United 2-1 Rovers: Vidic Is Indispensable
Another win, the 10th successive in the league, another three points and we are now eight points clear of Liverpool though they'll probably close the gap by beating Sparky's clueless bunch today. United created plenty of chances against Blackburn and defended well after taking the lead for the second time. So, nothing to complain about.
But there are things. Fergie opted to leave out Vidic as he'll be banned for the game at San Siro and gave a run-out to the Ferdinand-Evans pairing. To say it looked shaky would be an understatement and what's puzzling is that Evans was easily the more solid of the two: Ferdinand badly missed the security afforded to him by Vidic's presence.
Not much of it was evident during the first half hour though when United comfortably dominated. After some early chances we deservedly went ahead when Nelsen failed to deal with Nani's low cross which Rooney turned in from close range. The goal should have opened the floodgates and for a few minutes it seemed United would steamroller Blackburn - instead we conceded the equaliser.
I'm sure many will point to Kuszczak's role in Santa Cruz's goal and how it was unwise to rest Edwin van der Sar but I happen to believe he was not really culpable. First, Nani should have got the ball ahead of Ooijer who supplied a great pass to Santa Cruz after an unexpected surge towards our area. Then Ferdinand, inexplicably, attempted a very feeble sliding tackle on the Paraguayan with which he slid into his goalkeeper who was thus simply taken out of the equation so Santa Cruz had an easy task on his hands which he finished clinically.
Very worryingly, United fell apart after the goal. Our players kept missing single balls, misplacing five-yard passes losing every aerial duels. Only in the last five minutes we pulled ourselves together and indeed should have had a one-goal advantage at the interval but Jonny Evans' perfectly good headed goal was ruled out for some inexplicable reason - but it's not even worth mentioning, these things are commonplace in these days when refereeing seems to be controlled by Benitez's whims.
So, before the break it had looked like United had got their momentum back - after the break it looked like Blackburn might even take all three points from Old Trafford which would have been a right old disaster. A last-ditch clearance from the excellent Patrice Evra was fantastic but we had only fate to be thankful to when Diouf hit the post with the goal gaping a few minutes later. Once again it was clear that with Scholes on the pitch our central midfield is uncapable of closing down space which places enormous pressure on the defence - and this defence was without Nemanja Vidic.
We've been bailed out by two successive events: the first was an absolutely fantastic goal from Cristiano Ronaldo, the second was the introduction of Vidic who replaced the slightly limping Evans.
Before his arrival, Evra was fouled by Andrews on the edge of the box on the left. Paul Robinson wasn't afraid of Ronaldo and only requested a two-man wall - a misjudgment for sure as Ronaldo looked up and sent a delicious free-kick into the far corner. It was a timely reminder to the rest of the league that he's still a matchwinner.
He was probably our best attacker all afternoon - interestingly, Allardyce seemed to focus on Berbatov who was marked out of the game very effectively but thus Ronaldo had more space in which to operate. And this space increased tremendously after the second goal yet United failed to capitalise on it.
It did not matter in the end: the defence, with Vidic sent on, pulled themselves together and did not allow a single chance for Blackburn - apart from one, a few minutes after taking the lead: Pedersen was sent clear by a long ball, he got ahead of Rafael and had a clear sight of the goal. With Old Trafford praying for a bad miss, the Norwegian knew it better: he simply performed a stupidly obvious dive which, inexplicably, wasn't punished with a yellow card.
As I said, apart from this incident United's defence held firm but the attackers did not do their job effectively enough: in the last minutes, United could have scored five, Rooney alone could have had a hat-trick (twice he fired narrowly wide, once Ronaldo messed up the chance when a simple pass would have left Rooney with only a tap-in), Berbatov headed above the bar from close range, Ronaldo had chances, a vicious Carrick shot was blocked...
But instead of wrapping the game up with a third we were left sweating as in injury time Rovers launched long ball after long ball into the penalty area. Vidic, however, was a significant obstacle and once again, they could not get past him. What will happen in the San Siro when we won't be able to send him on if things go wrong, is another matter entirely...