For the sake of being able to give the most rational opinion (ha!) post-Bolton, I opted to wait until today to hammer out a match report of sorts.
At first glance, the match could be summed up with two sentences:
1) What the [censorin’ censors], another away draw? Seriously? Seriously.
2) Okay, so where’s our defense being hidden, and are the Glazers holding back on the ransom check to free it?
Justifiable reactions, certainly. Three away matches, three draws, seven goals allowed.
But…it could be worse.
Yesterday was the perfect storm for a United defeat.
Elsewhere among the Premier League’s big boys (and those aspiring to be), the results had been a tad wacky leading up to Sunday. Chelsea, Liverpool, City all losing to inferior opposition in the Carling Cup. Chelsea getting blanked at City, Arsenal losing at home to West Brom (West Brom), Tottenham losing at West Ham, and Liverpool drawing at home to Sunderland on Saturday.
Those results + United’s previous away results this season + a trip to the Reebok being a testy one at any point in the season + a Champions League tie away to Valencia in three days’ time = potential trouble.
And lo and behold, it didn’t take long for it to become a reality, with Bolton going ahead on an easily preventable goal.
Liverpool got their goals from a penalty and a free kick, and it was a corner that produced Bolton’s early opener. I’m not sure what compelled Patrice Evra to drift away from the far post, but he did so long enough and far enough to render his desperation dive futile as the ball deflected off of Zat Knight and went past him to give Bolton the lead on six minutes.
Nani’s ascension into the elite continues with each fine performance, and it’s fair to say United would be a bit lower in the table without him. And on 23 minutes, he took it upon himself to bring United level, going on a mazy run from inside the United half to the Bolton box, beating several hapless Bolton defenders along the way before unleashing a drive that Jussi Jaaskelainen had no chance to keep out.
Both sides could feel disappointed about not getting more than one in the first half, and a few inches could have made a world of difference for the confidence of a certain misfiring striker, who had an opportunity go just over the bar. Alas, that was the closest he’d come to a much-needed goal, and he departed shortly after the hour mark to be replaced by Federico Macheda.
That move had the intent of enhancing United’s chances to take the lead, but the opposite happened. There are few things more frustrating than going from having a prime scoring opportunity to getting beaten on the counter attack mere moments later. That’s exactly what happened when Bolton broke after a United corner and took the lead on 67. Credit to Martin Petrov (class player he is, it must be said) for the role he played in creating and finishing, but just as Evra shouldn’t have moved on the first goal, Darren Fletcher should have moved and taken one for the team instead of letting Petrov’s shot deflect off of him and in.
In search of an equalizer, Michael Owen was brought on for Fletcher in the 71st minute, and he made good shortly after, as Little Mickey rose to head home Nani’s free kick and bring United level again om 74. With three goals in two games, he certainly made a case for a start at Valencia.
In the end, a win was not to be, but a point earned is a point gained on Chelsea. And 12 points from six – with no defeats – is a decent return, given that the totals were 11, 13, and 11 at the same juncture in each of the last three title-winning seasons.
At some point down the road, we could look back at these three draws as a positive, since Sunday could have easily been a loss, and since United came away from Craven Cottage and Goodison Park empty-handed last season. And it takes a quick reminder of how the final table looked to know what a difference two draws would have made.
But as glass-half-full as I may be trying to be, it’s another two dropped points in a very winnable away game, and on top of that, a missed opportunity to fully capitalize on our rivals’ missteps.
One point is certainly better than none, especially away from home against tricky opposition. However, repeatedly not capitalizing in these situations decreases the margin for error against Chelsea, Arsenal, et al.
And there is only so much that can be said that hasn’t been said already about the state of United’s defensive play at the moment, but it’s tough to not be redundant when the occurrences are as well. It goes without saying that lapses in concentration like the one by Evra are unacceptable, and so is giving up multiple goals on a regular basis, no matter how many the good guys are getting. Last season, United allowed two or more goals in only six matches. It’s already happened four times in six matches this season.
No time to dwell though, with the trip to Valencia coming up. Speaking of Wednesday’s match, Wayne Rooney won’t be taking part due to an ankle injury suffered at the Reebok. Blessing not in disguise there. Dissecting his situation is worthy of its own column (or three), but in short, a sit would be for the best, even if he was fit.
Also on the injury front, Ryan Giggs will miss a couple of weeks due to a hamstring injury he picked up in the second half. It’s certainly a blow to be without his experience and reliability for even a couple of matches, but hey, look at that, there’s a well-timed international break coming up after this weekend. So, we could see him back in action against West Brom (suddenly not a gimme now, eh?) on the 16th.
Are you satisfied with Sunday’s draw at Bolton? Will you be satisfied with a stalemate in Spain, or is it a win and no less in your eyes?