Behold United's Squad Players!
Now it's no surprise that the main accolades for this season will go to likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, for his emergence as a true world superstar, Nemanja Vidic, for his awesome season in which he built a solid defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, for his mature performances at left-back which he managed to hold onto ahead of the likes of Gabriel Heinze, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, for their ability to turn the clocks back and prove to everyone that in a league most consider the best in the world that age does not matter as class is permanent, and of course not forgetting Wayne Rooney, who finally found his goalscoring touch in Europe.
So, considering this, it would be very easy to forget the performances of some of our lesser-known players, a.k.a our "Fringe Players", who have came in when injury had ravaged our team and put in performances the player`s mentioned at the beginning would be proud of. In this short article, I hope to shine a light onto these so-called, "Fringe Players" and give these players the congratulations that they deserve on helping to guide our team to our 16th league title.
Now when OPTA released their stats for the season, John O`shea was probably last on the list of most fans to be the most lethal finisher in the league, but with a shot-to-goal ratio of 80%, O`shea can hold his head up high and call himself England`s most deadly goalscorer!!!
And it wasn`t as if these goals were part of 5-0 victories, these were HUGELY important goals that won us the match. For example, who can forget that day out at Liverpool on 3rd March, when after being truly battered for 90 minutes, John O`shea popped up with the winner deep into stoppage time to lift us a massive 12 points ahead of Chelsea, and sent out a clear message to our opponents that this would be our season. Also, his goal against Everton late on in the campaign which propelled the team from 2-0 down, to a 4-2 win, a day equally as important in our quest for the title. However, O`shea`s finest hour had to have been that trip to Spurs on February 4th when with 10 minutes to go, Edwin Van Der Sar suffered a blow to the face and was forced off, and having made our three substitutions, O`shea was drafted in as an emergency goalkeeper. Not only did he manage a clean sheet, but he also had the audacity to stop his fellow countryman Robbie Keane in a one-on-one duel, which seemed destined for a goal. A day that will live long in the memory of John O`shea, as well as all us Utd fans!!!
Before I go on to talk about Fletcher`s performances this year, can I first hold my hands up and admit that I was one of those people who at the start of the season didn`t feel Fletcher merited a place in our team. I didn`t boo him at matches or anything like that, but I felt that he had overstayed his transitional stage and that he had nothing else to offer our club, but boy was I wrong!!!
His performances this year may not have been as explosive and exiting as those of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but they were without doubt just as important. And I think that instead of talking in general about Fletcher`s performances this season, I would much rather prefer to talk about one match in particular, that magical European night at Old Trafford against AS Roma. Now, make no mistake about it, we WERE the underdogs for that match in many people`s eyes, injury had ravaged our side of first-team regulars such as Nemanja Vidic, Gary Neville, Louis Saha, and more importantly Paul Scholes and so Sir Alex was forced to put his trust in some of our Fringe Players, one of which being Darren Fletcher. The 7-1 scoreline may have led some people to believe that match was all about our attacking prowess, but defensively we were solid as a rock, and Darren Fletcher was as much a part of that as anyone else, his dogged style of play, tough-talking ball retention allowed some of our flair players such as Cristiano Ronaldo to work their magic, and without Fletcher that night, we may not have won that match at all.
Sadly however, with the impending arrival of Owen Hargreaves, and Sir Alex`s pledge to play Ryan Giggs in a more central role form now on, I fear Fletcher could find his opportunities to play in the centre of midfield few and far between, and so may be adopted in wider positions, which I feel he does not appear to enjoy as much as when he plays in the heart of our midfield.
Alan Smith has always been one of my favourite players at Manchester United, however after his horrific injury away to Liverpool the season before last, I feared for how he would bounce back from that. But according to Sir Alex, Smith was straight out working on his rehabilitation just a few days after suffering his horrific injury, and his drive and enthusiasm to play for Manchester United was clear for all to see in his performances last season.
Henrik Larsson`s brief spell with us was over, Saha had suffered yet another injury, Solskjear was not fully fit and for the first time all season it seemed although we did not have enough attacking options. But then Smith, back from a long spell out came back and seemed to inject a new lease of life into the team, and his style of play seemed to benefit some of our better players such as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, as they new they had a man playing alongside them that would give his all for the cause.
Much like Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith`s best game of the season was probably the 7-1 drubbing of AS Roma, a game in which Smith displayed all the qualities that us Manchester United fans want to see in our players, grit, determination and passion. His leading from the front, with strong tackles and constant harassing of the Roma backline seemed to unnerve them, and I lost count of the number of times that the Roma defence gave away possession as a result of Smith`s closing in. And for me, though the 7-1 win was massive, the goal scored by Smith caused as much jubilation as the win itself, and you could see in his face how much that goal meant to him, and I hope Sir Alex sticks with him next season as he possesses all the things we need from a player.
Now I don`t actually count Brown as one of our "Fringe Players", I think he is too good for that, but I feel he needs a special mention for what has been a typical Wes Brown season, consistent when called upon, never making a fuss, and a player I feel he has to be one of the most 'underrated` payers, as I truly believe he is one of the best all-round defenders that the Premiership has to offer.
His performances when called upon have been exceptional, and without turning any heads he has performed consistently well all season, and had it not been for the emergence of Nemanja Vidic, Brown could very well be in our first team.
As it would take forever to dissect Browns performances this year, I would rather focus on more recent games, being the two games against Chelsea. Now I know that the match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was a bit dull to say the least, but I feel one positive to come from that match is the maturity that Wes Brown showed throughout. I lost count of the number of defensive clearances and blocks that Wes Brown performed that night, and though towards the end many of the younger players looked a bit panicked, Brown kept a calm figure and was the main reason we left London that night with any points at all. Brown`s performance in the FA Cup was equally as impressive, and though he was adopted in a much wider role, he dealt with both the skill of Joe Cole and the pace of Arjen Robben with ease.
So, as you can see - though many of the team`s performances have been credited with some of our better-known players, in actual fact some of our "Fringe Players" actually performed just as well, and I think we must reserve special thanks to John O`shea, Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith and Wes Brown for coming into the team when called upon, and performing admirably.
Written by united4life