Date:Sunday March 16 2008
I, as most football fans, expected an easy victory against Derby County. Really, they were so unbelieveably bad for most of the season that I just could not see how could it be anything else than a walkover.
However, they did not collapse after the 6-1 drubbing at the Bridge. On the contrary, it steeled them, it made their determined to hold their own against the Champions. And they were aided by an interesting team selection.
Once again we lined up with only one striker, Rooney, and it seemed to me that Park's, Giggs' and Ronaldo's tasks were not defined categorically by Fergie. They were, I guess, given some general instructions and were expected to overrun the opposition who were, admittedly, of very low quality.
In short, our boss underestimated the opposition. He was not helped by Scholes having a total shocker: the Ginger Ninja passed the ball well for around 20 minutes but after that he disappeared and Anderson was struggling to dominate the central midfield on his own so the front players became hopelessly isolated and had to retreat way too often to get a glimpse of the ball.
However, we could have put this game way beyond the Derby in the first 25 minutes when things appeared to be working, when Scholes was still playing football. Giggs wasted two good chances, Ronaldo failed to hit the net from two golden opportunities and Rooney also spurned a good chance. Park did well, Giggs did well, Ronaldo was a menace and at the end of this good spell, he hit the post.
It was as if it rang some bell that stopped our players and fired up Derby. For a while it was noticeable only by the lack of chances we created than they started to take the game to us which was, frankly, embarassing. It did not help that when we managed to create something, Roy Carroll was equal to everything and you have to suspect that if he put in these kind of performances week in, week out at Old Trafford he would still be there.
But of course it's not a novelty, opposition keepers having the game of their lives against United. This time, though, we had to be thankful to our very own keeper, debutant Ben Foster.
Though his clearances were sometimes wayward, he made two fine saves to deny Derby the lead, the first one particularly fine as he got on the end of a low volley. He saved us at an even greater chance to cover up one of Vidic's rare mistake which allowed Kenny Miller to break clear. So all in all, we had to be grateful for going to the dressing room on level terms... against DERBY.
The second half I expected to be very one-sided. But it was horroristic really. United, completely deprived of ingenuity, simply failed to create real chances much like Arsenal failed at Wigan a week ago and as the clock neared and then passed sixty minutes I began to fear that we will harm our own chances in the most unexpected way. I greeted the introduction of Carrick and Saha in place of the anonymous Scholes and the isolated Park and these substitutions, at the very least, allowed us to take absolute control and starting to dominate Derby again.
It still could have been too late as our profligacy came back and you had to wonder whether it would haunt us at the end of the season. However, when I, like the team, was getting desperate, salvation arrived - with Cristiano Ronaldo of course.
Though the Portuguese deserves the plaudits yet again, let us not forget the contribution of O'Shea and Rooney. The former launched a precise ball towards the striker who stole in behind the defence, brought the ball down with a nice touch and shielded the ball well before crossing from the byline. The ball came at a difficult angle but Ronaldo struck it sweetly first time and it totally deceived Carroll who seemed to expect him to bring it down and blast it towards goal.
Relief was all over Ronaldo's face and it radiated from the travelling support, too. There were a few sticky moments as we could not kill the game, not least due to Roy Carroll's great saves and our very own profligacy. But, apart from a heart-stopping corner in the end, our victory was not under serious threat after the goal.
It is a victory and it is the most important as it allowed us to go top again with a game in hand as well. But I daresay Fergie has a lot of work to do before the big games come - because this performance was frightening and we were much worse than last week against Portsmouth when we managed to lose...
Date:Sunday March 16 2008
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