Date:Monday February 9 2009
Once again, it wasn't pretty. It wasn't exactly convincing. But another stellar defensive performance and a moment of pure magic took United three points closer to the 18th league title.
West Ham United gave a good account of themselves on their own ground where we have lost on the last two occasions: they harassed us all afternoon, passed the ball around well and defended solidly. But in the end they lacked genuine class, something that Ryan Giggs, even at 35, possesses in abundance.
The Welshman was positioned in an unfamiliar role on the right flank and while he was quite useful, he was nowhere near as influential as against Chelsea, for example. The idea behind his position surely was that it would give him plenty of opportunities to cut in and shoot with his left and provide telling passes to the strikers and maybe the central midfielders.
In the end, the winning goal was somewhat ironic: in the 62nd minute, Giggs brought down a fantastic crossfield ball delivered by Scholes, cut in from the left wing, escaped the challenges of two defenders and curled a shot with his right foot into the far corner of the net. That's what we expected from him but we expected him to cut in from the right flank and score with his left foot - that would have been far less surprising.
What is obvious though is that class is indeed permanent. Ryan Giggs is now the only player to have scored in every Premiership season (Gary Speed is playing in the Championship now) and if we win this title (which looks increasingly likely) then we'll have to admit that once again he made a massive contribution. He's playing better than last season I think.
His fellow legend Paul Scholes has somewhat faded and I felt he was sadly ineffective on Sunday, his lack of energy in midfield isolating the strikers and providing little cover for the defence. Carrick had to do two men's job for long periods which we surely can't afford against decent teams.
That we still could yesterday against a more than decent team is testament to the wonderful defence we have. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have not even been at their impressive, ubreachable best yet they handled the threat of the in-form Carlton Cole relatively easily.
Up front, things were less wonderful. Berbatov regularly took two defenders for a walk yet we could not capitalise as Tevez was nowhere near the form he's shown in recent weeks and as I have said they had little service from the midfielders. Cristiano Ronaldo, on the left, was told to hug the touchline it seems and this made his markers' job a lot easier: Lucas Neill, Valon Behrami and occasionally Mark Noble did their best to deny him space but he was still dangerous at times, though it is telling that his best chances were from a corner (he headed wide) and from a Scholes free-kick which he almost poked into the net.
Refereeing was, unusually, fine until the very end when once again we were denied a blatant penalty when Ronaldo was tripped by Neill. Well, it won't feature in Benitez's next dossier I reckon.
But all in all, a very satisfying afternoon. We can revel in Giggsy's magic, we have the chance to go five points clear of Liverpool which would be a nice little cushion before the fixture pile-up begins in earnest. We might have to resign ourselves to the fact that this year's Premiership is about defending but I still retain the hope that we'll see United in full flight before the campaign ends.
Date:Monday February 9 2009
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|9. Man Utd||15||6||4||5||3||22|
|11. Aston Villa||15||5||4||6||-2||19|
|12. Hull City||15||5||3||7||-6||18|
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