A cold day was made warmer as we settled in the Room of Nonsense and rejoiced in watching our cousins go from heroes to zeros whilst baiting the few red-shirted ones present. We did discuss whether Big Ron should indeed introduce some of the U23 players or not.
The teams were beamed to hand-held electronic devices and the answer from Ron was “no”, although Holgate made the bench and had the company of Ross and Jags along with Lennon but not Cleverley whose promotion to a starting berth was not well received. Whether Ron is right about the non-introduction of some youngsters or not on the basis they are not yet ready I don’t know but he sees them every day and with none of the rich C.L. clubs from the four major leagues in Europe showing any interest in our youngsters then I reckon he is right.
Talking of Holgate, remember the first game of the season when he got on the wrong side of his man and the Spurs lad scored well an identical situation occurred today but this time he did it right and it was his diving header that saved a goal. Shows the lad is willing to learn, eh.
The walk up was a chilly one but the festivities on Goodison Road were as popular as ever with Goodison looking resplendent bathed in Blue light. Inside well in time for Z-Cars and then the minute’s silence for the victims of that terrible plane crash in Brazil which was observed wonderfully by all the fans in the ground.
From the kick off it was clear one lesson had been driven home from recent games in that we started fast and looked up for it. It took the visitors a little while to get used to the Everton approach but as the game settled United came into it more and I wondered if the hundreds of millions they had spent in the summer on players would start to dominate and dictate. Well they did but not by that much and a great midfield battle for supremacy started to take place as the giant Pogba was taken on by the much lesser giant Gana. Both would have important parts to play in the whole 95 minutes. On the day I believe Gana won that battle.
As the half started to settle Barry let Ibrahimovic know reputations meant little to him and left him in a heap on the deck. He was booked but it fired others a little and Funes was next to let him know he was about with a strong but well-timed tackle, one of those that Jose says is a sending off for an opponent but a great tackle for a Manc.
Shortly after a Manc should have definitely been red carded when Rojo thundered into Gana with both feet off the ground studs up and in full view of the ref Mr Oliver who saw it as only a yellow-card offence. Do refs now make the laws up as they go along as and when they like? Luckily our man got up without the histrionics of most players and I wondered did that have any bearing on the refs action. IT SHOULDN’T HAVE.
United seemed now to be having the better of things with good, quick build-up through midfield but certainly not all their own way. Their travelling fans were in full voice but as we attacked more our fans got themselves heard, apart from a few groans when the long ball became a hoof to no one.
From one attack we gained a free kick which Mirallas took well and a scrambled clearance went to Cleverly on the edge but he made a hash of it by either mis- hitting it or just a poor hurried flash. Anyway still no shots on target for either side. Lukaku showed his strength to get past his man and make ground and feed Bolasie to run on goal with Mirallas free at the far post. Bolasie smashed the ball across goal and out the other side. If it was a shot it was woeful if it was a cross it was a disgrace.
United replied with a good break when Pogba fed Ibrahimovic in space and he effortlessly found Mkhitaryan on a run into the box when a superb sliding well timed tackle from Funes saved the day. With the half ticking down and the clock passed the 40 minute mark when I thought I noticed some confidence coming back into both our play and players and thought, if we can get in all square Ron can assure them if we play as we can a win could be on. I wish I didn’t think those things because the next thing I saw was United lob one forward. Looked like meat and drink for our defenders who were back until the sight of the giant yellow peril careering out of his goal looking like his brakes had gone and the ball at the feet of Ibrahimovic. He was 4 yards out of his area when Ibrahimovic lobbed him. Funes Mori, who was ready to tackle Ibrahimovic, looked shell shocked for a vital split second which prevented him getting back to maybe clear before the ball bounced up, hit underside of bar came down, hit the post and Funes hooked away. It may have fooled human eyes but goal-line technology rules and we are yet again going into half time 1-0 down.
The half time chat was of a bit of a better start than we had been having and most agreed the manager has a fair way to go to get us properly firing. January shouldn’t be seen as the saviour to all our ills as January is never that productive for most teams. I reckon he needs to know his squad and how to get the best from their individual abilities and weld them into a team until we can get in players to improve on what he is able to build with the present squad. It might take more time than we think.
Second half and before you know it we have a flash point as a United cross is met by Coleman who turns and beats Ibrahimovic who chases him and floors him and lands on top of him. From my seat the Swede kicks Coleman slyly as he pretends he is trying to get up. It looked deliberate to me but the ref was close and gave nothing. I thought that’s two he has bottled in their favour perhaps he will have a conscience and give us a pen. Spooky or what?
The game ebbed and flowed with Gana superb in the middle of the park; in fact the best I have seen him play this season. Then I had that dreadful thought of what happens when he is away in January at the ANC. Still that’s a problem for the manager; we will see how he copes. Could James McCarthy get fully fit and do the business? Just a thought.
No shots on target as the half went on until Lukaku got on the ball and played a one-two-three with Mirallas who cut in and hit a blockbuster which unfortunately hit the keeper’s arm and deflected over the bar. “IF ONLY,” we all thought as the ball went for a corner. Still, I suppose it’s good to have a good keeper who is also lucky.
United had a good spell with the highlight being an attack from us that had Cleverley on the edge of their box but he dawdled and the ball was taken from him and the clearance found Ibrahimovic midway who sent a good pass to the fast running Pogba. He fed Mkhitaryan whose shot was blocked by Coleman but he won it back with some tenacity and played it across the box to Carrick who slipped in Herrera. He thumped one against the bar and the rebound out was picked up by Mirallas who quickly made ground and played in Bolasie on the right but once again his cross was woeful and just drifted out.
Mirallas was quickly involved again when he ran with the ball and fed a peach of a pass to Gana who hit a swerve ball that had the keeper scrambling. Around the hour mark Big Ron decided on plan B and made three subs in quick succession. First it was Cleverley and Deulofeu came on looking determined to make his mark and he was soon going at pace and twisting and turning his man but, as ever, it is that end product that is missing.
We then welcomed Holgate for Coleman who was decidedly the worse for the Ibrahimovic mauling and one minute later Bolasie limped off in favour of Valencia. This was an interesting one in trying to work out what position he was supposed to take up but whatever it was it suited Lukaku who seemed to come more committed and sharp on the introduction of the loanee. I thought I hope Barry doesn’t get a second yellow now.
Mirallas was having one of his best games of the season so far and was a pest to the United rearguard. He picked up the ball midfield and sprayed a superb 39-yard pass out to the unmarked Deulofeu who, seeing his route to goal blocked, played it back to Holgate who put in a cracking cross that saw Valencia rise highest and head the ball down toward goal but, alas, it was straight to the keeper.
The clock was ticking down, the crowd were doing their best to roar the lads on and they had a chance to turn up the volume when Barry, who had been solid throughout and could be seen to be playing a captain’s part with his gestures and with that clock ticking, was trying to help fashion a joined up approach to getting someone free in their box. Some fans were leaving now even though we were probably having our best sustained spell of the game. Jose sent on Fellaini who was booed by some and clapped by others. “Give us an o.g. laa!” I shouted.
Barry took up the ball in midfield, saw Baines go past him up the left wing and our captain played the ball with just the right pace for Baines to control and look up. Finding his route for a cross or a run blocked, he turned and played it back to the get-out man Barry. He took one pace, looked up and slid a peach into the box for our standout man Gana to turn with a free run on goal. (Who says our holding midfielders don’t get forward?) A player who used to come to our rescue in years gone by did so again today when Fellaini barged him over in the box. The Ref had a quick think and pointed to the spot.
No doubt penalty taking had been discussed in team meetings as Mirallas picked up the ball and threw it to Baines and the rest stepped back. Goodison went silent as the United players tried all the off-putting tactics they knew but Bainsey stood and waited as calm as playing his guitar. Eventually the ref got order and blew his whistle. Baines ran up, De Gea guessed correctly and dived to his right but the Baines spot kick was spot on and the corner of the net bulged. That sound of wet ball hitting sisal mesh was heard a millisecond before Goodison erupted. Just think, quite a few fans missed that.
We were quickly back for the kick off as the players sensed a win. We had two minutes of good pressing then United had their two minutes then the final minute was played out with both teams ready to take a point. Final whistle and a bit of me see that result as good as a win in terms of the game giving some much needed confidence that we all hope can be carried forward.
Coming out of the ground the Old Lady looked even more impressive now that it was properly dark. Mind you, they can get the ground looking great but yet can’t fix the escalators on the top balcony. Most people seemed happy enough with the result but a few moans about the style of play. I reckon we can play any style the manager wants so long as we show improvement and gain the confidence to play with a fluidity that will not only be better on the eye but more importantly bring more wins. In football confidence is a very big thing.
I heard Jose give his press commitment and he said ‘We are a far, far, better team than Everton’. People watching on tele or reading it in papers can believe that but I had a look at a couple of things. Today we were equal one goal and one point each. We now have one win in 9 games; Man U have one win in 8 games. They are one point better off than us. We are 8th in the league. They are 6th. Man U a far, far, better team than us? Makes you think eh?
Here’s hoping for a confident display and three points at Watford. We will need to work hard so let’s hope we are indeed starting to show signs of better things to come.
UP THE BLUES
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