Ronaldo showed why he can infuriate as well as excite the United faithful with his double yesterday. He showed little in the first half to merit the hype about his credentials as among the world’s best. But still, Ronaldo, at half steam currently sits atop the league’s top scorer. This from a winger who’s been given a more orthodox wide role this season than last.
Yet, there he was yesterday, being his usual petulant self — giving the ball away, making a poor effort of trying to win it back. Of course, it would be a stretch to pin the blame on him for the second Villa goal, but he really seems to have lost the spark that made him so feared last season.
But at the end of the game, my feelings were best summed up by Rob Smyth of the Guardian:
That United go top of the table as a consequence is almost incidental: this will be talked about every bit as much as Steve Bruce’s 96th-minute winner against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, and indeed Mark Hughes’s season-turning injury-time equaliser against Oldham in the FA Cup semi-final a year later. This was the day an unknown 17-year-old kid, brought on as a hunch, took the game, the season and his entire life by the scruff of the neck and decided: this is mine.
What happens between now and May could be anyone’s guess; United could still squander this from here. But the rush of confidence and belief that a late goal like this can bring is hard to rival any other emotion. United were in dire need of a win; a second wind to make the last lap of this title race. They were the bleeding giant that, by Sunday, had perhaps bled too much to survive. But the giant refused to die and Macheda’s goal made sure of that. Villa were stricken, and rightly so, like a fallen amateur boxer who should have killed off his opponent when he was down and out.
So are the boys back in town? Not really. (For the pedantically inclined, some of the big boys in Vidic, Rooney and Scholes will return for Porto, but we’re not talking the same thing, then). The win papered over defensive cracks that have been opening up alarmingly. In our last three games we’ve conceded 8 goals! And we can’t always excuse a changed back four because we broke clean sheet records when our back four kept changing. Hopefully, if Rio’s groin does not get better a Vidic-Evans partnership would surely be an improvement over yesterday.
Which brings us to Gary Neville. It utterly pains me to see a player who clearly has far too much pride to be cutting such a sorry figure on the pitch yesterday. There was a tinge of regret on his face in the post match interview when he hinted he wasn’t upto it in the first half. After having seen the start-stop nature of his season, I find it hard to imagine he’ll ever be galloping along our right wing at full pelt. More importantly, Neville will have to own up to it and admit it himself that he’s not even a shadow of his past self. Otherwise, I see Fergie preferring him owing to sentimentality, or the fact that he is our current captain.
Villa overran a poor United side in the first half, and had it not been for a mixture of bad luck (thanks to poor calls from the linesmen) or just the lack of a final ball, they would have been ahead of us. Instead, in the second half they appeared strangely content to let us back into the game. The last 20 minutes were entirely United, but one never saw how we were going to score until Ronaldo’s strike, which really came out of nothing.
Three points today, but more important will be the morale the players will be taking into Porto. It’s less than 48 hours away, but it’s a home game and with players returning fresh from suspension, our side should wear a more menacing look in midweek.
Or, at least, one would hope.