The kick-off for United’s 0-0 draw up at the Stadium of Light yesterday afternoon was delayed by 15 minutes due to the fact that a pipe had burst and had brought down half the ceiling in their dressing room. However, what no-one was really acknowledging until after the game was that the pipe in question was carrying raw sewage, not clean water and that the clothes and belongings of several of the United squad were, shall we say, ‘soiled’ beyond repair. This story has no doubt caused knowing smirks among United’s many detractors out there, but I am personally convinced that this was an ‘inside job’ and that at some point prior to the game, a couple of local lads with a rudimentary knowledge of plumbing got up in the crawlspace above the Visitors’ changing-room and loosened a few strategic bolts.
Whatever the truth of the situation, after this unwelcome shower of shite, the United team emerged and produced a performance to match. It was one of the worst displays I have seen from United for many years. No Rooney (again), so Owen and Macheda were partnered up front, ahead of a midfield comprising Fletcher, Anderson, Scholes and Nani. In the first half, Sunderland harried Scholes and buffeted Nani and we were, frankly, overwhelmed. Sunderland could and probably should have been 2-0 up at half time. The second half was better with the hapless Owen replaced by Berbatov, but although we had more potency as an attacking force, with Berbatov and Nani going close, Sunderland still created the better and more frequent opportunities and we can be thankful to have escaped with a point. This was our fourth away draw this season and though we defended better yesterday we are still into October without an away win this season – someone will no doubt be ferreting among the record books to tell the world the last time that happened.
The thing is that the media vultures are already gathering. Chelsea beat Arsenal today and are roaring away into the distance and City have now overtaken us and are into second place. The word ‘decline’ is already being used quite openly and many observers clearly believe that Fergie’s long Premier League party is coming to an end. Apparently, everyone except His Nibs can see that our failure to strengthen in midfield is costing us dear – and Van der Vaart’s barnstorming performances for Tottenham aren’t helping; he could have been wearing United red and everybody knows it. Fergie can blather on about the fact that there’s ‘no value in the market’, but VdV is looking like the bargain of the year right now – and Fergie let him slip through his fingers. The man on whom so much hinges – Paul Scholes – seems to have lost his early season ‘mojo’ and is now producing a series of tired-looking and stodgy performances. Without him we are over-dependent on intermittent flashes of ingenuity from Nani and Berbatov. The rest, frankly. is all perspiration and little inspiration,
Malbranque crowds Scholes out yet again…..
Also, crucial wins against Liverpool and Valencia are masking the extent of our problems. We were fortunate to win in Spain. If Valencia had possessed any real cutting edge they would have beaten us and even the Dippers might have nicked an undeserved point had it not been for a virtuoso performance from Berbatov.
Sooner or later, one of these ‘unfancied’ teams is going to turn us over and the spotlight will shift from events along the East Lancs to Old Trafford. It nearly happened at Bolton and perhaps would have done had it not been for a brilliant headed goal by Michael Owen. You have to feel for Owen; he scored twice at Scunthorpe and got the vital equaliser at the Reebok, but in Spain, Fergie preferred Macheda and Hernandez as his subs and although Owen played yesterday, he was utterly anonymous and contributed nothing. Also, Anderson’s return has done little to suggest why we paid all that money for him and Carrick played in Valencia and was wretched.
All the signs are of a pretty unsettled bunch of campers right now and the only bright spot of late is the return of Rio Ferdinand to the defence and the ensuing stability and two clean sheets that have come as a consequence. However, Rio’s fitness is likely to remain a worry – he allegedly stood up throughout the flight to Spain in midweek, which does not bode well for the future. When Rio does miss out, it’s to be hoped that Fergie plays Smalling instead of Evans, who is having a season to forget. If you look around the squad, only Vidic and Van der Sar are really playing consistently well right now. Everyone else is either off-form, injured, tired (in the case of Scholes), inconsistent or not getting a regular enough start in the team to build up any form. It’s probably only a question of time before all Fergie’s flimsy justifications for poor results and poor form blow up in his face.
For all the smoke and mirrors he deploys, it’s obvious that things are not right with United at the moment and it’s really only the ongoing pantomime at Anfield that is stopping us from coming under a far closer scrutiny. Sometimes over the years, I have watched United play and felt that they are on the verge of really ‘catching fire’ and giving someone a real battering. Right now, I can’t help but feel that the reverse is the case.