The Gerard Pique Show!
United's second string, aided by Wayne Rooney, registered an impressive 1-1 draw at Roma albeit the occasion was marred by the Italians' violence.
Four United fans were stabbed and a further twelve had to be taken to hospital before the game as Roma ultras once again confirmed that they are quite as horrible as some of the nutters beating up each other in England during the 80s. But, unfortunately, they won't be banned from Europe until someone dies... and it's quite embarassing that they are let off without any punishment after recurring acts of violence.
But enough, talk about the match. Fergie fielded Rooney, Saha, Carrick, Fletcher and O'Shea to aid a side otherwise made up of inexperienced youngsters. The atmosphere, probably down to the lack of any kind of significance of the game, wasn't exactly intimidating but our youngsters still deserve credit for standing up to their much more experienced adversaries.
United were bright, and had Roma pinned back into their own half in the first quarter of an hour or so. Clear-cut chances were few and far between but the quality of the passing was very good and everyone played with real fire.
However, the game really sprang to life only when the umpteenth corner of the first half was headed into the net with perfect timing by Gerard Pique. Roma seemed to wake up, they exerted some pressure on us but the defence, marshalled by the excellent goalscorer of ours stood firm. Francesco Totti and Rodrigo Taddei were anonymous and even the lively Mancini was dealt well by a confident Danny Simpson.
The second half started in a shocking manner: Roma kept giving away the ball and United kept creating chances. Another corner could have resulted in a goal had Jonny Evans not been thwarted on the goalline then Eagles could have scored at the end of a sweeping counter-attack but failed to make connect with the ball properly. The biggest chance, however, fell to the bit off-colour Louis Saha: his first perfectly timed run of the game earned him a fantastic ball from Wayne Rooney but with only Doni to beat he managed to fire straight at the keeper with the defenders lagging desperately behind.
There was a sense in the air that this miss might cost United dearly (if that was possible in a game where nothing was at stake) and so it proved: Mancini took advantage of the O'Shea-Brown substitution and the fact that Simpson changed to the left flank. Controlling a long ball, he pulled it back in front of the slowly adapting Brown and curled the ball into the far corner.
The goal rocked United and as Roma were near full-strength now, they began to dominate for the first time during the match. Vucinic hit the post with a low drive and he could have scored at the end but blasted over from close range after Nani wasted a good chance by chipping the ball weakly into Doni's arms.
Vucinic's sitter proved to be the final event of an entertaining contest which will be remembered for the redemption of our youngsters. The lads who were humiliated by Coventry now restored their pride and we can take heart especially from the performance of the most experienced of these players: Gerard Pique. The Spaniard was a giant at the back, equal to everything Roma had thrown at him and popped up at the other end to give us the lead.
Jonny Evans, Danny Simpson, Chris Eagles and Nani all did well and we have proved again that we have a fantastic squad that is clearly capable of achieving big things. Roll on Liverpool!