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Jiggery Pokery - Man Utd. Away report


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I imagine Darren Fletcher's post match interview may have been along these lines

It was jiggery pokery, trickery, chokery,

how did they open us up,

Robbery, muggery,

Villa skull-duggery,

We never have any luck,

What a delivery,

I might as well have been,

marking a lumbering galoot

Jiggery Pokery who were these nobodies

making us look like buffoons

(with apologies to Neil Hannon)

Forgive the whimsy, reader, but it's been a while since I last saw us win at Old Trafford. 26 piggin' years in fact. And nearly as long since we beat the devils at home. So, definite cause for celebration then.

In those long years, mostly, Man United have deserved to win the games they've won against us. Not so much in the last couple of years, but overall they've largely had better players, more belief and any luck going they've probably deserved because they were looking for it, whereas Villa were fearful of them finding it.

Yesterday was different. The days building up to the game were different. Villans were openly suggesting we'd win, putting their money on it at the bookies, and instead of being sniggered at, or thought of as brave but daft, the rest of us tended to agree. I certainly did.

All this belief in the fans, was clearly shared by the players, and most certainly by Martin O'Neill, I'm sure. I mean it's come from him. He is the source of our strength on occasions like this. With Randy's backing he's built a team that can and does beat the TV sides. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool had already been beaten by Villa in the past 12 months. Only United remained to be victims of the revolution.

Anyway, onto the day and the game itself. The tea-time kick off meant a journey into Manchester and all the Christmas shoppers after lunch. Being a cold day I spurned the outdoor drinking and plastic glasses of the Oyster bar, and settled for a read of the paper and a chat in a warm boozer with proper beer as pre-match preparation.

The game started brightly for Villa, the same adventurous 4-4-2 as started against Hull last week took the game directly to United - we forced a corner from the kick off and for 5 minutes looked very bright and lively indeed. Then United had a spell, forcing us back, but the defending and covering was excellent, and though United looked good out wide, causing the two full backs some problems, their 4-5-1 left Rooney, only, in the middle and thus there was no real worry about conceding at this stage.

Villa then came back into the game Downing and Ash switching flanks and Gabby's pace being augmented by the more physical presence of Emile. Heskey didn't have the best of days in an attacking sense, but he worked manfully for the team.

After about 20 minutes, Warnock played the ball down the left flank to Gabby's feet. He held off Fletcher, turned the ball out wide to Ash. He shimmied to go outside, turned back in and whipped in a cross right onto the noggin of Gabby, who had lost his marker sprinting into the box. The near post header was perfect. Bedlam in the away end, belief re-inforced on the pitch, and it showed.

Villa's pressing of United all over the pitch almost brought another goal. Gabby robbed Fletcher, ran down the left channel and tried to square to the unmarked Ashley Young on the right side of the box, but Kuszczak got a finger to the cross and the danger was cleared.

From a Downing corner, Dunne got a clear header on goal, but the ball hit a defender standing on the line. Another corner from the same side saw Dunne head wide.

All this obvious threat to their esteem brought out the worst of Rooney. A disgraceful dive in the box was at least spotted by the Ref, who booked him. Giggs seemed to protest to the ref, but Rooney's body language tellingly showed he had cheated and been caught.

United pressed again, tremendous blocking by Warnock and Luke Young stopped efforts on goal, and Friedel had just one save to make - just grabbing a Carrick shot from the edge of the box at the second attempt.

Superb tackling from Dunne, leading the defence brilliantly, stopped Rooney.

Petrov was immense in midfield, and James Milner while not as effective as he was against Hull, nevertheless still played like 2 men - covering all of the pitch, running tackling, passing, shooting, heading.

What was clear at this point was that Villa were playing as a team, totally aware that we had what it took to score against United and to stop them from scoring.

For the second half, "little Michael Owen (ah, God bless him!)" came on for an ineffective United midfielder, and then Berbatov came on for their left winger, as United tried to play through the middle rather than down the wings.

The result of all this was that the area where they had looked most dangerous (out wide) they diminished, and the are where we were strongest defensively (through the middle) was more tested.

Again though, Friedel was not overly tested - he made a couple of good saves, one in particular from Berbatov, but mostly he continued to be brilliantly protected by his eager colleagues. Both Dunne and Cuellar were outstanding all game, not just for their commitment, but the intelligence of their play. When we won the ball back, we tried to play to feet, to keep the ball.

There were some moments of concern - I can remember Berbatov mising a volley, Rooney shooting straight at Friedel and a free kick given on the edge of our box, which had my heart in my mouth. But United are no longer able to call on the likes of Beckham or Ronaldo to turn threat into goals.

Villa broke out several times, but as the game went on, these breaks turned more into "head for the corner flag" than "head for goal".

Even so, Heskey miscued a shot from one break and Gabby failed to find Ash on another. Carew came on for Heskey, and in perhaps the ref's only real big error of the game, was hacked down with no free kick or booking given. Mostly the ref had just been of the "get on with it" attitude when players fell over at the slightest touch. Nice to see.

Warnock had to go off injured, Carlos moving to right back, Luke to left back and James Collins came on into the centre.

The ref added on only 3 minutes of "time added on for Ferguson" and Villa saw them out easily enough. Neither of those 2 things have often been said at Old Trafford.

More celebration at the final whistle and a happy journey home.

Some marks:

Friedel - 7. Calm and confident.

Luke Young - 7. Hurt in a collision in the second half, but happily recovered from what could have been a nasty blow.

Carlos Cuellar - 8 - Excellence is becoming the norm from Carlos.

Richard Dunne - 8 - Splendid leadership from the big man.

Stephen Warnock - 7 - Injured twice through throwing himself at the feet of a United player to make blocks. Replaced by James Collins - 7. Glad to see him back.

Downing - 7 - looking fitter by the minute, and a clever player to boot. Replaced by NRC - 5.

James Milner - 7 - Prodigious effort, His "3 shredded wheat" efforts are vital.

Stan Petrov - 8.5 Fantastic from Stan, today. Man of the Match.

Ashley Young - 7 - his perfect cross made the goal, and he was always a potential threat, as well as working his socks off to help out defending.

Gabby - 8 - splendid from Gabby. He's got the knack of scoring against top teams, and defenders are scared of him.

Emile - 7. Good work from Em today. Not much of a goal threat, he had one of those "Oh!" days, but he put in his shift. Subbed by Carew - 6, not so much in the game, as we were on the back foot when he came on.

I'm now off to read the papers and watch MoTD with a smile on my face.

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can't really argue with any of that .. even the Heskey bit ...

was waiting for the penalty for them that never came .. only 3 mins extra time ........don't expect we will be seeing Martin Atkinson at OT anytime soon :-)

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I agree. Add at least 1 point to almost everyone there I reckon with the exception of Stan, who I agree played his socks off, but worth the 8.5 given. He is frustrating me at present, playing the house down against the top sides (wins against The Top 4 and the draw to City most notably), but has been quite average against the 'lesser' sides that we have lost and drawn to. Being our captain this year, he really needs to address this part of his game I think. Hopefully it starts with this week's matches against 'lower' opposition

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...What was the atmosphere like?
The Villa section was happy and noisy, the rest of the ground didn't really get going much at all - like a lot of grounds these days, including VP, it's often the away fans that in some games make the most noise.

NRC - 5
I gave NRC a five because when he came on, for maybe the last 15 minutes, he wasn't going to have much chance to change the game, and duly didn't. He didn't do anything bad, or particularly good, but he did his job. He looks slightly bulkier than before - maybe he's been in the gym a fair bit.

Was there a reason to quote just that mark and not make any comment Sled? - did you watch the game, agree, disagree?

And having since watched the game on the box, I forgot to mention Rooney hitting the crossbar in the first half.

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