And so, we duly arrived at the first so-called ‘showpiece’ of the domestic football season yesterday. Aston Villa took on United at the ‘new’ Wembley Stadium and I stayed put and watched it here at home, reasoning that the pubs would be full of Villa fans, despite this area being largely ‘Blues’ territory.
In the end, a forgettable game ended with a 2-1 win for United thanks to the inevitable headed goal from Rooney who came on as a sub after Owen unluckily pulled a hamstring on his big day out. Owen scored the first equalising goal, too and looked reasonably lively for a crock, until he pulled up after about 42 mnutes. Amazingly, this was Owen’s first Wembley final as all his finals with the Dippers were in Cardiff. I was never that keen on the idea of United signing Owen, but you have to feel for the bloke. His dream of a summer trip to South Africa with In-ger-land would have seemed a lot nearer after he scored the equaliser and a lot further away after he came off injured. When he was interviewed after the game he was very quick to point out that this was the first injury he had suffered since joining United, but of course it’s all the injuries he suffered before he came to us that have knackered him.
Away from the Rooney & Owen Show, Patrice Evra has been our most consistent player this year, so I was delighted that he got to go up as skipper and lift the Cup for us. Also for all the talk of Rooney, any fans with eyes to see will know that Luis Antonio Valencia was our best player yesterday.
Luis Antonio Valencia – Man of the Match
I’m not sure how many games United have now played at the ‘new’ Wembley, but like all the others, this one just didn’t feel right. I’m sure that the sponsors were desperate for Villa to win as it would have meant a lot more to them and their fans than it does to our pampered hordes. This was Fergie’s 32nd (or 34th, depending on which paper you read) major trophy apparently and I doubt it will stay in his or any United fan’s memory for long. For most United fans, this will just be payback for them taking four points off us in the Premiership this season.
Obviously, a TV viewer’s perspective can be deceptive, but it seemed to me that there was a profound lack of atmosphere in the stadium yesterday and it seems to have been that way every time I’ve seen a game from there. One of the FA’s big own goals was to put the ‘posh seats’ for the disinterested special guests and so-called dignitaries directly opposite the TV camera gantry. Before and after half-time, there’s always this great swathe of empty red seats as the great and the good are off inside stuffing their faces and schmoozing. Doesn’t help the atmosphere very much.
The biggest and best atmosphere I sensed from there was when Morecambe beat Exeter in the Conference Play-Off Final a few years back, but otherwise, whether it’s Ing-er-land games or United games or FA Cup Finals, there just seems to be a total dearth of excitement or atmosphere and a rather claustrophobic feel to proceedings. Also, the pitch always seems to play like a suet pudding, no matter the weather. I haven’t seen a really good game there yet.
Anyway, a win is a win and I suspect this might be our only silverware this season, though Chelsea did their best to keep it interesting by losing at home to Citeh on Saturday. We shall see….
Update 02 March: I see that Villa’s James Milner has gone public over his disappointment with the Wembley playing surface. “You work as hard as you can to get to a final and it’s one of the worst pitches you play on all year” , was his comment. It will be interesting to see how this develops – you can bet that the FA are desperately trying to keep the lid on this before anyone else breaks ranks.
Further update 03 March: Brilliant piece on this here – http://www.footballfancast.com/football-blogs/wrong-wembley/comment-page-1#comment-16914