Date:Saturday November 24 2007
United lost to Bolton Wanderers due to a stupid goal, unimaginative attacking play and profligacy in front of goal.
The Reds were without Cristiano Ronaldo (God only knows why, BBC wrote he's rested) and Nemanja Vidic did not make the game after suffering a back injury while away on international duty.
Bolton started in a bullish fashion, predictably. What I could not predict that they would be given a helping hand by our very own Gerard Pique, Vidic's replacement. He completely misjudged Campo's free-kick and allowed Anelka to lash the ball home.
Clearly rocked from this early blow United were nowhere near their usual fluency. Bolton actually had the majority of possession in the first 20 minutes or so and though as the half wore on we kept the ball for longer and longer periods but did nothing with it.
Saha had a promising shot well over the bar after a good Carrick pass and fine build-up play allowed Hargreaves to shoot from a very good position but he fired over the bar. That was all. Bolton players, meanwhile, were busy to unsettle our players with hard, often nasty challenges and Kevin Davies can count himself lucky for getting away with only a yellow card after cruelly hacking down Evra near the touchline.
Carrick, Nani and Saha were all terrible in the first half and our attacking play suffered accordingly. Desperate for improvement, I was hoping that Fergie would introduce Anderson at the interval but the Scot made no changes to the team. And it started the second 45 minutes dismally: we did not manage to create even the feeble amount of pressure we managed at the end of the first half.
Our players could not keep the ball and were reduced to hoofing the ball up in the blind hope of finding a teammate. Classic England you would say but fortunately United abandoned this style midway through the half and began to exert real pressure and even created chances. And the most painful moment of a dismal afternoon arrived.
Evra worked himself down on the left of the Bolton penalty box after a good pass from Saha and his perfect cross found Tevez who nipped in front of his marker. With the goal gaping, the Argentinian striker somehow managed to sidefoot the ball wide from one yard. Unbelievable, that's what it was, I tell you my grandmother would have converted it. And I knew the game was lost.
And so it was though false hopes were raised often in the remaining 20 minutes but could not come as close as Tevez... Ferdinand headed wide after a corner, Hargreaves' free-kick was parried by Jaaskalainen (who was, shamefully, rarely tested) and that was all.
Until the 92nd minute. Van der Sar came forward for a corner and was nearly punished for it but for a good tackle. However, the ball got to the Bolton box again and though it went to one of the defenders, Evra dispossessed him, raced forward on the left and with Saha completely unmarked on his right, he decided to shoot. The ball flew well over the bar, leaving Saha in a fit of justified rage.
So, we could easily have claimed a point but on this performance, probably we wouldn't have deserved it. I must say it's worrying that if things don't go our way our players brains seem to shut down. Quite simply I never felt like we would score, especially after already celebrating an unexpected lifeline and then realising with a horrible jolt that Tevez had in fact tucked it wide. For most of the game, last 20 minutes excluded, I did not feel any urgency in the players, they did not go for Bolton's throat but seemed to wait for some divine intervention.
Last autumn's chronic illness was the 1-0 defeat and I'm worried that we're in grave trouble when a team take the lead against us - or if we can't score early enough. We were desperately short of verve against Reading, Portsmouth, Everton and now Bolton when we had to chase the game and things did not come off as we expected. That is something to be addressed because of the current Manchester United team, you would never say that 'They always score'.
Date:Saturday November 24 2007
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