If only. If only Kieran Richardson hadn’t done football’s equivalent of Roman Polanski making a high-profile visit to a country with a massive extradition treaty with the US. If only Malbranque had got to that ball before Carrick and made it 3-1. If only Anton … but no, this is the way to even higher blood pressure. It was still a resounding performance, the result as predicted by Bill Taylor (ex-Bishop, now Canada) on these pages and the game as described here by Pete Sixsmith …
One of my first Soapbox pieces was after our 3-2 defeat at the Emirates two years ago. I said this was the first time we had looked like a Premier League side since Reidy was in his pomp and that it was something we could build on.
Alas, since then, we have done very little except beat weaker teams and scrabble around the nether regions, prompting commentators to dismiss us as also-rans and one of those sides that act as cannon fodder for the big boys.
Well, that was effectively brought to an end on Saturday as we gave Manchester United a lesson in how to retain possession, how to mark tightly and how to score goals. Yes, Sunderland gave Manchester United a lesson. Never thought I would write those words, but, dear reader, it is true. We did. So there!!
If you saw the game, would you have Bent or Berbatov? Nani or Malbranque? Foster or Gordon? Welbeck or Reid? Our players outperformed theirs in every area of the pitch and had we managed to keep 11 on it, we would surely have won for the first time since I was 17, Mike Clarke winged an apple at a bobbies head and Manchester City won the League.
The Brucester and his impressive co-worker Eric Black got this one absolutely right. Play two up front, push down the flanks, sit tight in the centre of midfield and mark closely at the back. It worked. We outthought and outfought Sir Alex.
For this plan to succeed, the players attitude and ability to follow a game plan had to be absolutely right, and it was. Two weeks ago, Anton Ferdinand gave a passable impersonation of a man looking forward to three months of bench warming and then a move back to London. On Saturday he looked every bit as good as his big bro and was desperately unlucky to deflect Evra’s shot into his own goal.
Phil Bardsley was another one seemingly on his way out; he turned in a great performance (admittedly against a wretched Nani) with brilliantly timed tackles and interceptions. If only he could pass a ball!!
Michael Turner has looked shaky at times since his arrival from Hull, but he began to justify his potentially huge fee, with a performance that reminded me of Jonny Evans when he was with us a couple of years ago.
We expect excellence from the rest and we got it. Mobilility, power and pace from Jones and Bent; commitment and crunching tackles from Cattermole and Cana; penetrating runs and passes from Malbranque and Reid; solid goalkeeping from Gordon. And still we didn’t win!! Why not?
Well, to Uniteds’ credit, they battered us for the last ten minutes and their players are obviously terrified of Ferguson and his hair dryer. They came at us in waves but we looked like holding out and the magnificent Kenwyne was foiled by the width of Evra’s studs from making it 3-1. That would have been game over and cue for booing in Korean, Japanese, Russian, Irish and West Country (all accents and languages heard outside the ground prior to kick off).
They were helped by an act of complete stupidity by Kieran Richardson. Stupid is not a word to use lightly. Teachers no longer call students stupid (we can say “You are behaving in a stupid way” – sometimes up to 30 times in a single day/lesson/minute), but the use of the word is banned as a personal observation.
However, surely it can be used against an experienced 20 + year old, with international caps and Champions League experience, who had put a good shift in at left back. It can be justified because kicking the ball away when already on a yellow card is stupid, stupid, stupid.
We had to rearrange the team. Malbranque, who was a good outlet in the last twenty minutes, had to come off and we resorted to hoofing the ball anywhere. It upset the balance and Kieran really ought to go and sit in a darkened room and think about what he did.
So, as we trooped back to the coaches, past the hordes from Seoul, Galway, Bristol, Tokyo, Leningrad and Urmston, we were disappointed and they were celebrating taking a point from Sunderland. As one of our intrepid band of hardened travellers said “If you’d have offered me a point at 5.30 I would have taken it. Instead I feel like my bank account has just been cleaned out by a Nigerian scamster. Still, it’s better than drawing at home to Bristol City.”