In a season of lows and false dawns, today’s game runs the risk of being both without hopefully being neither, for it is complicated to fully analyse United’s 3-0 win at West Bromwich.
Did United simply make the most of West Brom’s deficiencies or has the penny finally dropped and has David Moyes realised that he has to build a system around his players to maximise their strengths, rather than shuffle his personnel around desperately trying to come up with the magic equation that will fit his archaic tactics?
In all likelihood, this was going to be one of United’s last ever away trip in the Champions League for a couple of seasons and United ensured it was a night we’ll not forget in a long time, even though most of us will hope to wake up tomorrow to the news that tonight never happened, that it was all a nightmare.
Forget the disgracefully wrong tactics, forget the ineptitude that has reigned supreme for months in different areas of the pitch, forget about the horribly dire football we’ve been treated to in almost every game this season, forget even about the fact that this tie and United’s Champions League are as good as over, the players wearing the Manchester United shirt tonight ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Having gone three games without a win, perhaps the FA Cup break benefited United, or perhaps Palace were simply not good enough to cope with the mighty Marouane Fellaini (this, by the way, is a sarcastic remark).
Whatever the reason, United’s first visit at Selhurst Park since 2005 was one to remember, as the result topped off a day of jolly drinking, one during which Eric Cantona masks were as common a sight in the away end as inflatable bananas are among City fans.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
If ever a moment epitomised United’s season, it came sixty seconds before the final whistle. Having been pinned back in their defensive third for a while, United pinched the chance to counter one last time but Wayne Rooney squandered the initial chance and Michael Carrick did not deem driving forward a worthy option and proceeded to pass the ball backwards. Opportunity gone, philosophy….seemingly GONE.
United, in those last seconds, played for a 0-0 draw as they had done for the previous 92 minutes and, in fairness to David Moyes and his men, it was mission accomplished, the sort of result a seventh-placed team would draw positives from, given it came against one of the favourites for the title.
By the end of it, the only surprising thing was that some could still find this abysmal showing surprising. If today is to be the end of the belaguered side we have witnessed for the last six months, then sure enough United delivered in a cruel, yet not uncharecteristic given this season’s standards, way.
Having toiled away for 75 minutes against a side that started today bottom of the league and that had failed to avoid defeat in their last four games, United looked to have rescued some dignity when Robin Van Persie and Michael Carrick put them in front with 10 minutes remaining, before Darren Bent clinched a late equaliser – it’s becoming something of a habit this season.
Hell is a place that’s often been described, though it has never been seen. A cold, windy and rainy afternoon in Stoke, however, would gain a rather large consensus if the description of hell was to be put up to public vote.
Everything is quintessentially awful about Stoke. Their fans, their manager, the horrible football they insist to practise, their players and their horrendous wind-swept ground, where footballers and fans are at the elements’ mercy, with sudden gusts of wind making play almost impossible.
By the time Juan Mata fully settles into this United side, orchestrating the play and dictating passes mere mortals can’t see, we will, hopefully, all look back to tonight and break a polite, almost embarrassed smile, at how low-key the Spaniard’s debut in a Manchester United shirt was.
That is not to say that United’s record signing disappointed in his first outing for his new club, but to classify tonight as a “dream debut” would be to get carried away too soon and too quickly.
There’s something quintessentially United about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with the last kick of the game.
Unfortunately, there’s also something quintessentially United – at least as far as the class of the 2013-14 season are concerned – in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat only to extend the agony and ensure that the blow, when it’s finally delivered, is even more painful.