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.
The last time Samuel Eto’o thwarted our hearts, Manchester United were playing their second Champions League finalin 12 months and things looked rather different.
Back then, United boasted a superb squad capable of taking on Europe’s finest, while today they crumbled against aChelsea side which, while looking solid, never got out of second gear.
Feeling excited after what would have been a routine win until six months ago speaks volume of how far United have fallen this season, for a 2-0 win over Swansea isn’t anybody’s idea of heroics nor would the scoreline, in normal circumstances, be something to remember and behold for too long.
And yet, in this miserable season, today’s win is far from routinely and while it’d be foolish to believe United have turned a corner, they have made their life a little easier ahead of what would have been an excruciatingly difficult week before next Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge.
It’s a season of firsts, this. Unfortunately, as far as Manchester United are concerned, the novelties we have been treated to this season are all things we could have, quite plainly, done without.
And so, after a first defeat at home to Newcastle since 1972, after Everton’s first success at Old Trafford in two decades and after having gifted Swansea their first ever win at Old Trafford in their history, United, having not lost to Sunderland in the last 20 meetings between the two sides, thought well of capitulating against Gus Poyet’s men.