Monthly Archives: February 2012

It’s never their fault, they’re always the victims, it’s never their fault…..

I wrote at some length here last month about the Suarez/Evra affair.  Since then, Liverpool and Manchester United have played one another at the Dipperdrome (2-1 to them in the Cup) and at Old Trafford last Saturday (2-1 to us in the League).  Happily there will be no further meetings this season.

As for the football; neither game was particularly memorable for what happened during the 90 minutes, but both were notable for the toxicity of the atmosphere around the game and between the principals in the build-up and aftermath of each.

In many ways, it’s hard to know what to say about this whole sorry mess.  Despite my profound dislike of Liverpool FC  and my general antipathy towards Merseysiders as a ‘breed’, even I have been astonished by the public relations ‘car crash’ orchestrated by the club over this affair.  Wherever they have had the choice to make between a correct decision and an incorrect one, they have unerringly screwed up, to the general amazement of the watching millions around the world.  The damage done to the reputation of this once-great club is incalculable and the repercussions will continue to resonate long into the future. Yeah, like I could give a toss….

As for Suarez, who lied about what he said to Evra in front of the FA Commission and presumably maintained his innocence to everyone at LFC who closed ranks and supported him, he has now doubled his jeopardy by lying to everyone -again – about shaking Evra’s hand before the Old Trafford game.  Clearly the man has a problem with the truth, but then most of us realised that anyway.  Suarez is obviously a talented footballer with a number of fatal flaws, but you could say the same of George Best or Diego Maradona, not that Suarez is as good as either of them. 

Evra meets Suarez; the handshake that never was

For me the pantomime villain of this whole dismal business is Kenny Dalglish, who was himself a great player, but who has demonstrated the deft interpersonal skills of a constipated grizzly bear in the way he has handled the media scrum that erupted over this affair.  Dalglish’s default mode with the media is one of grumpy mistrust – even more so than Fergie – and this has, of course, always played well in the red areas of Merseyside. 

They love nothing more than to gather round a storage heater of an evening and nurse a sense of betrayal and self-pity.  The whole world is against them and the media and the FA are in Fergie’s pocket.  It’s all a conspiracy designed to prevent King Kenny’s hordes from re-assuming their rightful position at the top of the footballing tree. Et cetera, et cetera. Yawn.

Dalglish’s stupidity – and this has been much in evidence –  has been to nail his colours to the mast of these self-pitying fools and to place too much trust in the word of Suarez.  He has stoked the fires of resentment that never really go out on Merseyside and has played the ‘Scouse’ card for all it’s worth (not much, actually).  For those in thrall to ‘King’ Kenny’s siren song, it’s a well-trodden road that leads from Huyton to Heysel and on to Hillsborough.  To the rest of the world, it just makes them look like a bunch of self-deluding idiots.  The point is that Dalglish obviously went so far out on a limb for Suarez, dragging the self-pity brigade with him,  that he made Suarez believe that he could basically get away with anything and would still retain the backing of the club.

On Saturday, the United fans were singing (to the tune of ‘Sloop John B’)  “It’s never your fault, it’s never your fault; you’re always the victims, it’s never your fault.”  That’s about right in my book.

Dalglish : Bang out of order in his Sky interview

What happened in the wake of Saturday’s game – Suarez refusing to shake hands with Evra, Dalglish’s belligerent post-match interview with Sky, Fergie finally coming out of his shell to condemn Suarez as a ‘disgrace’ – was as inevitable as it was pathetic.  The ‘New York Times’ – the second largest shareholder in the Fenway Sports Group who own Liverpool – came out with a piece suggesting that John Henry and the Boys from Beantown needed to get their act together to salvage something from the wreckage of Liverpool FC and there was a similar piece in the ‘Boston Globe’.  With the stench of racism drifting down the Mersey and across the Atlantic, it wasn’t long before FSG finally decided to act.

Suddenly, after months of stony silence, statements were appearing on the LFC website faster than fleas jumping off a dying rat.  Suarez apologised for not shaking Evra’s hand, Dalglish apologised for escalating his normal grumpiness into outright hostility in his interview with Sky and waffled on about ‘conduct not befitting a manager of Liverpool’ or words to that effect.  Then, hilariously, we got a statement from Liverpool’s Managing Director, Ian Ayre, a man hitherto so invisible that it’s a wonder people weren’t picking up black eyes by walking into him.  The (Hitherto) Invisible Man rebuked Suarez for lying to the club – a pity he didn’t do so a few months ago – and blathered on a bit about the responsibilities of anyone playing for Liverpool FC.  All too little and too late because as the United fans reminded Suarez throughout the second half of Saturday’s game, ‘we know what you are’.

Ian Ayre finally puts in an appearance

Now, apparently, Liverpool’s shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, are cutting up rough.  They were being lined up as a potential major investor for the possible new Dipperdrome in Stanley Park, but with relations between them and LFC currently as frigid as the February weather, any such deal is looking a remote possibility.  Amazing how quickly things start moving once the money men get involved.  Dalglish, Suarez and Ayre no doubt had their arses kicked and were obviously told by FSG to get out there and eat some humble pie – something we all knew would happen eventually.

Even so, I took little pleasure from something I knew would happen in the end and that is because,  in the final analysis, one bloke has apologised for not shaking another’s hand, another bloke has apologised for being rude to a TV interviewer and the Invisible Man hasn’t apologised to anyone.

The media are lowering the curtain on this one now, mainly because anyone unconnected with LFC or MUFC is probably bored shitless by the whole matter and though it retains a certain fascination for the hacks who must deal with the likes of Dalglish, Ferguson and Suarez on a daily basis, even they know that people just want this to end.  Even United’s response to the multiple Liverpool apologies indicated an eagerness to move on…

Understandable, but a pity nonetheless, if only because there are so many important issues that remain unresolved.  Such as……

1. Suarez was wrong to make racially charged comments to Evra and wrong not to apologise – preferably immediately.  He has still to apologise for these comments.

2. Liverpool were wrong to come out so publicly in support of the Uruguayan over such a sensitive issue  and even more at fault when they chose to wear those pikey t-shirts before the Wigan game.  So much for ‘Respect’…

3. They were wrong in condemning  the findings of an independent commission that found Suarez guilty, especially after he admitted to using the term ‘negro’ in the specific context in which the word was used.

4. Liverpool FC were even more at fault in questioning Evra’s credibility as a witness.  Where do they stand with that now that Suarez has been exposed a a serial liar?

5. Dalglish was wrong to suggest that all the ‘facts’ had not emerged from the commission’s hearings (despite their exhaustive report), yet Liverpool FC didn’t have the balls to mount a proper appeal and let the world see what those ‘facts’ were.  We’re still waiting….

6. Liverpool fans – all partisan considerations aside – were wrong to victimise Evra further by booing him throughout last month’s FA Cup clash at the Dipperdrome.  Then again, did we really expect anything different?

7.  Dalglish was wrong to once again claim Suarez should not have been suspended in the build-up to Saturday’s game.

8.  Suarez was wrong to snub Evra’s offer of a handshake

9. Suarez should not have lied to the club about his intention to shake Evra’s hand

10. Dalglish was wrong  not to condemn him in the immediate aftermath.

11. The intervention of the Fenway Sports Group was anaemic until their ‘income streams’ came under threat.  What does this tell us about their attitudes to issues like racism?

It remains to be seen whether or not Suarez and Dalglish can survive this disastrous episode.  Had Liverpool not got through to their first Wembley final in years then Dalglish’s position might be under greater threat.  He has shown himself incapable of dealing with complex non-football issues like this and may do well to survive the internal blood-letting that will surely follow – particularly if the Standard Chartered deal sinks into the Mersey. 

His second term as Liverpool manager is likely to be defined by this affair and you would not bet against him walking away for a second time.  Don’t think there would be quite as much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments this time, because on top of the whole Suarez / Evra mess, there’s the issue of his judgement when it comes to shelling out bucketloads of cash for the likes of Downing, Carroll and Henderson.

As for Suarez, good footballer though he is, his credibility is completely shot after this catastrophic episode.  Like Tevez, he has gone from hero to zero in pretty short order and if Liverpool get a reasonable offer for him from a Spanish or Italian club in the summer, I would imagine that all parties will grab it with alacrity.  His career is going to be forever mired by this episode and his relationships with future team-mates, let alone future opponents – particularly if they’re black – are going to be, at the very least,  tricky.

The Waltons go to Jurassic Park

I will admit firstly that I am a sucker for a decent sci-fi series.  I get lured in by whizz-bang trailers full of monsters and lasers and all that stuff and before I know it I am knee-deep in something that is essentially the televisual equivalent of a McDonald’s hamburger.  Only occasionally does something genuinely engaging come along.

And so it has been with Terra Nova, which ran on Sky last autumn and which has just been spoonfed to me on DVD by a friend with a warped sense of humour.  He’s like me – just can’t resist these trashy sci-fi potboilers.  I think his rationale was  that if he was going to suffer, he wasn’t going to suffer alone.

Briefly, Terra Nova is a story of time travel to a past but parallel Earth.  Parallel is good, because it means none of that nonsense about changing the future because you swat a butterfly in the Cretacaeous past. 

The story centres on the Shannon family – hunky Dad, sexy Mom and three kids – the sulky boy/man of about 18, the gawky teenage princess of about 15 and the saccharine brat of about 7.  They are all dreadful actors but  ludicrously photogenic and unbearably wholesome.  It’s like the Waltons moving to Jurassic Park. 

The Shannon family emoting furiously in ‘Terra Nova’

The story starts in 2149 in an overpopulated, polluted and dying Chicago where the annual ‘pilgrimage’  of about 100 souls back to the Terra Nova colony via the one-way time portal represents a ray of hope for the crowded masses.  Having more than 2 kids is a crime punishable by prison time and Dad the  Chicago cop ends up in the slammer after the family apartment is raided by the Population Control storm-troopers.  Mom gets off the hook because she is a super-talented doctor and some three years later she is invited to go to Terra Nova with 2 of her kids.  All that is needed is for tough, resourceful Dad to break out of prison ( a doddle, apparently) and smuggle himself into the ‘pilgrimage’ party with the youngest child stashed in a giant backpack.  It’s the kind of thing that I’m sure we’ve all experienced; my uncle used to boost me over the walls of football grounds when I was a mere tadpole so he didn’t have to pay for me and this isn’t much different really; just a bit more high-tech.

Anyway after a bit of drama and lots of thunderous music, they get whooshed through the time portal back to 85 million BC or whenever.  They duly arrive in a kind of sub-tropical version of Centre Parcs.  The Terra Novans live in twinky little chalets behind a big fence.  The fence is to keep out big and noisy dinosaurs who live in the forest and a bunch of renegades who, like the Elves of Lothlorien, live up in the trees and all look like extras from ‘Mad Max II’.  Their purpose in splitting away from the main colony emerges as the story meanders on, but I won’t vex you with the labyrynthine complexities of it all.  The renegades are sort of at war with Terra Nova, but there’a actually a bit more to it than that.

Steven Spielberg is involved with ‘Terra Nova’ as an Executive Producer; every now and again he does some slumming in the world of TV and has previously done so to better effect with 2002’s ‘Taken’, which ended a bit inconsequentially but was actually quite gripping for most of its run.  Spielberg often gets berated for some of his soft-focus, Hallmark  Card sentimentality, particularly about family life among the American bourgeoisie and, for however much he may be held responsible, the Shannons of ‘Terra Nova’ are right up there with the sickliest of his creations. 

The teenage boy gets involved almost at once with a pretty racy bunch who distil their own moonshine out in the woods and with one girl (called ‘Sky’ for pity’s sake) in particular.  He’s at loggerheads with his controlling Dad, but in the end they discover (shucks) that they really love one another and even get into some manly hugging before the series ends.  Middle daughter is a bit more of a straight arrow and she hooks up with a ramrod-straight military type with a crewcut who gets up when Dad enters the room and calls him ‘Sir’.  Mom just oozes maternal love for her brood and has no problem ejecting hunky Dad from the marital bed when the little one can’t sleep.  The little one, of course, gets the cheesiest lines and she is pretty much off the scale on the cute-ometer.

More troubling is the fact that the colony is presided over by an Action Man alpha male cum benevolent dictator – the first man through the portal – who makes all the big decisions on behalf of the colonists; no town meetings and no democracy here.  We’re just supposed to take it on trust that he has everyone’s best  interests at heart.  Richard Nixon would have loved this show.

Of course, we’re also supposed to be fascinated by the various plot-twists and the regular run-ins with dinosaurs and renegades, but I found myself distracted by quite a few of the assumptions made in the basic set-up of the plot – they’re either derisory or deeply suspect.  If this is Spielberg’s world-view, I’m glad I don’t live there.  Whatever happened to the Bill of Rights?

One of the CGI dinosaurs in ‘Terra Nova’ – not the most dangerous animals in the show.

What’s good about ‘Terra Nova’ are some of the set piece action scenes, the great scenery (Australia, apparently) and the CGI beasties.  However, it’s the hackneyed humans with their toothpaste smiles, their empty heads and their deeply conservative values who are the most dangerous of the animals we encounter in ‘Terra Nova’.

Remarkably, Fox are considering commissioning a second season….



United’s Glass Ceiling

Last season, I wrote lengthily and lovingly about United’s U-18 Academy youngsters and their run to the FA Youth Cup Final where they ultimately beat Sheffield United over two legs.  That was a special group of players and it’s actually slightly depressing to reflect on their apparent progress – or lack of it – since that balmy night at Old Trafford back in May.

Sir Alex Ferguson, so the orthodox United mythology goes, has always given youth its chance.  Pundits always mention the much-heralded ‘Class of ’92’ that featured the likes of Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville and how Fergie offloaded established players like Hughes, Ince and Kanchelskis to make way for the youngsters in the 1995-6 season.  However, in the years since then – apart from the recent emergence of Danny Welbeck- the only domestically-produced youngsters to have made any impact on the first team are Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher – none of whom, I would say, are in the same class as Beckham, Scholes etc.  In any case, Brown & O’Shea have moved on and Fletcher’s career seems to be in the balance due to his ongoing illness.  Welbeck is looking promising, but is still a work in progress.

In my view, there has been a ‘glass ceiling’ for young players at Old Trafford since the mid-90’s.  We have produced and developed a number of youngsters who showed huge initial promise , but for one reason or another never quite made it and were sold on.  Into this category would come players like Chris Eagles, David Jones, Febian Brandy and Giuseppe Rossi.  Eagles and Jones are still playing Premiership football at Bolton & Wigan respectively, whilst Rossi has become a major goalscoring force in La Liga for Villareal. 

Sometimes, there are clear reasons why players don’t make it and Febian Brandy is a case in point.  He was attached to United from the age of 9 and looked like an absolute world-beater, playing in various youth tournaments and scoring goals for fun.  He was lightning fast, but was also a big lad for his age and that helped him muscle past smaller defenders, but the problem was that Febian had probably done most of his growing by the time he was 15.  From that point onwards, he could only watch as smaller defenders got bigger and stronger whilst he just stayed pretty much the same.  He’s still only 22, but last time I looked, was without a club. 

Febian Brandy – currently unattached

Rossi was of a similar build, scored masses of goals in the Reserves, but the arguments against him  also usually revolved around his diminutive stature – ‘not big enough or tough enough for English football’ was the customary comment, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped a player like Jermaine Defoe from having a long and successful career with West Ham and Spurs.  Since he went to Spain, Rossi has become a full Italian international and a bit of a goal machine for Villareal, though has been less successful of late.

Jones looked like a nailed-on future United stalwart; a left-footed midfield organiser in the Roy Keane mould, though thankfully a bit less volatile.  He  had spells at Preston (on loan), Derby and Wolves, but has now landed up at Wigan and finds it hard to get into a struggling team.  Chris Eagles went to Burnley and has now moved to Bolton, where he is having some success playing as an orthodox right-winger.  He still looks a good player, too, but like Jones and Rossi, was never really given a chance to establish himself in the first team at United.

Chris Eagles – never really given a chance at United

The usual response here from those who defend United’s policy towards emerging youngsters is  ‘If they were good enough, they’d have made it into the first team.’  However, the issue here is opportunity – or the lack of it. 

Darren Fletcher – now sadly and possibly permanently sidelined by illness – is a beneficiary of  Old Trafford’s ‘glass ceiling’.  For years, Fletcher was jokingly referred to as ‘The Godson’ by malcontent United fans.  Many people were so mystified by Fletcher’s constant opportunities in the first team that the theory was that -given his Scottish roots – he must be Fergie’s godson.  Certainly, though Fletcher did eventually emerge as an energetic if not very creative midfielder – what Eric Cantona would typify as a ‘water carrier’ – this was a process that took years to come to fruition.  During that time, Fletcher took over from the departed Phil Neville as the butt of the fans discontent.  I have been at Old Trafford and heard a huge collective groan when his name was read out on the teamsheet before a game.

The point here is that Fletcher was given multiple opportunities to nail down a first team place, even when his contribution quite clearly did not merit this.  Fergie liked him for whatever reason, so he got into the team.  Jones, Eagles and Rossi were never given more than a fraction of the opportunities that Fletcher has had.  Who knows how much they could have achieved at United if they had been among Fergie’s favourites in the way that Fletcher was (and Jonny Evans  is)?

Which brings me to last year’s FA Youth Cup winners.  Most of the team have now ‘moved up’ to the Reserves, where most of them continue to prosper.  Midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe has been loaned out to Peterborough for the season and goalkeeper Sam Johnstone  also had a spell on loan at Scunthorpe.  Quite clearly, some of these players need some time to settle in at this level – both Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole are hugely promising but both are still growing and need to ‘fill out’.  However, there were a few of the team – specifically, Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Will Keane – who were ready to take a up a place in the first team squad and  – indeed – all three have seen some action in the first team this season.  They, along with Tunnicliffe, were the outstanding players in last year’s Youth Cup winning team and they presaged a bright new future for United’s Academy players.

However, that future has not really happened for a variety of reasons.  Ravel Morrison’s off-field activities have been well-documented and he has now been sold to West Ham in the January transfer window.  For all his silky skills, I think we have to accept that there were too many issues in Ravel’s private life for him to ever really make it at United.  Clearly the club has kept the lid on a lot of this in an effort to protect the player and it could be that the truth will never be known.  Under such circumstances, getting away from Manchester was probably a necessary step for Ravel, but you do wonder whether he will handle the temptations of living in London any better.  No doubt the tabloids will keep us informed about this.

Paul Pogba is a midfielder of massive promise.  Tall, athletic, mobile, inventive – the comparisons with a young Patrick Vieira are fully justified.  He has seen more first team action than any of the others, but is clearly dissatisfied – and with good reason, in my view. 

Paul Pogba – overlooked in favour of Jones, Cleverley & Scholes

Whatever Paddy Crerand and other apologists may say, there is little doubt that United’s midfield is the weakest area of the team – and has been so for several years now.  Last year we won the title without ever having a settled midfield – Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, Park, Giggs, Gibson and even O’Shea were rotated regularly – a strategy that we just about got away with in the Premiership, but which was ruthlessly exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League Final last May.  In the summer, the club lost Paul Scholes to retirement and were reputedly in pusuit of Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder – a move that never happened for whatever reason.  In a revisionist comment made after the Sneijder move had broken down, Fergie said  “If we hold Paul Pogba back, what’s going to happen? He’s going to leave in a couple of years’ time when his contract is finished. We have to give him opportunities to see how he can do in the first team. He’s got the ability, the physique and the athleticism.”  Exactly, Sir Alex, so why haven’t we seen more of Pogba in the first team?  Pogba clearly – and justifiably – feels that he’s not being given a decent shot and according to whichever tabloid you believe, is destined for City, Inter, Juventus, Arsenal or wherever.  Pogba has seen returning loanee Tom Cleverley rocket past him and into the first team (and the England squad), he has seen central defender Phil Jones deployed in a midfield holding role and has seen Paul Scholes come out of retirement, whilst his own opportunities have been minimal.  You don’t need to be a genius to see why the young Frenchman is so disilluioned with life at United.

In some ways it’s been even worse for Will Keane.  At the start of the season, as a striker, he would have seen Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov, Welbeck, Diouf, Owen and Macheda ahead of him in the pecking order and must have despaired of getting any first team action at all.  He did finally get on for a few minutes in the home defeat against Blackburn and was on the bench against Stoke the other night, but much of that is down to Macheda (loan) and Diouf (permanent) having departed and injury problems with Rooney and (surprise, surprise) Owen.  He continues to bang in goals for the Reserves, but the likelihood of him getting a decent run in the first team seems as remote as ever. 

Will Keane – will he ever get a real chance?

So, Morrison has gone, Pogba could be on his way and Will Keane is kicking his heels in the Reserves – for now.  So much for the FA Youth Cup winners heralding a brand new dawn.  In fact, the young players making a splash at Old Trafford have either been bought in (Jones and Smalling) or were out on loan last year (Cleverley & Welbeck).

So what of this year’s crop of hopefuls?  A couple of the Youth Cup winning team – Tyler Blackett and Gylliano van Velzen – were suffciently young to carry on in the Academy this year.  Otherwise, Paul McGuinness has had a new crop of youngsters to contend with, among them the sons of some famous Dads;  Nick Barmby’s son, Jack,  is a striker-cum-winger and Luke Hendrie, son of ex-Middlesbrough midfielder John, is following in Dad’s footsteps in central midfield.  Welsh striker Tom Lawrence made a few  appearances late last season and looks promising, but other than that it’s all change for the U-18’s.

Results were poor early in the season – consecutive defeats to Portsmouth and Southampton to open the season and since then a bit patchy.  Centre-half Luke McCulloch has emerged as a lynchpin and Jack Barmby has scored regularly in a team that seems to have only the (relatively) diminutive Sam Byrne as a central striker. Tom Lawrence seems to have been out with injury for most of the season, so the team seems to have got by using a plethora of wingers and midfielders, often playing with Byrne on his own up front. 

The defending FA Youth Cup holders got through their third and fourth round games at Altrincham against Torquay (4-0) and Derby (2-1)  – games I managed to miss for one reason or another, but last night’s 5th round game against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium represented perhaps their greatest challenge to date in this year’s tournament.

Like the United first team, the U-18’s are going through an injury crisis of their own, with (apparently) up to 10 players unavailable for last night’s game.  Even so, the Youth Cup seems to have worked some kind of alchemy on the team yet again – or more likely the coaching of Paul McGuinness , Jim Ryan and their staff is beginning to have a real impact.  Working forward from the back, Tyler Blackett (who captained the team) seems to have acquired a little more discipline to compliment his undoubted talent and athleticism and had a storming game at centre-back.  Charni Ekangamene, born in Antwerp, but of Congolese descent, seemed for so long to be in search of a role within the team, but now seems to have settled in well at left-back.  In midfield, Luke Hendrie produced a top-rate performance, whilst diminutive Norwegian Mats Daehli combines guile and speed to great effect.  Van Velzen looks a far better player than he did last year and has now added better decision-making to his undoubted ball-playing skills.  Jack Barmby has looked good and scored regularly all season whilst Sam Byrne has now started to find the back of the net as well.  All in all, the team produced a top-rate performance and looked a far more cohesive unit than they did when I saw them last. 

Tyler Blackett – a commanding figure in defence

Swansea’s youngsters don’t play in the Academy League, so were a bit of an unknown quantity.  Even so, they put out Liverpool earlier in the competition so were clearly not to be under-estimated.  They had a proven goalscorer in James Loveridge and left-back Jandir Zola also looked a good player.

The first 40 minutes of the game were fairly even and fairly open.  Loveridge probably missed Swansea’s best chance, heading over from about 6 yards with the goal at his mercy, whilst at the other end, Swansea goalkeeper Davies had to dive at Jack Barmby’s feet to prevent United from going ahead. 

In the end, the game probably hinged on a three-goal United blitz in the seven minutes leading up to half-time.  First, Cypriot centre-back Nicolas Iannou sent a long, hopeful ball forward which Barmby, who’d stayed onside, got to before Davies.  With the goalkeeper committed and the goal untended, Barmby’s careful left-foot shot from the edge of the area  just beat the retreating Zola to give United the lead.  Less than two minutes later, a brilliant, if risky backheel by Blackett in his own right-back area, followed by a surging run and incisive pass, enabled Mats Daehli  to beat Swansea’s offside trap and race away, drawing Davies before squaring the ball into the path of the onrushing van Velzen who could hardly miss – a wonderful ‘team’ goal.  Then, on the stoke of half-time United got lucky when Barmby’s mishit shot struck Byrne on the heel, spun into the air and dropped perfectly for the Irish striker to volley home from close range. 

Into the second half and though Swansea markedly upped their game, United were still creating openings, due in no small part to Swansea’s tendency to overplay the ball at the back and then lose it in midfield.   After 49 minutes, a fine crossfield foray by full-back James Weir led to van Velzen finding enough space on the edge of the Swansea area to stroke  a low left-footed shot beyond Davies and make it 4-0.

Loveridge did pull one back for Swansea just 4 minutes later.  Blackett’s weak clearing header was probably his only error of a Man of the Match performance, but Loveridge had time to control the ball on his chest and send a low volley past Jon Sutherland and in via the inside of the post. 

Substitutes James Wilson and Josh Harrop came on and made a considerable impact with both denied after fine runs and despite Swansea pulling a goal back, United continued to look the most likely to extend their lead.  That eventually happened just a minute or so from time when Blackett bulletted home a free-kick from the right-hand edge of the area.

So, a 5-1 victory for United and they move on to the quarter-final where they will play either Charlton or Tottenham at home.  The team do seem to be coming together impressively since I last saw them and though they may lack the truly outstanding individuals of last year’s group, they have clearly made good progress under Paul McGuinness’ wing. 

The Three Wise Men?   (L-R) Ferguson, Ryan and McGuinness

The likelihood is that by the time this crop reach the stage where they are agitating for a first-team place, they will have a new manager to impress; hopefully one who will walk the walk as well as talking the talk where young players are concerned.  Blackett and Barmby currently look the best candidates for rapid promotion through the ranks and it would be nice to think of them joining the likes of Pogba, Keane, Lingard and Tunnicliffe in the United first team squad.  However, like me, they are probably approaching the future with hope rather than optimism.

Another milestone……

Yesterday, this blog quietly crept past 100,000 hits since its inception way back in September 2009. 

Those were t’ days when you could go out with a 50p coin in your pocket, drink 12 pints of embalming fluid, eat 3 Chicken Bhunas and still have enough left to get a stretch limo home……

Well, maybe not; nostalgia, as has been well-documented, ain’t what it used to be.  Even so,  I do seem to have churned out a lot of verbiage and doubtless some drivel along the way and I really must thank all visitors, but in particular serial offenders, for dropping in to keep that remorseless counter ticking over. 

I can’t actually say that I never thought I’d reach this stage because for much of its existence I never really considered the  ‘life’ of the blog.  Just moved on to  the next post …and yet here we are still.

Right now, I’m feeling a bit like a neglectful parent because, due to well-documented issues dealt with at some length in recent posts, I just don’t have much time or energy left for blogging .  I’m not going to reproach myself too much about that, simply because this is after all a blog, not a daily newspaper. 

Things will, eventually, settle down again I’m sure, leaving me with more energy for lots of other, less onerous things, including blogging.  We’re now into Winter’s ‘dog days’ and Spring is just around the corner, so there is light at the end of the tunnel in most respects.  Here’s to the next 100,000….