2-0 down at half time, no problem for Man United

by Chris

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
 

What a match. We were suddenly back to the United of old: the careless start then attacking flair and literal bloody mindedness to win at any cost. There would always be blood, sweat and tears at Bloomfield Road, just as there was at Burnley last year. I feared that before the match and especially when we went a goal down early on.

It just had to be Cathcart, the lad who was at United as a trainee. I’m reading Catch 22 at the moment, in which General Cathcart sends the American soldiers to the doom of more missions against the Germans. Another Yank and former Red Jonathan Spector started the rout at West Ham in our only loss of the season, a nightmare from which Jonny Evans has only just woken up. The law of the ex; the first time we had faced Blackpool in over 40 years. Just as I did after going 1-0 down to Burnley, I feared the way the Blackpool match was going. It looked written, but enough about the book. Football rarely follows the plot.

This time the tears belonged to brave old Blackpool, their ludicrous manager and their ludicrous fans. Their jubilation at 2-0 was absolutely hilarious. My particular favourite was a shot of a tangerine-skinned man (fake tan not face paint) in a pair of sunglasses that spelt ‘Blackpool’ with the ‘o’s as eyes, then a cut to a person in a hood with a face fully covered in wool inexplicably spinning round and round in circles.

For that I almost forgave ESPN and the early kick-off for forcing me to watch the match alone in Soho in a shithole pub after work, in which the old pisshead sitting almost on my knee tried to claim I was drinking his pint every time I brought one back from the bar. The more he did this and subsequently slurred bollocks to me whilst melting my face with his breath, the more pints I bought. That bloody book again.

Blackpool were fantastic in the first half. Their technique almost matched their passion, and rather than soaking up United’s pressure and scoring on the break, they kept pressing forward and forced two goals from well-earned set pieces. They reminded me of why, until then at least, I had enjoyed watching them this season – their fearless style of play (and the fact they have beaten Liverpool twice).

As the half drew to a close they had us kicking out in frustration, as first Paul Scholes and then Darron Gibson were booked. If this match proved United’s determination it also proved Gibson’s inadequacy. He may be Irish but he ain’t no Keano; he may pack a shot but he ain’t no Scholesy. What we’re left with is a central midfielder with no particular calibre in attack or defence, like an Anderson but without the determination or resolve. He was the worst player on the pitch by some distance, and was thankfully withdrawn for Giggsy at the interval. Giggs needed a rest after his heroics on Saturday, but the reason why the gritty, tenacious Brazilian was on the bench for Blackpool away is only known by one man.

Ferguson, however, has not lost his touch. A dejected man on the plastic orange seats in the Bloomfield Road dugout, you could see the anger boiling within his red face. This was a match that would have given at least four teams great hope had it been lost. The Birmingham match aside, United had been somewhat complacent for a while despite their place at the peak of the league table. There is no doubting Ferguson’s half-time team talk was as old school as the facilities. This match was replayed because of a lack of under-soil heating during the cold… an old Scotsman doubtlessly snapped at the interval with enough steam to fly a hot air balloon, never mind thaw a football pitch.

Dimitar Berbatov sprang into action. It seems he has finally, belatedly, learned what is expected of him. He’s a mere cog, not the scratchproof glass on United’s Rolex. The result is five goals in two matches; superb build-up play and, crucially, the stamina to wind the clock down whilst defending a narrow lead when down to ten men. During the (for once) unwelcome period of injury time – 10 minutes – he always showed for the ball, knowing when to hold play up and when to deftly release Chicharito, who came on to make relentless darting, direct runs which were consistently found by the Bulgarian. Eric and Ole in the making?

It may be too soon for such comparisons, but the rapid progress of Rafael shows that we have the real deal here. Whilst chasing a deficit he was at times United’s best player both in defence and going forward. Although his head may hurt tomorrow after he was carried off on a stretcher with concussion, the lad’s heart cannot be doubted (particularly confusing was the constant camera switches from Rafael on a stretcher receiving medical attention to Rafael standing up and worriedly looking over at himself. It was Fabio of course, but for a second it looked like little Rafa had died in a cheap film).

Blackpool’s equally large heart, meanwhile, was ultimately broken. For once I’m tempted to feel sympathy and sorrow for this group of plucky over-achievers and their charismatic boss, but unfortunately for them games are 90 minutes long, and they have been beaten by a United side focussed on a much bigger prize that they themselves narrowly missed out on last season, and that they now have the momentum to go and win.

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