stage where we’re within 6 points of the top with 10 games to go, then it’ll still be very much ON.
The next 7 league games are Southampton, QPR, Leicester, West Ham, Burnley, Swansea and Sunderland. If we can get through them with near maximum points then those draws at Spurs and Stoke might start to look like decent away points rather than missed opportunities. I know this is all very unlikely, but I’m firmly of the belief that we’ve made great progress so far and will continue to do so. This season was all about rebuilding and getting back to something like normality after the debacle of Moyes’ tenure. Although it’s still a work-in-progress, it’s happening. Van Gaal is sorting it.
As I touched on last issue, the main thing United are crying out for at present is an established defensive leader. Now I’ve always had time for Jonny Evans, back in the days he first came into the side I thought he looked a terrific prospect who possessed all the tools required to become a top class centre half. It’s probably a bit harsh judging him on an afternoon in Stoke up against a force 10 gale and Peter Crouch, but it was during that game the realisation dawned that I’ve lost faith in him ever becoming a genuine top-level player.
Stoke, it must be said, were characteristically horrific all afternoon. This lot absolutely detest United for reasons known only to themselves, so Mark Hughes, once so beloved of this parish yet latterly, the bitterest man on the planet, is absolutely perfect for them. They must be the only club in the country where the locals turn up each week to cheer the wind, which of course enables their unique brand of ‘launch it into the box at every given opportunity’ football whilst half a dozen 6’5″ blokes attempt to rugby-tackle the goalkeeper. Their ‘style’ of play is absolute dog sick, but completely predictable given they’ve been doing exactly the same thing week in, week out since however long it is they gained promotion.
As a defender, it can’t be much fun facing this kind of onslaught, but that is what Stoke do – you simply have to deal with them. Instead, Jonny Evans spent the entire afternoon with the haunted look of a junior police constable dealing with the aftermath of a serious road traffic accident. Maybe I’m being too harsh singling him out, but as United’s longest-serving, senior defender I expected more from him this season – instead he looks off the pace and still prone to regular lapses in concentration. That said, having Phil Jones blundering about the place next to you like an over-enthusiastic Doberman would probably distract Franco Baresi too.
Whilst I’m writing this, the 3rd round of the FA Cup is underway and what a weekend of drama, romance and intrigue it’s proving to be. Brighton are beating Brentford 2-0, Doncaster are drawing 1-1 with Bristol City and Derby have scored a last minute penalty to take the lead against Southport. Geoff, Merse and Thomo aboard the Sky Sports banter bus can barely contain themselves! United, meanwhile, are off to Yeovil tomorrow in an attempt to avoid humiliation and, I suppose, kick off a march to Wembley in a competition which sadly represents our best chance of silverware this season.
You might be one of those people who really fancies a crack at the FA Cup, given the likelihood that we won’t be winning anything else and it’s now 10 years since we last picked it up… but if I’m being totally honest, I’m really not arsed. The FA Cup as it was once known and loved is now dead, it’s as redundant as every tired cliche that’ll be uttered this weekend. Progress in the competition presents little reward unless you’re one of the lucky few ground spotters or never miss a game completists fortunate to have grabbed a ticket for Yeovil (a place we’re unlikely to ever visit again) tomorrow.
Visits to these football outposts no longer present the opportunity for an old-skool red army invasion, you get a couple of thousand tickets at best and in truth, plenty wouldn’t bother anyway given it’s a million miles away and on a Sunday afternoon. If we get through and ultimately reach the semis/final, more visits to Wembley are the prizes. Great. That shiny, overpriced, atmosphere-free cess pit of nu-football greed and corporate hospitality. Despite having many great memories of the place prior to its demolition, I now feel nothing but resentment each time I’m obliged to step foot in the place.
Yep, I know it’s curmudgeon-like but I really couldn’t care less if we progress in the FA Cup or not. Most teams (barring those having their once-in-a-lifetime, big day out) will be resting players, attendances will be down and most managers justifiably have one eye on the next league game as their main priority. Meanwhile, commentators and ex-players nationwide will continue to do their best to try and preserve the status of something that ceased having any genuine relevance years ago… apart from that time Wigan beat City, obviously.
Finally, a quick word on the big news that Steven Gerrard has announced he’ll be leaving Liverpool at the end of the current campaign. A note of caution though, particularly to Tufty & Co at SEF before they embark on a hilarious banner highlighting his chronic lack of league titles in comparison to our current assistant manager. Given that Gerrard has just announced his future career lies in the MLS, presumably this means he’ll be turning out for City next season…
Copyright Red News – January 2015