Malcolm Dawson writes…..Peter Sixsmith, as always, sent us his version of events at the Theatre of Dreams promptly this morning, but M. Salut and I were both too tied up to get to it before now. Not tied up in a “Fifty Shades of Grey” way I hasten to add, although fifty shades of grey might describe our state of mind when thinking about our current league position. As Pete said in his e-mail “bright day here – but not inside my head.” I am usually more optimistic than Sixer when it comes to our survival chances but, like him, I am already thinking that this season is just about sorted. Of course should we do the unthinkable and get three points next weekend my glass will be half full again instead of nearly empty, but all I am seeing at the moment is a few bits of sediment swilling around in the dregs of the pint that I drank because I’d paid for it, but didn’t really enjoy.
MANCHESTER UNITED (a) 2015-16
Manchester is a city renowned for grumblers. Albert Tatlock grumbled his way through a million episodes of Coronation Street. Morrissey and The Smiths chuntered on through copious albums and if there were a prize for the most lugubrious man in English history it would probably go to Les Dawson, a native of Collyhurst (and no relation! MD).
However, there are things in the city that defy a continuous grumble. Joseph Holt’s splendid beers (a fine pint of Mild in The Ape and Apple), a tram system that is reminiscent of any European city and a radical history second to none in this green and pleasant land, make Manchester a city that its inhabitants should be rightly proud of. And they are probably the epicentre of English football at the moment. But it is city’s two senior clubs who epitomise all the problems that are bubbling away under the surface in English football. City, having walloped us 4-1 on Tuesday, went and lost by the same score at a resurgent Spurs. United, a club where grumbling has become a way of life along with applause but little actual crowd passion, took their place at the top of the league as they swatted us away without ever raising a canter, never mind a gallop.
This was probably the most dispiriting performance so far. Those last two words indicate that there will be worse to come and this performance suggested something similar to the 2005-06 season. At no stage in the game did we ever look like fully competing with the Old Trafford outfit; there were no genuine chances to score and that United had to wait until added time in the first half to open their account was due more to hard, solid graft than inspired defending. Once the mask slipped and we went a goal down, the support might have well sat down and read the paper or played on their phones as there was no chance whatsoever of an equaliser (not even a “shock” one) as they doubled their lead within two minutes of the restart. Game over. United top of the league and the crowd went back to dozing gently in the pleasant Mancunian sun.
Our support tried to rouse them and we (support rather than players) mightily impressed the Manchester United fan sat next to me. Richard from Prestatyn (although he was from “Norn Iron”) had bought a ticket that one of our party had passed on to a gentleman who, in a supreme act of kindness, had promised to recycle it to a deserving case. That was Richard. He was sat there when I took my uncomfortable and cramped seat at 2.00p.m. We talked prior to the game and exchanged views on each other’s clubs. I suggested that he sit on his hands if and when United scored and in the unlikely prospect of us netting, to join in however unwillingly. He followed the first while the second suggestion was redundant.
He thought we were well organised in the first half. I agreed. He liked O’Shea. I agreed. He identified that Kaboul gave the ball away too much. I agreed. We both admired the role that a sensible and committed Cattermole filled in front of the back four. Neither of us fully trusted the full backs with Jones being the weaker of the two and we were both exasperated by Johnson as he failed to realise that we are (allegedly) a more forward looking side than we were under O’Neill and Poyet. He kept turning back with the ball and getting into trouble with it. Off he went at half time
But there was precious little to make Richard think that here was a side settling in under its new manager and looking likely to pull away from the dead zone to rise to the relative comfort of fifteenth. To do that the defenders need to concentrate all of the time and not throw away goals like the ones that Depay and Rooney scored. All three of them came down our left flank and they had clearly identified Van Aanholt as the weak link. Like all good sides they ruthlessly exploited it.
My dictionary says that “dispiriting” means disheartening, discouraging. I wonder if Advocaat feels like this. He clearly has the players with him and they worked hard. But individual and collective errors consistently set us back. Does a 69 year old with no relegation on his CV really want to spend a year with players who cannot work to the high standards that he has set throughout his career? How he must envy his chum Van Gaal who has a squad of players who are dripping in talent and who may win the league. They are ok at the back, although Richard was not convinced by Phil Jones and predicted a goal for Sunderland when he came on – poor misguided fool. In Martial, quiet until he set up the second goal, Depay , full of enthusiasm and a star in the making and far keener to track back than an increasingly isolated Jeremaine Lens and the always impressive if ageing Carrick, they are not far off being the finished article.
But there is no passion in the stadium. Many of those sat there are tourists from all corners of the world who buy into the United brand but who have no concept of what it is like to follow a club through thick and thin. I don’t recollect many Japanese or Norwegians at that epic game in 1974 when we were robbed 3-2; most of the accents that day were the harsh, rasping Mancunian one rather than Scots, Irish or Aussie.
So, we move on. West Ham next week, a team who can’t win at home (like us) and can’t lose away (unlike us). I fear that another dispiriting, disheartening and discouraging defeat may push Dick over the edge. It might do the same for me. And then there will be grumbling.
And if that’s not enough you can read M. Salut’s ESPN blog here.
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