Maybe we were as bad as some Sunderland fans are saying. Maybe Bardsley, despite early blocks that at the time looked crucial, was run ragged by Giggs as I have seen suggested elsewhere. Perhaps our expectations were pitched too high.
Pete Sixsmithdetected positive signals, but found it all an anti-climax …
So, we failed to hand the Premier title to Chelsea and some of us will take some satisfaction from that.
United will go into the final week of the season with faint hopes of preventing the arrivistes from The King’s Road celebrating their fourth league title, while we trudge off to an overpriced Molineux to renew acquaintances with MickMac, Jody Craddock and Greg Halford.
I really believed that we could beat United on Sunday. They are on the wane, we have been playing reasonably well and there was the possibility of a famous victory or at least an honourable draw. We came away with a reasonably honourable defeat, but it was a wee bit of an anti climax, on what was an afternoon of anti climaxes.
United left the field knowing that they had done their job; we left the field not knowing whether to do a lap of the stadium or not. Some of the players were so cold (or in need of a Gauloise) that they shot off down the tunnel and had to be brought back.
The crowd were equally unsure of what to do. We are used to celebrating promotions or avoiding relegations and are not really used to a mid table finish. Do we clap? Do we rejoice at no last game heroics or disasters? Do we just go home?
I can understand people complaining that this was a performance that was a wee bit short on passion. I thought that Bruce had decided to go for a thoughtful game where we attempted to match United for footballing and tactical skills, rather than just getting “stuck into them” and it almost came off, but they proved yet again that they are too good for us.
Twelve months ago, we got stuck into them and lost by the odd goal in three in our successful fight against relegation. The season before, we stood aside and let them walk all over us and in the past they have beaten us quite easily.
We did make them work for this one though. Henderson had an excellent game in midfield, Campbell worked hard, Malbranque beavered away, Turner and Kilgallon looked sound and Cana may well have gone the entire game without committing a foul. Wow!!
On the other hand, Richardson will never make a full back (look at where he was for the goal), Bent did little to convince Baldini that Capello should be calling him up, Mensah showed that he is a fine player but a liability and Bardsley spoiled a solid game by making a fool of himself in the United penalty box.
In the first half, we put a number of decent moves and one very good one together, when Malbranque forced a good save from Van der Saar. But Bent, despite working his socks off, never threatened, partly due to being up there on his own.
I thought Jones should have come on 10 minutes before he did. Some would make a very good case for having him on from the start and I can understand that, but Bruce is a cautious manager and a five man midfield was always likely for a game where he had to show his integrity in team selection and motivation.
In the end, we were beaten by a good strike from a player who likes to fall over. We gave the ball away in midfield, failed to clear it and left a United player unmarked with a clear shot. Unfortunately for us it was not Berbatov; had it been, Chelsea would have been celebrating a fourth league title on Sunday night. The Bulgarian had a wretched game, reminiscent of Tom Ritchie at his mind boggling worst, and looks destined for a return to the Bundesliga. Paul Scholes was outstanding for United; he never wasted a pace and his positioning was outstanding. A fine player.
Another compliment to Steve Bennett, who had a brilliant game. He is by no means my favourite whistler, but he was outstanding yesterday and got every decision right and showed that he is a top class referee.
All in all, a slightly disappointing end to what has been a decent season at the Stadium. On the final whistle, hands were shaken and acquaintanceships were pledged to be renewed in August, when no doubt there will be some old faces gone and some new ones to contemplate. I think I preferred the final home game of last season; now that was most certainly not an anti climax!!!