The Dreaded 'R' Word
Manchester United are forced to play another game as they failed to beat an aggressive Middlesbrough team at the Riverside.
I'm sure Fergie and Gareth Southgate are unhappy that the game between United and a European XI had been arrenged for this week because it means Middlesbrough and United will have a replay on March 19 - 2 days after the teams' league games.
The Reds will have important fixtures in the Premiership and prepare to face Roma in the Champions League so I'm sure that on thing Fergie wanted to avoid above all was a replay. He fielded his strongest team but for some unknown reason he once again deployed Rooney on the wing and Giggs in the middle, off the solitary striker, Larsson. This system proved to be ineffective several times in the past but yesterday the lads made the most of it.
Larsson, Rooney and Giggs swapped positions repeatedly and Boro failed to cope with our attacking play for much of the first half. Rooney's goal was excellent and Giggs hit the post. Near the end of the first 45 minutes we learned that the FA had introduced a new role: any Manchester United player who is fouled will receive a yellow card. Rob Styles did not hesitate to apply this strange rule to Larsson, much to the striker's dismay.
Sir Alex's disgust must have been even more serious when thanks to some glorious misunderstanding between Kuszczak and Ferdinand, Boro equalised at the end and when they scored another goal due to our ridiculous defending at the start of the second half, United were suddenly struggling despite being the better team for 40 minutes. Styles once again took centre stage when he failed to award a penalty for a push on Rooney but to be honest, United looked like as if they had lost the plot and would not score until tomorrow morning. Boro were defending like demons and their agreesive style caused us serious problems. Thankfully, one of their most impressive performers came to our rescue.
I believe Boateng should have headed that ball away; I simply cannot understand why he decided to handle it. It was a clear handball so not even Styles could have denied us the penalty which Ronaldo coolly converted.
The rest of the second half was played at great speed but as the minutes ticked away it became increasingly obvious that our players would settle for a replay. Boro could not revert to attack though they had a last go at us at the final minutes but it ended as a draw and neither side can have complaints about that.
We have to take the positives: O'Shea played very well, just as Carrick and I was satisfied with Giggs, too. Rooney did not like life on the wing but managed to score a delightful goal. Cristiano Ronaldo was a bit quiet and I would have expected more from Larsson in his swansong. Tomasz Kuszczak showed he has talent in abundance but his confidence and aerial ability must be improved. Let's hope Edwin's injury is not serious...
Gaby Heinze was often exposed in defense but his attacking work can't be criticised while Ferdinand and Vidic played one of their worst games of the season. Both picked up knocks and are unlikely to feature against the European XI on Tuesday. Paul Scholes will play and the replay means he will miss only one league game, against Bolton, due to his three-match ban.
Should we be happy about the draw? Well, we obviously can't win every game and we won't win 15 matches in a row. If we accept this, then I must say the draw is good: we are still in the FA Cup and the inevitable stumbling did not occur in a league game. The Premiership is the priority and the most important is not to drop points in that competition. Everything else is secondary.