Date:Thursday April 23 2009
After Liverpool's insane 4-4 thriller against Arsenal, United were left with a relatively simple task: beat Pompey to go three points clear with a game in hand.
And beat them we did and with a really good performance as well. Despite missing Rio Ferdinand the defence looked solid while in attack we were fluid and imaginative in a 4-3-3 formation with Giggs, Anderson, Ronaldo and Rooney roaming all over the pitch.
But I have two gripes with the game and they are related. First, there was little urgency in our display: we were content to play a slow tempo game, based on maintaining possession which is very useful in certain games but at home against a relegation candidate when we have to boost our goal difference...
And there's the other thing: the goal difference. Because even at this less than intense pace United were far, far too good for Portsmouth and we should have been out of sight by half-time - yet in front of goal we display the composure of an average cow. Giggs, brilliant as he was, could have had a hat-trick... and even Rooney was guilty of spurning chances even though he clinically tucked away his first one.
At that moment I thought it was going to be a rout but United were wasteful, Old Trafford were subdued, presumably because of tension so it did not turn out to be a memorable evening. Actually, it became rather nervous in the end as Portsmouth showed signs of life and created a couple of half-chances but Evans, Vidic and substitute Rafael did really well while Evra spent more time in attack than at the back.
In the end a second piece of absolute genius (the first being Anderson's long ball to Giggs) sealed the win: Scholes picked out substitute Carrick with a delightful pass and he rolled it into the far corner. A splendid goal - and though Rafael and Ronaldo could have added another two in the dying minutes we have ample reasons to be happy with a 2-0 win.
With Chelsea drawing to Everton at Stamford Bridge, United are left with only one realistic challenger to their crown. Six games left to play, three of them home, three of them away: four wins, one draw and one defeat will keep the title at Old Trafford. And hopefully all the neutrals (who are they?) will forgive me but I very much hope that this title race won't get interesting again. I'd settle for a nice boring finish.
Date:Thursday April 23 2009
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