Manchester United at Home 2018/19 – Clinical

So here we are again. And, in many ways, it felt like we’d never been away. Partly, this was because we were playing exactly the same team in our first home game of the season as we’d played in the last home game of the previous season. I can’t think that this – playing the same side twice in a row in competitive home games – has ever happened before at The Amex.

Furthermore, last time out was simply one of my favourite games in our history. Not up there with Hereford or Doncaster or Wigan of course but beating a side like United to stay up, on a Friday evening where the atmosphere could be felt in the goosebumps on your skin, was pretty special. The only minor downers on it were the delayed reaction to the goal as goal line technology confirmed our superiority, rather than a satisfying ripple of the net, and the fact that United, Pogba included, were very much on the beach, an attitude that was confirmed when De Gea came out for the second half clad only in a Kiss Me Quick hat and Speedos and proceeded to litter the goal mouth with beer cans and plastic bottles. Or something,

So when the fixtures came out my excitement at starting with a weekend game against a big club was tempered by the fact it was THEM again. Although we’d put in three cracking performances against them last season we had been rewarded with just the one home win. Surely the massed Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey hordes would roar them to victory this time and Jose Mourinho would stand triumphant in front of the West Stand, smart white shirt slightly opened to reveal greying chest hair, muttering the Portuguese for “revenge” and contemplating a knee slide.

Only half of the regular crew would witness it, however, because someone booked a camping weekend to coincide with our Amex return. Hang your head Steve. Of course, there are always times when this looks like a sensible option, like when you’re trying desperately to end a family lunch in time to catch one of only two trains per hour on Coastway West, or when you’re navigating small children on to said packed train. And then you’re changing at Brighton and the town’s buzzing and the half and half scarf sellers are out and The Boy mentions again that they are rubbish and he cannot understand them, and you pat yourself on the back for your parenting skills, and then the joy as you get seats on the Falmer train, place a £1 correct score bet for The Boy (he went 2-1 us, more optimistic than me I have to say) and then you’re off and The Amex looms like a giant exciting spaceship that’s docked in a hole in the hills and you think “I’m home”.

It was a flag day. If I say I’m not a fan it’s probably based on the later experience of flags and/or clackers in play off games rather than the original flag day against Doncaster when they looked awesome and worked very well, thank you. But if you’re going to wave your flag then go the whole hog and wave it with some GUSTO. The West Upper did, along with a lusty rendition of Sussex by the Sea. All the rest of the regulars were present, correct and excited and you suddenly got a whiff of why The Amex is such a fortress for us. Now, all it would need would be a good start.

We certainly started brightly and United never settled on the ball. I’d managed to post a negative reaction to the team news on Twitter and, in fact, many other had. The conversational feel in the ground was also that the selection was a mistake, given our awful start at Watford. But we should know by now to trust in CH and we buzzed around United like angry hornets (maybe that’s why we got stuffed last week, you can’t hornet a hornet it would be like a wasp stinging another wasp instead of dying menacingly in your lager, but I digress) when they had the ball, all snappy in the tackle, and we kept it nicely when we had it. Though United had slightly more of the ball they looked less comfortable in possession, Albion the more dangerous. Surely not again?

It nearly wasn’t as a potentially disastrous passage of play could have seen us a goal and a centre back down. Dunk dwelled on possession at the back and got caught with a poor touch. In trying to recover it he injured himself and was out of position when Lukaku was put through on to our goal. Duffy did his best to block and it was enough, the Belgian international slicing wide. Phew. Dunk, though, could not continue, replaced by Balogun.

And then, twenty minutes that would define the game and, hopefully, will define our season. Propper picked the ball up in midfield and played it out wide through Mata’s legs, the Man U man looking like he very much missed it deliberately. The ball found Bong who fed March down the line. His low cross found an intelligent run and brilliant dinked finish from Murray and we were one up. The usual Amex pottiness ensued.

Two minutes later it was dreamland. The absolutely woeful Bailly conceded a corner when it would have been easier to put it out for a throw and United switched off from the ball in. It pinged back dangerously across goal and back out to the left where it was cut back before finding the unmarked Duffy close in. He drilled it in to the corner and we were two up, just like that. Pandemonium. Scenes.

A word here for regular readers who have been with the blog a few seasons. It used to be that I reported The Boy asking me non-stop silly questions. But, now that he is older and my eyesight is distinctly middle aged, the tables are turned. Unsure of who applied the finish I asked him. “Duffy” he replied with eyes raised. I kept to myself the fact that I thought he’d been literally all over the pitch until I remembered that Montoya had taken the number 22 from him. At half time I had to check if United’s number 14 was really Lingard, our former loan player. “He’s just got different hair dad”.

But I jump way too far ahead. United pulled one back from a corner of their own, Luke Shaw’s deflected bouncing cross finding Lukaku unmarked and onside in the six yard box. He couldn’t, and didn’t miss the header. Disappointing because we had been by far the better side. But then, just before half time, a proper example of our dominance. A goal kick was chipped down the middle to Pogba who was robbed by our pressing. Groß was put through, though a heavy first touch took him away from goal, whereupon he was needlessly brought down. PENALTY! Another defensive error from United. I’d like to say Groß “made no mistake” from the spot but, in truth, it was an awful penalty that De Gea should have saved but could only deflect in to the roof of the net. No matter. 3-1. Dreamland.

The second half contained far less incident but was pleasing from the point of view that we look to have discovered how to hold a lead without dropping too deep. We continued to press, continued to tackle and looked far more up for it than our illustrious opponents. United’s start studded midfield was neutralised by Propper and Stephens, both having fantastic games. Murray beasted a weak defence. Knockaert was the old Knocky from The Championship. Montoya and Bong gave a full back master class. Balogun, who came on for the injured Dunk, looked a real player, full of pace. And, when Pogba finally found his range Ryan was equal to it.

Right at the end United pulled one back, Pogba converting a soft penalty. Referee Kevin Friend did not endear himself to The Boy with this decision or an equally soft yellow for Murray, but by the time Pogba was racing back to the centre circle most of his fans had started the long drive back to Guildford. Those left didn’t even celebrate. A tense minute followed, then bedlam. We’d done it again.

A word on United. However much we laugh at their plastic pub fans they are one of the biggest clubs in the world and three thousand of them paid good money to watch a performance that would have sent me demented if that were us. So it’s right and proper that the TV companies talk about that. Yes, we deserve credit, but their continued implosion is a full-on back page story. For me, last season’s loss was understandable but yesterday’s simply seemed to come down to the fact that the players don’t want to, or can’t play for Mourinho and his system. On that form I will be astounded if Jose makes the end of the season. They have square pegs in every round hole. The back four yesterday barely looked Championship quality, Fred ambled about cluelessly, Lukaku spunked a good chance to put nerves at rest before we’d scored and Sanchez doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere at all. Watch this space.

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West Bromwich Albion At Home – Super Saturday

Well, it’s been quite a couple of weeks.

As ever, discussion about football is a matter of opinion, framed by events that are current at the time of talking, writing or tweeting. They are there to be discussed but also disproved. In the event of us failing to add to our strike force in the transfer window many have questioned our ability to hold our own and score goals. As you will see from one of the hyperlinks on the recent posts section I was one of them. Trust Hughton to disprove us in the most emphatic fashion.

There I go, giving the end away AGAIN. But come on, you’re reading this because, for the first time this season, you want to savour the afternoon again, right?

It certainly was one to savour, In fact, it was one of those days where everything went perfectly. Steve was away cycling so I took his son while The Boy’s Oldest Friend and his mum joined us for the game, This involved various junior sports’ teams training sessions endings being co-ordinated, finding of tickets and hopes that Southern would run not one but three trains on time, and that we could all find each other. That this was achieved painlessly proves how well the afternoon went. That it should be in doubt shows the current level of mistrust in our wonderful local rail travel providers.

On the station, waiting for the first of these trains, the discussion was based on if we’d see a home debut for record signing Izquierdo. The consensus was that we’d like to see him, but at whose expense we weren’t sure. March has been one player who has looked a hundred percent at home in this league. I’d send a fired up Knockaert out against any team in the world. In the week Propper had played a fine game in a more advanced role, while Groß has done nothing wrong at all and would potentially have the creativity and running needed against what would be a big, well organised West Brom team.

In the event, having got a beer quickly and painlessly, and had a good old catch up and gossip, I checked my phone to find an unchanged team. The home debut would have to wait.

The team talk was probably easier than normal. It was clear from early on in the game we were spot on tactically but the motivation would all have come from a desire to show us, the League, and more than a few pundits that we mean business. While you can disparage social media all you like that too acted like a team talk for the fans. Let’s put all this behind us and get behind the team was the overriding message, and it had been taken to heart. The noise that greeted the boys was cranked up to at least a 9.5 out of 10, and continued from a lusty rendition of Sussex By The Sea and on throughout a first half, which, it’s fair to say, we dominated.

We were always going to see more of the ball than we did against Man City but the early indications here were that “our league” might not be the hard work that we feared. If City looked like they came from another other-worldly existence, West Brom on this evidence would not be out of place in The Championship. That’s not to disparage our players in any way. West Brom poked hopeful punts up for their lone striker Rondon and Shane Duffy snaffled every one with his head. The hoped for second ball didn’t drop for The Baggies either. Propper, looking every inch the record signing that he briefly was, bossed midfield. Dunk quarterbacked off the scraps. Knockaert and Bruno weaved beautiful patterns on the right and March found space on the left. The much maligned (yes, guilty) Hemed looked far stronger (and this against a centre back who Man City had apparently targeted). And above all was Groß who seemed to be covering every blade of grass going.

Inevitably we scored. Groß was hacked in a poor challenge by Krychowiak. Knocky seemed to slip and under hit the resulting free kick but it span out to March and Foster made a total hash of the shot for Duffy to tap in to an empty net. Only he was offside, a fact not immediately apparent to me, ginning and bouncing with relief along with everyone else, but it did not count.

We survived two scares ourselves. How a back pass from Duffy wasn’t cut out by Rondan I’ll never know, while Ryan (yes, I know) made an unbelievable reflex save from Gareth Barry’s long range drive.

And then it came. A sublime cross field ball from Groß found March on the left and his cross found Groß back again at the back stick, having carried on his run. He seemed to overrun his cut back but stretched and slid it in from close range to send the Amex loopy with delight. Yes, I have watched it back a couple of times. You would, wouldn’t you?

The goal had come on the stroke of half time, and had been missed by Ray’s son who sits behind me, as he’d gone to the bar early. I’d said to both of them before we scored that it would be really nice to go in one up as it would change Pullis’s tactics and I’d got what I’d wanted. Now imagine still being downstairs drinking that beer when we scored a second. He was. I wasn’t. I wanted to savour every minute of this game and straight after half time we were in dreamland. The space was created by Dunk going on the charge, drawing WBA out of shape. Although he had to cut back a quick diagonal ball found Hemed who produced a wonderful touch to free Groß. Knockaert was in yards of space but the German instead turned straight and fired a wonderful low shot in to the corner and everyone who wasn’t still in the bar went nuts. Not as nuts as Ryan, though, who raced the length of the pitch to join a pile of celebrating players. Together, indeed.

A third was impossible right? Not on your nelly. Groß again involved, this time the provider as we exposed space on the WBA right and he had plenty of time to cross for Hemed to score with a perfectly angled header.

We lost Bruno to injury and they brought on Morrison and the game belatedly changed, the latter scoring what would turn out to be a consolation goal after a cross from the right had dropped to him and a tangled up Duffy was lucky not to have handled off the line. Perhaps better to concede the goal than a penalty and a man at that stage. In any case, for the rest of the game we looked as if we had ten men, as a siege mentality took hold and West Brom belatedly upped their possession and territory stats, Morrison at the heart of everything good for them.

Five minutes of injury time started off nervously, March got booked for an obvious dive and then it was over. Applause, songs, hugging, high fives. Beer, then back to mine for pizza. Three excited boys on top of the world. One blogger apologising on Twitter. That one latter thing was different. Everything else was a continuation of last season. We might just be ok.

 

 

 

Atletico Madrid At Home

“Atletico Madrid at home”. There’s a match report I never thought I’d be writing. Yet it really did happen, in glorious sunshine too. Yesterday, the big time arrived at The Amex.

It’s arrived here at BBOAH Towers too. I’ll have you know this is a Premier League blog you’re reading now and the proof is that I’m magically charging you 25p a word via use of a invisible paywall powered by Jamie Redknapp’s arse-hair and the recycled dreams of the Essex branch of the Manchester United Supporter’s club*. I’ve got slightly better back lights though and you will be reading about players like Benjamin Mendy, Paul Pogba, Steve Cooke and Ashley Barnes.

I digress. Atletico Madrid eh?

Whoever got this friendly arranged needs a massive pat on the back, which I suspect they’ve had since Paul Barber’s ears will have been delighting in the sound of ringing cash tills all afternoon. I have rarely seen The Boy so excited and we fairly bounced to the bus at Sainsbury’s. Many others were making their way, decked out in our brand new kit, and the bus left for Dreamland at exactly ten past two, full of happy chatter. Steve and I caught up with the tiny events that had happened since I’d cooked him a massive steak the night before and the boys chattered eagerly. The Boy had already worked out that “Mathew Ryan” scans in to exactly the same songs as “David Stockdale”, which would prove to be useful.

A beer or two and a chat with an old mate I used to travel the country with watching us, back in the day, and then it was out in to the bright sunshine for Griezmann against Duffy. Quite literally for us as we’d booked tickets early, when the West Upper wasn’t open, and therefore found ourselves with a most excellent view in the centre of the East Stand, a few rows from the front.

An interesting team selection had been discussed already in the bar. With Murray suspended Hemed had to lead the line but most of us would have started with March rather than Murphy. Otherwise it was the expected side but the weaknesses in it, one enforced and one chosen, were obvious from the start.

Atleti were extremely comfortable early on, dominating the ball with Torres proving a handful and Griezmann, never stellar to be fair, still conducting attacks. Yesterday was far from his best game yet I spent a portion of time just watching him rather than the ball and the way he constantly sits in space, right in the hole, and is key to Atleti’s game. He seems to have more time on the ball than half our team put together.

Inevitably from comfortable possession came a range of attacks. Kayal’s foul gave Griezmann a chance from an early free kick but he stuck it straight at Ryan. From another a loose ball was stabbed at our new keeper who produced a reaction save of sheer class. Even better, a powerful low, skidding shot that was flying in to the bottom corner was somehow repelled at full stretch. “Da da da daaaa! Mathew Ryan!” sang The Boy. “Da da da daaaa! Mathew Ryan!” sang the North Stand. Meanwhile, Oblak in the Atleti goal was a spectator.

This sort of dominance at least gave a chance to assess our new players. Suttner looks decent in the air and competitive but he was being helped a lot in the first half by Izzy Brown, playing more left midfield than left wing. Brown showed the same sort of excellent temperament we got last season from another Chelsea loanee, Tomori, and applied himself selflessly. On the odd attack we did have he looked dangerous and will prove, I think, to be quite the decent signing. Gross hardly had a touch early on but one incredible little ball steal and turn, halfway in the Atletico Madrid half, set up one of our more dangerous moments.

Sadly for us, have expertly denied Atletico’s better chances we conceded just before half time to a howler, Gaitan hitting a tame shot from long range that somehow went straight through Ryan, who’d been outstanding up to then. So yes, we appear to have a keeper who is a brilliant shot stopper and distributes the ball well, but is prone to the odd ricket. Plus ca change, plus cest la meme chose.

Three changes were made at half time, Sidwell coming in to centre midfield for Kayal, March replacing the utterly ineffective Murphy and Bong getting a full half at left back. The Albion immediately looked more dangerous. The addition of March put Atletico on the back foot and Hughton must have put some belief in to us. March took them on with glee, right in front of us, with a trade mark cut inside and shot just over the bar and generally we gained some possession and territory. From another attack we equalized. Hemed for once won and kept the ball in a dangerous area and a sloppy foul was committed on him. Gross, who’d already established his dead ball skills in the first half grabbed the ball and his low free kick took a massive deflection and went in off the post. We’d scored. Against Atletico Madrid.

As March was good down our right so Juanfran was on theirs and he soon re-established the lead with a pinpoint cross to see the unmarked Torres head home. 1-2. Knockaert came on and took over on the right, March switching wings and Brown going up top with Hemed off. This paid immediate dividends. Knockaert tucked in to Atletico’s defence like me and Steve had our steaks, the night previously and March roasted the aforementioned Juanfran. From the resultant space a cross was produced that was every bit as good as theirs and Sidwell tucked away an unmarked header of his own.

Could we get a draw? A late winner even? Sadly, it was not to be. Instead a final attack from our visitors produced some desperate ping-pong in the box. A few minutes earlier a suicidal cross field pass from us had seen Griezmann fluff a gaping goal from less than twelve yards by trying to use the outside of his left and slicing in to the South Stand. He wanted to make up for it here and although Ryan saved the initial effort Hernandez fired home the rebound for a cruel last minute winner.

So, how are we really set for next week? Well firstly all of the new signings look like they will bring real quality, Hopefully that is Ryan’s howler for the season out of the way before it matters. If it is then he has the reflexes and distribution to be a success. Suttner looks physical, an upgrade on Pocagnoli. The stars were Brown and Gross though, each excellent in both workrate, passing and threat.

Of the old boys March and Knockaert are going to relish this league and, if Dunk and Duffy stay fit, we have Premier League Ready centre backs. Bruno will be done for pace but is still making those intelligent runs forward. The spine is the worry. Stephens looked way off the pace yesterday, Kayal worse if anything and Hemed was lost. The very strong rumours, though, are of Davy Propper signing for us. If that happens we might not just survive, we might cause a few teams a real headache.

*not really