Dear, Old Scholes...
AS Roma beat ten-man Manchester United 2-1 at Rome to set up a probably thrilling second leg at Old Trafford.
These are the games when we really miss Roy Keane and even Gary Neville. At Fulham or Sheffield, tensions are usually not as high as in Rome so we do not need anyone who might calm down our lads. This time, Giggs was skipper and he failed to convince Scholes that he should not fly into tackles...
Roma came out of the blocks flying and caused havoc in our penalty area in the first few minutes but then we recovered and started to take control. We kept the ball very well (we had the better of possession until the half-hour mark) but it was apparent that we came for a draw, waiting for a chance to score on the break.
Rooney had an early opportunity but he lobbed Ronaldo's low cross into the hands of Doni. Then he was found with a long ball twice in two minutes but the Roma keeper came out and cleared on both occasions though they were very close...
Then Scholes committed two absolutely unnecessary yellow cards. It was a bit harsh to punish him for the foul on Christian Wilhelmsson but Roma's Swedish player was near the touchline and surrounded by United players so drastic action was not necessary. Scholes got the yellow card that ruled him out of the second leg but much worse was to come.
After a failed United attack, Roma tried to break away by Totti who started a great run but at the halfway line he was fouled by Scholes who would have been left stranded otherwise. Second yellow and suddenly the task ahead seemed monumental. A Roy Keane or even a Gary Neville might have been able to prevent this disaster with a quick conversation with Scholes... but it happened.
Fergie should be applauded for his bravery: he did not haul off the invisible Solskjaer - of course, Fletcher's physical condition was probably not good enough to play 60 minutes. And ten minutes later, we were happy that Solskjaer had been left on the pitch when Roma, already supported by the referee (Scholes' sending off was right but all the minor decisions went against us and it became frustrating...) called luck to their side as Tadde's shot took a deflection on Brown and fell into the net after a quickly-taken corner.
Down to ten man, conceding a goal right before half time - things seemed pretty desperate. But of course, as the popular (it's just irony, don't worry) Clive Tyldesley said in 1999: 'down and out - not a bit of it, they are never out.'
And they proved this again. Fighting for every ball, United defended like demons and even had the courage to attack in this intimidating atmosphere. When Solskjaer's great cross found Rooney, I was sure the young man would finally score in the Champions League. He beat a defender with calmness, composure and ease before lashing an unstoppable shot into the far corner. - brilliant.
I must stop here to laud Rooney. His performance was exemplary, absolutely professional. He did not argue with the referee, he did not forget about himself for a moment, despite the fact that Fandel blew a foul on every occasion Rooney tried to head the ball away... He kept going, the ball was perfectly safe at him, did everything what a striker have to do when his team is down to ten man.
Roma scored another outrageously lucky goal but of course we could say that their efforts bore fruition: they were firing from every distance and direction throughout the night so it's no wonder that one of these shots were beaten just in front of Vucinic by the otherwise impressive, excellent Van der Sar.
Saha was brought on, too but we did not have another chance to score but the players and Fergie seemed happy enough - and I was happy enough, too. Losing 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico when playing 60 minutes with ten man - an acceptable result and our task does not seem insurmountable. With Saha and Fletcher and perhaps Park back, they should not stand a chance at Old Trafford.