Monday 13 September 2021


The Ronaldo Revolution.

He returned the all-conquering hero with which he had departed. All the pomp and ceremony that had heralded the return of Old Trafford’s favourite son was not to be undone. He delivered with aplomb on his promise of not just being back for a vacation. I am of course talking about the one and only Cristiano Ronaldo.

It wasn’t until he hopped, skipped and jumped out of the tunnel at the Theatre of Dreams just before 3pm on a heady Saturday afternoon did I dare to believe that he had actually re-signed for the Reds.

This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Not that long ago, fans were protesting on the same hallowed turf against the ownership of our great club, yet here we were celebrating in unison a transfer that no-one expected in their wildest of dreams. Such is the aura of the man that even the instrumental Sir Alex Ferguson wore a broad smile across his face for the entire game, even when Newcastle dared to equalise, he knew that his protégé would get the team back on track.

His return started with a miss-kick that had to be put down to nerves, he is only human after all. Then our latest superstar, Mason Greenwood, tried his luck from the edge of the box, the keeper spilled the shot and Ronaldo was in the right place at the right time to slot in the rebound. The famous stadium erupted with a cheer that hasn’t been heard for years, a cheer filled with such feeling and emotion that it must have reverberated all over Manchester, right up to the Etihad. Cue the now famous Ronaldo celebration, with the fans screaming out his trademark cheer. He was back and yes you could stop pinching yourself.

Newcastle clearly hadn’t read the script and dared to equalise. No worries, we had a new, old, number 7 up front. The impressive Luke Shaw must have burst his lungs with a forward run of such power that most of the team found it difficult to keep up with him, but not Ronaldo. He was already one step ahead, planning what to do once he received the ball. And receive it he did and with ease struck a shot through the keeper right in front of the Stretford End, who were already celebrating once the ball had left his boot.

That was it, he had announced his return with a style that could only be produced by him. Those of us who have now been lucky enough to bear witness to both his debuts can only find themselves not quite believing what they had witnessed. Two debuts some 18 years apart that will both live long in the memory. In the future, fans will ask that all too familiar question. Where were you when Ronaldo made his 2nd United debut?

He has single-handedly generated a new sense of purpose around the club, not just in the fans but also the players sharing the pitch with him. There is a new optimism and belief that was palpable to see among all the players, even those on the bench. Who wouldn’t want to share playing time with this man.

Thank you, Cristiano, for making us believe once again, and we look forward to celebrating more trophies and getting the club back to where they truly belong.


Miles Dunton.


Saturday 19 September 2020

Here we go again!

As the start of the new season begins for United with the Premier League visit of Crystal Palace to Old Trafford, I guess there are many things we can be grateful for. Not least the fact that we are still able watch football, even though from a distance. If like me, the opening home game of the season normally fills you with the excitement of walking to the Theatre of Dreams on opening matchday, grabbing a pre-match burger and chips on the way and entering the stadium to be greeted by the pristine pitch and overpriced beverages, then these are difficult times. 

It seems like only yesterday that the season ended, however here we go again! An extremely short pre-season where once again United have not exactly lit up the transfer market, with the only piece of business was the purchase of the promising young Dutchman, Donny van de Beek from Ajax, another in a long line of imports from just over the sea and one who has the backing to succeed from the likes of United legends van der Sar and van Persie, so he must be quality, right? 

Edwin van der Sar commented that he and Ajax would miss van de Beek, but understands how difficult it is to turn down a move to United when they come calling. What a shame many other players clearly don't share his opinion.

Once again United have been linked with every player on the planet since the transfer window opened, and once again the lack of buys has whipped the fans into a fury with the main source of anger directed firmly at the door of Ed Woodward. While other clubs around us have been splashing out money left, right and centre (back), we as a team have done nothing. Surely this is a time to strengthen and build on what has to be seen as a successful end to last season by qualifying for the Champions League. But here we are again! It doesn't matter all the excuses that the hierarchy come out with, the fact is our club has struggled in the transfer market every season that Woodward has been at the helm. If Edwin misses Donny so much he should come back as director of football or even CEO and short it out.

Anyway, it is a new campaign and as always I like to look at the positives and there are some out there. For example, new fans' player of the season Bruno Fernandes should once again bring the inventiveness and drive to the team in what will be his first complete season. The players didn't agree with the fans as they voted for Anthony Martial as their player of the season and doesn't he seem happier these days? Gone is the slouchy downbeat player of the Mourinho era and in with the new under Ole. A player who is at last living up to his credentials as a striker. Now all Ole has to do is sort out Marcus!

Between the sticks is also a promising situation. As much as I admire and respect Romero, I believe that the return of Henderson will keep de Gea on his toes as he is more of a threat to his number 1 status than Sergio. A spot of competition never hurt anyone. Talking of competition, I would like to see more of an effort from the likes of Lingard and Pereira if they are to stay, if not then it could be the time to part ways with some of the fringe players.

During the very short period between the end of last season and the beginning of this one some of the players have not exactly covered themselves in glory off the pitch, you know who I'm talking about. Some of the players should know better, and some are on that learning curve of life. My thoughts on this are that whatever they do and wherever they go in their free-time the players are always going to be there for the taking, whether it be by the media or the public wanting to have a pop and get their names in the papers. It's happened before, and it will continue to happen in the future, but it will be a true reflection of their characters how the players respond to the publicity. Bestie didn't exactly live the life of a hermit and we still sing about joining him for a few drinks up above.

So that's it. I look forward to the day when we can all walk down Sir Matt Busby Way, adorned in our new Zebra kit and join together once more at the true home of football.

Enjoy the bumpy ride that inevitably comes from watching United, I know I will.

Miles Dunton.

Monday 24 February 2020

Bruno, Bruno, Bruno!

The impact of Bruno Fernandes.

Maybe it's a little too early to heap so much praise on a player after only three and a bit games, but what the hell let's do it anyway.

Bruno Fernandes is the new hero of Old Trafford, a player that United tried to sign for so long, has finally arrived and already started to deliver.

United fans love a player that has that cockiness about them, and the way Bruno dispatched his penalty against Watford showed he has that element of self-confidence not seen in a player since the King himself graced the Theatre of Dreams.

Since signing in the transfer window he has given the side, club and fans that much needed lift in a season that was filled with so much negativity and despair.

He has single handedly lifted the gloom surrounding the club. High praise indeed you might say, but when you consider the ongoing situation with Pogba, and the failings on the pitch of many of the players, Fernandes was exactly the shot in the arm we all needed.

To say the atmosphere at Old Trafford had been glum is an understatement. However, in the space of time he has been here you can feel the change and belief he has regenerated within the fans. Everyone is talking about him and he is also saying the right things, and in great English too.

As a fan, you hope that new signings are going to do well, but when Bruno arrived you automatically got that feeling that he was a United player. These type of players have that special persona that fits in with our traditions at the club.

In his first game against Wolves, you could see his leadership qualities come to the fore as he orchestrated the players around him. His drive and enthusiasm rubbed off on most of his teammates. This continued in his European debut for the Reds against Club Brugge, when only on the pitch for 15 minutes he completely changed the complexion of the match, from one that we might lose to one that we could win.

Then on Sunday came his defining moment and yet another Man of the Match performance. Having won and converting the penalty to open his United account,  he then continued to influence the game through his passing and work rate in midfield. He had a hand in all three goals and was paraded by Ole in front of the appreciative Stretford End at the final whistle.

Ole has probably found the player that will ensure he sees the season out as manager, and then given the chance to build on the squad in the summer having hopefully secured a Champions League place and maybe picked up a trophy.

Let's hope that this is not a false dawn at United and that the fans will be shouting Bruno, Bruno, Bruno right up until the final kick of the season.

Miles Dunton.

Monday 3 October 2016

United Rue Missed Chances

Manchester United 1 Stoke City 1

Manchester United failed to capitalise on their opportunities and even a splendid opener by Martial wasn't enough to earn all three points against Stoke.

United headed into this league match in a buoyant mood after three wins in a row that even though had been achieved without setting the pulses racing at least pointed Mourinho and his side in the right direction.

The night before the match came the sad news that former United and Stoke forward David Herd had passed away, so it was a fitting fixture to honour his memory and both sides wore black armbands out of respect.

Mourinho chose the same starting XI that blew away Leicester City in the first half last time out in the Premier League: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Blind, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, Lingard, Rashford and Ibrahimovic.

Once again Rooney would have to be resigned to a place on the bench alongside a recovered Martial as the manager perservered with Rashford. Mourinho clearly wanted to continue to explore the midfield partnership of Pogba and Herrera as it had worked so well against the champions.

United kicked off and immediately attacked the Stretford End with Pogba feeding a clever little ball through to Ibrahimovic, who looked odds on to score as he tried to lift the ball over the keeper but Grant stood firm and blocked the Swede's effort. Not a bad start for a keeper making his first Old Trafford start.

The early pace of United up front with the likes of Rashford and Lingard seemed to cause the Stoke defence worries and if not for some poor passes they could have easily got behind the defenders.

Antonio Valencia received an early yellow card for a rash challenge on Pieters on the right touchline.

Stoke had their own chances to upset the applecart, including a golden opportunity that was wasted by Cameron, who only had to find a corner but instead fired straight at De Gea.

At the other end, it was Pogba's turn to hide his face in his hands after he inexplicably fired his shot wide after some brilliant one touch football in the build up.

In the opening twenty minutes the crowd had seen three great chances squandered, but at least it was entertaining.

Teenage sensation Rashford stormed into the area and was unlucky not to pick out a teammate with a low cross from the byline.

United's diminutive Spaniard Mata tried an audacious chip from the edge of the area that the keeper just managed to tip over the bar. From the resulting corner, Pogba rose unmarked but guided his header wide.

It was a promising start from the home side who were comfortably in control and kept probing away at a deep lying Stoke defence.

Brilliant attacking play down the left-hand side by Ibrahimovic almost ended up with Lingard opening the scoring as he met the cross well enough to score. However, the keeper managed to intervene and it went out for a corner. Fantastic approach play by Ibrahimovic and it deserved a goal.

Next up it was Lingard's turn to become the provider as he delivered a delightful cross from the right which found Ibrahimovic at the far post and his first-time volley was blocked by Shawcross.

The chances were now coming thick and fast and surely it would be only a matter of time until United found the all important breakthrough.

That breakthrough would have come if Pogba hadn't have slipped before lining up a shot after another flowing move involving Ibrahimovic and Rashford.

There was a moment when Smalling was embarrassed with a nutmeg by the skillful Shaqiri down by the corner flag but Bailly bailed out his defensive partner with a clearance from the resulting cross.

Half time and all square at 0-0. United had moved the ball around well and showed good movement off the ball and would have been ahead if it hadn't been for some good saves by journeyman keeper Lee Grant.

The visitors got the second half underway with United unchanged from the first period.

Stoke won an early free kick delivered by Shaqiri that was met by the head of Indi and tipped over acrobatically by De Gea. The effort wouldn't have counted as the offside flag had been raised earlier.

United immediately went down the other end and won a corner that Mata took and as it was cleared Herrera tried to replicate his goal against Northampton Town but this time the shot lacked both power and direction.

The match had restarted in a scrappy manner and Herrera was lucky not to receive a red card after a high challenge on Allen in the centre circle. It was Allen who then almost opened the scoring as he tried to bend the ball into the corner but De Gea was equal to it.

Ibrahimovic also got his name into the referee's book for an alleged elbow on Shawcross.

On the hour mark, the match had become pedestrian which suited Stoke more and needed an injection of urgency from the Red Devils if they were to earn the win.

United were guilty of conceding a succession of free kicks thirty yards from goal which gave the visitors numerous chances to deliver threatening balls into the box.

As Mourinho organised his substitutions Herrera let fly with a shot that kept low and whisked just wide.

The changes Mourinho made were Rooney and Martial on for Mata and Lingard with just over twenty minutes of the match left.

Ibrahimovic picked the ball up deep and when there was nothing on in front of him tried a shot himself and it almost paid off as the ball was only a whisker away from going in.

The breakthrough finally came in the 69th minute from a brilliant strike by Martial who had started the move down the left, then played the ball to Rooney on the edge of the area who was dispossessed by a defender, but luckily for United the ball fell nicely back into the path of Martial who curled a delightful ball into the far corner of the net that the keeper had no chance of saving.

The goal was reminiscent of the one he scored against the same opposition last season.

It was that man Martial who was making all the difference since his arrival on the pitch as once again he created the next chance. He never gave up the chase for the ball inside the area as first he then Ibrahimovic and finally Blind were left frustrated by the defence as the ball ricocheted around the area.

It was all out attack from the Reds as Ibrahimovic had one chance blocked, then another saved by Grant in goal.

Stoke had all hands on the pump to thwart United's hope of a second goal and their patience paid off when they managed to snatch an equaliser in the 82nd minute with a goal from nowhere.

De Gea showed he is in fact human when he only managed to parry a low shot away from his goal line that was flicked back into the six-yard box over him and two of his defenders and there was Allen on hand to tuck the ball into an open net.

It was noticeable in the build-up to the goal that De Gea had a chance to collect a deep cross but elected to leave it for his defenders who then proceed to give it away and that move led to the goal.

Mourinho made his last change of the day by introducing Memphis for Herrera.

Rashford now playing on the right crossed a ball that was met with a firm header by Pogba which crashed against the bar.

With four minutes of injury time added Rooney took over the corner and free kick duties and to be honest his deliveries were poor, to say the least.

Full time and United were the victims of their own undoing as they allowed Stoke to commit a smash and grab raid to share the spoils.

This match was a difficult one to assess as United had done enough to win it in the first hour, but once they took the lead allowed Stoke to claw their way back to earn a vital point. On any other day, both Ibrahimovic and Pogba could easily have scored a double each but it wasn't to be.

The visiting keeper, as is so often the case at Old Trafford, had a game to remember and deserved the Man of the Match award.

Once again we now head into another international break and then the fun really starts with United up against Liverpool, City and Chelsea before the end of the month. Those are the matches that United can't afford to make the same mistakes in as they did against Stoke.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Friday 30 September 2016

Zlatan Is United's Head Boy

Manchester United 1 Zorya Luhansk 0

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the difference at the Theatre of Dreams as Manchester United won their first Europa League group game by overcoming relatively unknown Ukraine opposition Zorya Luhansk.

Mourinho has promised to take the competition seriously and this was reflected in his starting XI: Romero, Rojo, Smalling, Bailly, Fosu-Mensah, Fellaini, Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Rashford and Ibrahimovic.

Captain Rooney would once again have to start on the bench and apart from the absences of regulars De Gea, Blind and Herrera, it was a strong side that was given the task of earning the first win in the group stage.

The game kicked off in front of a stadium not exactly full to the rafters as supporters still lacked the enthusiasm for Thursday night football. However, the fans that had turned up got behind the Reds from the start.

The visitors had the first chance of the game after five minutes as Ljubenovic tried his luck against stand in keeper Romero but his effort sailed high over the goal.

United passed the ball around the pitch comfortably without creating any clear openings and it was Fellaini who saw most of the ball as he played safe passes from midfield without finding the killer pass needed to gee up the crowd.

It was left to Ibrahimovic to liven up the proceedings after twenty minutes as he fired in a shot from distance that looked goal bound until a defender slid in and deflected the shot over the bar.

A minute later the crowd rose in unison as they thought a goal had come from Rashford who crashed a thunderbolt of a shot against the underside of the bar that was still rattling as the defenders cleared their lines.

It was a delight to watch the way in which the talented youngster made room for his shot in a crowded area and that one moment of skill made his inclusion in the starting team worth it.

The away side had clearly trained in the art of play acting as they frustrated the United players, fans and Mourinho who was stood on the touchline throughout.

The referee from Israel didn't exactly endear himself to the crowd after allowing play to continue after Mata had been caught very late and was fortunate not to receive a serious injury.

Then Mata and Fellaini both came close to breaking the deadlock with headers that needed better direction. The Mata effort followed excellent work by Pogba who delivered a pinpoint cross that the diminutive Spaniard was unlucky not to convert.

At half time it was all square and to be honest a little like an exhibition match as the crowd was full of school children cheering on their heroes and an away section with only about fifty away fans that did their best to out cheer the United youngsters.

Mourinho would have to inject some form of enthusiasm into his side during the break as they lacked the pace and incisive passing needed to make the breakthrough.

The second half got underway with United attacking the Stretford End and Mourinho decided against making any changes.

Zorya set the early pace and almost took the lead as Ljubenovic just failed to connect with a teasing cross.

Fosu-Mensah, playing at right back, tried his best to create chances from the right and on one occasion he linked well with Lingard whose cross was intercepted by the keeper before Ibrahimovic could connect.

The impressive Bailly was booked just after the hour mark after a hefty challenge on Paulinho.

Paulinho then curled an effort towards goal, but Romero was wide awake to the shot and produced a good save diving fully stretched to his left.

With 67 minutes on the clock, Mourinho decided to bring on his captain Rooney in place of Lingard with time running out in the search for the all important goal.

As so often happens in football a substitution produces the desired effect and it was true again in this match as a cross was delivered into the penalty area by Fosu-Mensah and there was Rooney only on the pitch for two minutes to try his luck.

His effort was badly miskicked into the turf, but thankfully for his side and to save his own blushes, it looped up nicely for Ibrahimovic who leapt at the far post to head the ball downwards into the net to finally give the home side the lead. That was Ibrahimovic's sixth goal in ten matches. Not the prettiest of goals he will score, but they all count.

With fifteen minutes left Mourinho made a double substitution by bringing on Young and Martial in place of Mata and Fosu-Mensah.

Rashford continued to raise pulses on the left as he attempted to dribble his way past a bamboozled right back at every opportunity and if his captain had not misplaced a through ball he would have been clear on goal.

Apart from a Fellaini chance that fizzed over the bar and a free kick well delivered by Ibrahimovic and equally well saved by Shevchenko that was about it for the night as United ended the match as victors and in doing so collected their first three points in the group stage.

In the end, it was a match that lacked any conviction from Mourinho's men who can't be blamed for lacking the same enthusiasm as they would for the more important Premier League. However, they got the job done and now face a harder task with a double header against Turkish outfit Fenerbahce next month.

Bailly once again shone at the back and Rashford gave his all as usual and was unlucky not to score. He also spent most of the game chasing poor passes. Fellaini was involved in every movement in the middle without going above and beyond his normal style of play, but the Man of the Match award has to go to Ibrahimovic for scoring the goal that sent the locals home happy and gave the kids something to cheer about.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday 24 September 2016

United Blow Away the Champions.

Manchester United 4 Leicester City 1

Manchester United turned on the style along with goals which saw off the challenge of Leicester City in an impressive first half of football not seen at Old Trafford for a long time.

In a week in which Jose Mourinho has fended off criticism of himself, his team and his captain it was back to Premier League action and the visit of the reigning champions to Old Trafford.

United returned to winning ways against Northampton Town in the EFL cup in midweek after succumbing to three successive defeats. For that tie, Mourinho made wholesale changes so it was interesting to see which side he would put out against the Foxes.

In the end, he chose a starting XI composed of: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind, Pogba, Herrera, Lingard, Mata, Rashford and Ibrahimovic.

Rooney was dropped to the bench after some below par displays. Mata started his 150th Premier League game and Lingard was hoping for a better game than his last time out in the derby. At the back, Smalling kept his place alongside Bailly with Blind taking over left back duties in place of Shaw.

Pogba returned in midfield and it would be interesting to see how he would fit in along with Herrera, who was the best player against Northampton. Up front, there was another chance for Rashford to showcase his immense talent alongside Ibrahimovic.

United got the game underway looking to end a run of two Premier League defeats.

Daley Blind had the first speculative effort in the opening exchanges after good work from Valencia down the right. Blind's shot was too high, though.

The pace of Rashford was there for all to see from the off as he stormed into the oppositions box and it needed a good tackle to stop him in his tracks.

A cross was whipped in from the left by Mata aimed for the head of Pogba which it missed, but as it fell to the unmarked Ibrahimovic the crowd held its breath as he tried his standard acrobatic shot but this time it flew past the far post.

There was a neat interchange between Pogba and Mata which finally unleashed Rashford who was just beaten to the ball by the keeper Zieler.

It wasn't all United as the Foxes had their moments to attack without seriously troubling the back four or De Gea in the opening ten minutes.

Leicester had a two-minute spell in which they blasted shots towards United's goal each one being blocked by the resolute defence.

After twenty minutes it was a fairly lacklustre game with no clear cut chance for either side which in turn kept the fans subdued. However, all that changed when Blind sent over a high corner which was met firmly by the head of the captain for the day Smalling, who woke everybody up with the opening goal.

Leicester responded to going behind by immediately going on the attack, but it was United who broke through Herrera. He played a delightful ball forward for Ibrahimovic to chase. He unselfishly fed a rushing Rashford who looked certain to double the lead but for once, his finishing evaded him and he fired wide. The youngster followed that up with an overhead kick which flew over the bar.

All of a sudden the home side were in the ascendancy as Pogba skillfully clipped the ball over the defence to pick out Ibrahimovic, who chested the ball down and powered his volley over the bar.

Record signing Pogba was involved again as he thundered a long-range dipping drive on goal which the keeper didn't take any chances with and punched the ball two handed away for a corner.

What a difference a goal makes as the away side were now on the back foot as before the goal they had most of the possession.

Then in the 36th minute, Mata came up with a big goal as he was involved in a neat passing move with at first Pogba who flicked the ball onto Lingard inside the area he in turn laid the ball off to Mata who collected the flick on and hit a left-footed beauty into the back of the net to give his side a deserved 2-0 lead.

United added a third after Leicester fell asleep at another United corner. Blind was alert enough to see the run along the byline of Mata and rolled the ball into his path. Mata then sent in a low cross into the six-yard area and there was Rashford to slide the ball into the net for one of the easiest goals he will score.

Then the roof was lifted when United added a fourth in the 42nd minute and a first goal for Pogba who rose to power in a header to cap off an impressive display from United. It had to be said that the Leicester defence was a shambles.

Three of the goals had come from corners taken by Blind two long and one short all of which the Leicester defence were at sixes and sevens with.

Half time and four goals to the good. Who needs Rooney? It was the first time since 2001 that United had gone in at half time four goals ahead.

After a quiet start to the match, United eventually kicked into gear and for the first time in what seems like years provided the type of dominant football that has been lacking. They passed the ball well and had too much pace for Leicester who completely switched off after they conceded the second goal.

Pogba was outstanding and showed his class with some neat flicks, but it was Herrera, who once again shone with his all round play.

At the start of the second half, Mourinho wisely decided against making any changes. United started the half in a relaxed manner as it seemed with a lead of four goals they were happy to go through the motions. A feeling clearly not shared by their animated manager who stood on the touchline and urged his players not to lose their focus.

Leicester's Gray scored a fabulous goal from the edge of the area to deny De Gea a clean sheet. In a league that normally ends so tight goal difference is key so United would have to keep their defensive wits about them.

On the hour mark and leading 4-1, the atmosphere was a little underwhelming to say the least and United needed to lift themselves and the crowd.

Lingard tried to raise the pulses with a shot from the edge of the area after good work from Valencia but he was put under pressure from Gray and skied his effort over.

The big Swede Ibrahimovic pulled a fine save out of the keeper with a first time shot that was tipped around the post for a corner.

To their credit, the champions hadn't given up hope of rescuing something credible from the match and you could tell they sensed that United had taken their foot off the pedal as they attacked only for King to fire weakly at De Gea.

The fans filled the Theatre of Dreams with chants of Ander Herrera as the Spaniard mishit his shot from the edge of the area.

As the match entered the final quarter of an hour United started to look for the fifth goal when Valencia attempted a cross to find Ibrahimovic and Blind continued to deliver dangerous crosses from corners that the visitors struggled to deal with.

At the other end scorer Gray tried his luck again from the same spot where he had netted from but this time, De Gea pulled off a brilliant save at full stretch to deny him.

United's first change of the day saw Carrick replace Lingard. It will do Lingard's confidence the world of good to hear the fine reception he received from the home supporters who recognised the effort he had put in. Carrick made his landmark 500th League appearance.

Leicester continued to press forward, albeit a little too late as the minutes ticked by.

The second substitution came with some seven minutes on the clock as scorer Rashford made way for Rooney.

Ibrahimovic did his best to get on the score sheet as he tried to bend the ball into the far corner, but the keeper read it well and collected easily. He then had a shot blocked after being picked out by Mata.

That was Mata's last action as he came off for Young for the last few minutes.

Full time and in the end a comfortable win for United with all the damage done in the first half. There were some outstanding performances for the Reds especially from Bailly, Blind and Herrera. Ibrahimovic played exceedingly well without scoring. However, the man of the match had to be Paul Pogba who had by far his best game for United and topped it off with a goal.

After a week full of criticism from all quarters and 'Einsteins' United delivered a performance worthy of the badge and hopefully that momentum will be carried on over the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday 22 September 2016

United Crisis Is Cobblers

Northampton Town 1 Manchester United 3

Manchester United returned to winning ways against Northampton to book themselves a derby date at Old Trafford.

It took them an hour to do it, but they did eventually overcome the plucky League One outfit thanks to goals from Carrick, Herrera and Rashford.

It hadn't been the best of weeks for Mourinho and his men as three successive defeats had cast a shadow over the club and raised questions about some of the player's commitment to the cause.

Disaster is too strong a word to be used at this early stage of the season. However, a defeat in the EFL away at Northampton would have had alarm bells ringing.

A lot of the blame for the defeats has been firmly planted at the player's feet and quite rightly too as many of them have not performed to the level expected at the club. So it was interesting to see how Mourinho would approach this match against the League One side.

Only two players Smalling and Rooney kept their places in the starting XI: Romero, Fosu-Mensah, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Memphis, Herrera, Young and Rooney.

The United captain had been chosen as the main striker and Mourinho expected only one thing from him and that was goals and if he didn't deliver there was a strong bench including Ibrahimovic and Rashford.

United kicked off inside a packed Sixfields stadium under some pressure, but with the great away support behind them.

Rooney had the first clear chance of the game with a weak shot inside the area. United won the first corner of the match after a couple of minutes from a deflected shot by Herrera.

It was Rooney again, who was guilty of missing an open goal after a cross was played into the danger area from the right. The skipper inexplicably side-footed his effort wide when it seemed easier to tuck the ball away.

After five minutes United had enjoyed 75 percent of the possession with the majority of the attacks coming from build up play by Young on the right wing, but it was a cross this time from the left by Rojo that was whisked across the six-yard box that only needed the slightest of touches from someone.

The away side were awarded a free kick inside the area after the home side were guilty of a back pass just before the twenty-minute mark. Depay rolled it into the path of Rooney, whose shot was blocked by the wall only for it to find Carrick loitering on the edge of the area.

He calmly hit the ball first time and managed to send it flying into the top corner of the net. That was Carrick's first goal since March 2015 and a welcome one it was too.

In the ten minutes following the goal United stroked the ball around in a confident fashion and totally dominated the play with Northampton struggling to get a sniff of the ball.

Rooney had a headed goal ruled for offside on the half hour after Fosu-Mensah had seen his effort rebound off the bar.

United didn't have it all their own way however, as the home side almost pulled level with a cracking drive from former red academy player Gorre that stand in keeper Romero had to push over the bar.

In fact, it was Northampton who pulled their socks up and began to find another gear as they piled on the pressure and it paid off five minutes before the break when they won a penalty after Blind clumsily brought down Hoskins after a combination of Rojo, Fosu-Mensah and Schneiderlin failed to clear the ball from their own area.

Revell stepped up and sent Romero the wrong way to level the scores and gave Mourinho plenty to think about during the break.

Half time and all square after United were guilty of allowing the League One side back into the game after some terrible defending. At 1-0 everything looked fairly routine for the Reds, but not for the first time this season they shot themselves in the foot which made for an interesting cup tie.

Northampton got the second half underway with Mourinho deciding against making any changes at the restart.

The home side were put on the back foot by the Red Devils as Young tried his best to create openings down the right flank.

It only took Mourinho ten minutes to change things around with Rashford replacing defender Fosu-Mensah and Ibrahimovic coming on for the hapless Memphis, which meant Young switched to the wing back position to make way for the forwards.

Herrera was unlucky with a firm strike that smacked against the post. That was the closest United had come after the substitutions as they made life difficult for themselves by giving the opposition hope which in turn lifted the home crowd.

As the match entered the final twenty minutes player of the night Herrera finally found the back of the net after he hit a brilliant right-footed drive that gave the keeper no chance and handed the visitors the lead.

Fellaini entered the fray for the last fifteen minutes in place of Schneiderlin to offer a different variety to the play.

They say that you should never give up a lost cause and that was certainly the case as United increased their lead to end the tie as a contest.

It was Herrera, who from the half way line hooked a hopeful ball high into the air and as it fell from the skies it looked, for all intents and purposes a routine clearance for keeper Smith, but as he raced out to the edge of his area there was Rashford bearing down on him at speed.

The sight of the young forward rushing towards him caused the keeper to panic and he completely mistimed his attempted clearance and Rashford reaped the rewards and blasted the ball gleefully into the empty net.

It was a pure opportunist goal by the impressive striker and one that ensured United would progress into the next round. It was also a landmark goal for the youngster as he has now scored on yet another debut.

United saw out the game and in the end dispelled any talks of a crisis to book a place in the next round which threw up a mouth-watering home draw against Manchester City and an early opportunity for Mourinho to gain revenge over Guardiola.

Even with the win, Mourinho will know that some of his players underperformed once again with Rojo the weakest link in defence and up front Memphis failed to impress and one has to wonder how long the manager will put up with the winger.

Rooney also did little to quieten his critics after a lacklustre display on a night when goals were expected from him.

Not for the first time in his fledgling career, Rashford had a huge impact on the result with an assist and a goal of his own as his eagerness showed the older heads how pure enthusiasm can change a game in an instant.

The hope for the future is that he never loses that desire to play the game as it should be played when others around him have forgotten as they have aged.

One player who did roll back the years with an assured performance in midfield was Michael Carrick. His contribution proved that he still has what it takes as long as he gets enough rest and before people get carried away it was against lower opposition, so the question will be whether or not he can sustain that level on a regular basis in the Premier League.

The Man of the Match award has to be handed to Ander Herrera, who never gave up at a time when others around him wavered. His strike to put his side in the lead was sublime and the Spaniard does seem to enjoy an away cup tie as it's not the first time in his United career that he has kept the club in a cup competition.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of the current champions Leicester City who United defeated in the Community Shield last month. However, we can expect a different type of game at the Theatre of Dreams.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.