Two days after suffering one of the most humiliating defeats in their history, United made a first step towards recovery by disposing of the League 2 outfit.
A lot has been said, and will no doubt be said, about Sunday, with some fans suggesting that Sunday’s starting XI should have started tonight’s game as a form of punishment, while others, for the same reasons, hoped to see as young a side as possible. Luckily for both parties, Fergie is far more pragmatic than a lot of fans, which is why he’s been at the helm for 25 years. Although he did make some changes – with all due respect to Aldershot, it is the Carling Cup after all – some of the more experienced players kept their places.
The back four had a Premier League aura to it, with young Fryatt joining Fabio, Vidic and Jones. With Valencia and Diouf deployed on the wings, Ferguson chose Park to partner Cleverley in midfield, the young midfielder making his first appearance after the injury suffered at Bolton. Owen and Berbatov completed the line up. De Gea was the veteran on the bench, – some achievement, considering that the Spaniard is only 20 – joined by the Keane twins, Pogba, Morrison, Cole and Wermijl. Further proof, if needed, that Fergie trusts this latest crop of youngsters.
Aldershot’s manager Dean Holdsworth had described his team’s preparation for this game as “extremely detailed”, and the first ten minutes supported his statement, with the Shots compact and aggressive on the pitch, much to the delight of a packed Recreation Ground.
After a rather sloppy start, United soon found their feet and were ahead in the 14th minute thanks to Dimitar Berbatov’s first goal of the season. After a poor clearance following a corner, Diouf fed Park who, after a brilliant one-two with Cleverley, played the ball in Berbatov’s path and the Bulgarian coolly slotted it home.
The United number 9 felt he should have had a penalty minutes later, when he was brought down inside the box but Mr.Walton was left unimpressed.
Aldershot were rocked after the goal and United kept creating chances from the right hand side of the pitch, with Valencia and Fabio often combining to pose a threat, like when, after 34 minutes, the Ecuadorian raced clear of his marker to deliver a brilliant cross to the far post, only for Diouf to head wide.
Diouf ‘s case is a strange one. Last season, on loan at Blackburn, played as a striker, but Ferguson seems to see him more like a winger. Whether he’s United quality or not, is yet to be established but, in terms of effort, he certainly did his bit tonight.
A player who’s definitely good enough for United is Michael Owen. The diminutive striker was on target after 40 minutes., to claim his third goal of the season. After receiving a cross from Berbatov from the right side of the box, Owen hit the ball first time to score is 7th goal in 7 Carling Cup matches with United, although Worner should have done better.
Owen’s goal just before half time virtually killed the tie, despite the hosts’ generous efforts.
The second half started pretty much in the same way as the first half had ended, and within three minutes United had put the game to bed. Valencia received a pass from Cleverley at the edge of the box, before unleashing a splendid strike that found the top corner of Worner’s goal.
Cleverley return is definitely a positive note for United, his performance tonight was calm and composed, and his availability will do a world of good to United’s midfield, bolstering Sir Alex’s options, particularly because Park is likely to get games as central midfielder only at this stage of the Carling Cup – and rightly so. The Korean is much more effective when deployed in wide areas of the pitch, rather than in midfield, but against League 2 opponents, it was a risk worth taking.
United could have had a fourth after 56 minutes, when Berbatov and Park combined down the left flank, but Berbatov dragged his shot wide after beating two defenders. The Bulgarian looked sharp and eager to get into the thick of the action, not surprisingly given the lack of opportunities he’s had so far this season.
Cleverley’s return came to and end after an hour, when he was replaced by Pogba. Rumours emerged last week that Arsenal might try to snatch the Frenchman away from Old Trafford but, based on what he’s shown so far, it’s difficult to see Fergie letting him go.
Keane and Morrison replaced Fryatt and Diouf with 20 minutes left and, apart from a good save from Amos from a well struck free kick by Guttridge, the game was done and dusted.
Beating a League 2 team in the Carling Cup might not sound like the greatest achievement – particularly on the back of a shambolic performance such as the one Sunday – but, in the past, more often than not, these kind of encounters have proved to be quite tricky for United, which is why Fergie will be pleased with the professional display by his players.
Job done then, United can now look forward to getting back to winning ways on Saturday, in their lunchtime kick off at Everton, a few hours before the quarter finals draw.