Date:Tuesday December 30 2008
Another ugly, hard-fought win, achieved thanks to a miserly defence and a few odd moments of quality. Yet it is hard to see where United are heading because it looks increasingly unlikely that we would be capable of breaking down a big team's defence.
We'll find that out in less than two weeks' time when Chelsea visit Old Trafford; in the meantime, we must be pleased that dismal our football undoubtedly is, we still pick up the points and are very much in with a chance to retain our title again. But something must change soon because these poor 1-0 wins can so easily become frustrating draws and unlucky losses...
Once again, United had to sweat for the biggest part of the game against an opponent they should have beaten easily. No disrespect to Middlesbrough but on current form they are the worst team in the Premier League and though it would be far-fetched to say they were comfortable their defence wasn't overworked.
Granted, United, missing Tevez, Anderson and Nani entirely, were clearly superior and spent much of the game camped in the opposing half. Fergie also pointed out that we had nearly 30 shots - which is true but which misses the point. We had too many half-chances, hopeless long shots, hopeful shots which nevertheless weren't tricky enough to beat Turnbull - but clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Rooney, Carrick and Berbatov made valiant efforts but for long periods, the rest simply weren't up to the job. Once again, we seemed reluctant to up the tempo, to raise the pace to a level which would be less comfortable for the opposition. Yet when we did, the chances came, most notably in the last 15 minutes of the first half when a goal seemed inevitable and only profligate finishing denied us it.
The goal came in the second half which's first 20 minutes was as bad as I can remember from United. We were disjointed, we could not sustain pressure on Boro whose quick breaks were threatening. Passes went astray, Fletcher and Ronaldo were totally anonymous, the forward got isolated - I shudder to remember it.
Fergie made the right call with bringing on Scholes but the ginger maestro's job was made a lot easier when we finally broke through and Berbatov finished an untidy move, pouncing on a mistake by Riggott. We were relieved and liberated afterwards and should have gone further forward but for Park's astonishing miss - with everyone expecting the flag to go up for offside he lifted the ball above the bar from five yards with only the keeper to beat...
Park's case is interesting, anyway. By the 60th minute, we agreed that he's simply nowhere to be seen and should be substituted as even Ryan Giggs could be a better option on the wing than this Park. And from that moment onwards, he started playing to his true capabilities and his contribution in the last 25-30 minutes ensured that I must mark him as one of our best players on the night. Strange game, this football.
Three points in the bag, at the end. That's what matters, isn't it? Well, quite but it is disturbing how difficult we find to score goals. Our last six league games went like this: 0-0, 1-0, 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 1-0. Hardly the 'United way'... Will such limited attacking prowess be enough against Chelsea? We can only pray.
Date:Tuesday December 30 2008
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