Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Manchester United Legends: Sir Bobby Charlton.

With probably the most famous comb over hairstyle in the history of sport, Bobby Charlton waved his last goodbye to the faithful Manchester United fans in his final match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, on the 28th April 1973.

The fact that United lost the match is neither here nor there as the fans had only come to witness the final 90 minutes of a player who had literally given his all for the Red Devils over nearly twenty years of loyal service.

Brought to Old Trafford as a 15 year-old youth in 1953 after being spotted playing for East Northumberland schools by Manchester United chief scout Joe Armstrong Charlton was to blossom under the guidance of Matt Busby and became part of the famous Busby Babes.

He was handed his first taste of playing for the first team in his debut against his namesake team Charlton Athletic in October 1956. The match was a huge success for Charlton as he scored a double in a 4-2 win at Old Trafford.

A legend was born. He would go on to score a total of 12 goals in his debut season, which included a hat-trick against Charlton in the return match.

That was the season that United first entered the European Cup competition in which they would reach the semi-finals only to lose against holders Real Madrid. Charlton did manage to get a goal in the second leg 2-2 draw, but it wasn't enough on the night.

It would not be until the following season, 1957-58, that he would become a regular among the greatest English team of that time and many believe of all time.

Playing alongside the likes of Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Eddie Coleman and the rest of the Busby Babe Champions.

That season saw United defending their League Championship crown and once again involved in the prestigious European Cup.

United were on the verge of a possible treble of League, European Cup and FA Cup and a young Bobby Charlton was a part of a team entertaining fans not only in England but also all over Europe. The team was young enough to be at the top for a long time to come until disaster struck.

February 6th, 1958 the heart of Manchester United was ripped out on an icy airstrip in Munich, Germany. Charlton was among the few survivors of the crash that took the lives of young men who were not only his colleagues but also his closest friends.

Charlton was kept in hospital after the crash, but thankfully only received minor injuries and was able to return home to Manchester to help in the rebuilding of a team alongside assistant manager Jimmy Murphy.

However, not only had the light been distinguished in a club but also in the eyes of Charlton, who seemed to be deeply affected by the loss of his friends, a light that wouldn't return even in the brightest moments of his footballing career.

The difficult season ended empty handed for the gallant reds, although they did somehow manage to reach the final of the FA Cup with a side which included four survivors from the disaster Charlton, Gregg, Viollet and Foulkes. A nation willed them on to win, but it was Bolton Wanderers who hadn't read the script and ended up winning the cup 2-0. In many people's hearts the real winners were Manchester United.

The phoenix rising from the ashes had begun with Busby re-building his team this time based around Charlton. New players would be signed among them a certain Denis Law, but it wasn't until 1963 that United tasted their next success when they beat Leicester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley 3-1.

This showed that United was on the way back and along with new players arriving like Crerand, Stiles, Herd and a certain young shy teenager from Belfast who would be part of the trinity that would bring the glory days back to United, George Best.

The end of the 1964-65 saw United crowned as First Division champions in a season in which Charlton scored 18 goals in all competitions. He only managed 10 goals in the league but they were important as United beat Leeds United to the title on goal difference.

It also pointedly meant that they would return to the competition, which must have had brought up mixed feelings for Charlton, the European Cup.

Having beaten Benfica 5-1 away with the match that made Best an 'El Beatle' United lost out to Partizan Belgrade in the semi final, a step too far too soon.

The publicity that Best was receiving from the media didn't sit too well with Charlton, whose lifestyle couldn't have been any different. Married to Norma and with two daughters he was known as the quintessential family man.

Not able to retain the title United ended the season empty handed, but had built a reputation as a free flowing attacking side with a hard centre reminiscent of the Busby teams of the past.

On the international front Charlton had represented England at all levels from schoolboy level right through to full international where he played 106 times netting 49 times.

He was an integral part of Sir Alf Ramsey's 1966 World Cup winning team as they defeated West Germany in the final at Wembley 4-2.

Charlton didn't manage to find the net in the final, but it was his goals against Portugal in the semi-final that got England into the final. He would go on to become the only England player to be included in four World Cup squads.

Charlton was instrumental again as he scored another 18 goals in the following season as he helped the Red Devils to win back the First Division championship. This success paved the way for another attempt at the European Cup.

29th May 1968, Wembley stadium. No doubt the greatest night in Bobby Charlton's illustrious Manchester United career as the Red Devils beat Benfica 4-1 on home soil to lift the European Cup ten years after the Munich air disaster.

A double from Charlton, his first in the competition that season, helped to overcome the Portuguese and he had the great honour of being the first United player to lift the magnificent European trophy. The victory was the first win for an English side, which was fitting as it was Busby who fought so hard to be involved over a decade before.

One image from that wonderful night which sticks long in the memory was when Charlton and Matt Busby hugged down on the touch line. I guarantee their thoughts were with lost friends in that one moment of emotion among many.

That famous triumph would turn out to be Bobby Charlton's last piece of silverware for United as over the next few seasons things wouldn't turn out exactly as planned.

He would continue to play for his beloved club even though times were changing. Something else that was also changing was the United management.

Wilf McGuinness, who had signed for United on the same day as Charlton, was given the impossible task of taking over the reigns from the irreplaceable Matt Busby. It turned out to be a poison chalice for McGuinness, who struggled to win over the bigger personalities in the dressing room, Charlton included.

In 1970, after only one season Busby came back to try and steady a quickly sinking ship. One season later, Irishman Frank O'Farrell was given the chance to bring the good times back, but he also only lasted one season.

United's struggle was also reflected in Charlton's goal tally as he only managed 29 goals in all competitions during seasons 1968-69 to 70-71. There were also rumours of unrest in the United camp with a number of players not communicating with each other.

The writing was on the wall for many players, but it wasn't until the appointment of Tommy Docherty, a tough-talking no-nonsense Scot that would signal the end of the road for Charlton.

Docherty arrived in 1972 and immediately set out his stall bringing in younger players to replace the old timers. Bobby Charlton eventually bowed out as a United player at the end of the 1972-73 season, having come to United as a 15 year-old in 1953.

In that time he made a total of 758 appearances, only recently surpassed by Ryan Giggs, and scored an impressive 249 goals. The last of those came in a 2-0 win at Southampton in March 1973.

Upon retiring from playing he did venture into management with Preston North End, but that was short lived and he also tried his hand in business with a travel agency but the pull of United was too hard for him to ignore.

His adoration for his beloved Manchester United has seen his association with the club continue to the present day mainly in a director capacity. He was instrumental in bringing Sir Alex Ferguson to the club for that alone we should be grateful.

He can still be seen at all the games involving United home and away. He is also recognized all over the world and his name is indelibly linked with Old Trafford, after all it was Charlton who first called the stadium 'The Theatre of Dreams'.

No one encompasses United like this man. Although not originally from Manchester he has to be regarded now as a son of this great city.

In 2016 Charlton has had two great honours bestowed upon him the first was the renaming of the South Stand at Old Trafford and the second was UEFA's Order of Merit in recognition of his lifelong devotion to football.

Thank you, Sir Bobby.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Away day blues for United.

Everton 3 Manchester United 0

Here was a chance for United to bounce back after the disappointing result against Chelsea and solidify their Champions League qualifying spot.

United started the day in fourth place after Man City had narrowly beaten Aston Villa the day before.

However, a win would have taken United up into to second place as Arsenal were not to play until later in the day.

With five matches left to play United shot themselves in the foot with some terrible defensive mistakes against an Everton side who had clearly watched videos of the Chelsea loss and taught United a clinical lesson in counter attacking.

Before the match, there was good news on the team injury front when it was announced that Daley Blind had recovered from his injury to give Louis van Gaal a fresh option in midfield.

The starting XI chosen by van Gaal was: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, McNair, Shaw, Blind, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Young and Rooney.

Subs: Valdes, Blackett, Januzaj, Pereira, Di Maria, van Persie and Falcao.

So, there was only one change with Blind fit to play in midfield which allowed Rooney to take up his favoured position in attack against his boyhood team. This change relegated under-performing Falcao to the bench alongside Robin van Persie and Angel Di Maria.

'Wayne Rooney is better in a striker's position for the team,' Van Gaal told Sky Sports before the game. 'Herrera is better one line up and Blind is the holding midfielder.' These words would normally turn out to be true but today they would come back to haunt the manager.

Another player returning to his old stomping ground for the first time was Marouane Fellaini.

Everton started the match in the bright sunshine which would quickly turn to grey for the Red Devils.

It started well enough for United who went on the attack looking for that early goal, but as early as the fourth minute United succumbed to a sucker punch of a goal from Everton.

Valencia won United's first corner which was cleared rather fortuitously by the home side who then broke forward on a counter attack at pace. Finally it was McCarthy who slipped between the last two defenders Daley Blind and Paddy McNair unchallenged and placed the ball past David de Gea. Atrocious defending!

As they had done recently against Man City United had fallen behind early but there was enough time in the game to do something about it.

6th minute Fellaini was quick to capitalise on a defensive error only to blast his shot just over the bar from outside the area. I don't think he realised exactly how much time he had.

Both sets of fans enjoyed a lively start to the match.

Fellaini was in the thick of it in the opening few minutes as he gave away two free-kicks the latter received a yellow card. He would have to tread carefully for the rest of the match against his old team.

In the opening quarter of an hour, United had pressed forward well and won three corners but were unable to make good use of them.

The away fans were in great voice as usual easily out-singing the home fans.

On the quarter hour mark there was good build up play down the left by the reds and eventually the ball was laid off to Blind who was lurking on the edge of the area but his shot was tame and was easily blocked by the Everton defence.

18 minutes in and there was panic in the home defence which almost gifted a goal to Fellaini.

A minute later United were awarded a free-kick to on the right of Everton's penalty area which was whipped in at pace by Mata. Smalling managed to get his head on the ball and produced a powerful header but former Red Devil keeper Tim Howard collected comfortably.

It was a tremendous opening to the game helped much in part to two defences who look far from comfortable. Great viewing for the neutral crowd but frustrating for United fans.

Another United attack in the 21st minute this time it was Ander Herrera who had a mazy run in the box but just couldn't get a clear shot on goal.

It really was United who were enjoying the majority of the possession but needed more of a cutting edge up front.

24th minute and Mata cleverly switched the play to the left where Young was waiting to send over a cross which was met by Rooney. His resulting header was blocked for a corner.

Everton forward Lukaku tried his luck from distance but the Premier League keeper of the year, David de Gea, read it well.

Two minutes later and it was Young who had a chance after the ball had been chested down to him by Rooney. However, his placed lob was just off the mark.

After half an hour, it was all United as they went in search of a deserved equaliser. They were attacking Everton on all fronts, down the left and right wings even through the middle but to no avail.

Then in the 32nd-minute disaster struck. Everton broke and luckily for United Smalling was alert enough to block out a lethal looking cross. This was followed by three successive corners for the blues. The last of which was superbly headed in by Stones to make it 2-0 to Everton.

The marking by United was quite honestly atrocious even with Young on the goal-line they couldn't stop the header going in.

A goal totally against the run of play. United had lost their concentration at a crucial time and that cost them dearly. They would have their work cut out to come back from this. But we all know with United anything is possible.

The last ten minutes saw no further chances as United looked shell shocked to be trailing by two goals.

Half-time: 2-0 Everton.

The biggest problem for the visitors was defending the counter attacks by Everton. At times, the positioning of the defenders and midfielders was terribly inadequate and the Toffees capitalised on that weakness.

In midfield, Blind was having an off day and even though Mata and Herrera were positive going forward they were left stranded each time Everton countered.

United missed Carrick in the heart of the midfield as they had enjoyed 61% of the possession with nothing to show for it. Which goes to show that possession is one of the most meaningless stats in football it's goals that matter and United needed them in the second half.

United had it all to do in the second half and Louis van Gaal showed his intent by replacing Fellaini with Falcao at the start of the half. Yet another chance for the Colombian to prove his worth to the team.

The Reds immediately went on the attack and won a corner. Swung in by Young eventually the ball fell to Rooney at the far post he turned and shot, but Howard threw his body in the way to make a save.

After two minutes, Everton went on the counter attack yet again and Shaw had to race into the middle to cover and put in a challenge on Barkley. Both players felt the full force of the tackle as Shaw was clouted on the head but thankfully there was no injury to either player.

In the 50th minute, Mata had a great chance to play a through ball to the forwards but over-hit his pass, which summed the afternoon, industrious enough but poor final balls.

Ashley Young found Shaw on the overlap down the left and the young defender got to the by-line and managed to cross the ball which was sadly behind the waiting strikers. Good combination work from the two England players.

Somehow Lukaku was allowed to collect the ball from a throw-in and whipped the ball across United's goalmouth. Thankfully no blue shirt was close enough to connect. That was a big let off for United but once again showed a lack of concentration at a set piece.

One hour had elapsed and there was still no sign as to how United would claw themselves back into the match. A lot of huffing and puffing but unable to break down the Everton door.

Everton had obviously taken a leaf out of Chelsea's tactics from last week or borrowed their bus.
Another change for United came in the 63rd minute as Mata was replaced by Di Maria. Could the Argentine provide the inspiration the team needed?

Shortly after Shaw was booked for pulling the shirt of an opposing player who was about to counter again. One minute later Smalling was there to save the blushes again as he blocked a near post cross out for a corner.

The two substitutions had done very little to improve Manchester United's attack with Falcao very anonymous up front.

Angel Di Maria did try a speculative shot from distance in the 69th minute, but that's all it was, speculative.

Falcao at last had a chance on goal when he got on the end of an up and under from the back, but his looping header was easily collected by Howard under his crossbar.

Twenty minutes left on the clock and United had to do something soon or this result could seriously jeopardise their automatic Champions League qualifying spot.

Then in the 73rd minute 3-0 Everton. United defenders stopped for an off-side against Lukaku that didn't materialise and didn't check the run of Mirallas who raced through and shot passed a helpless De Gea.

Awful defending as all the defenders hesitated waiting for a flag which wasn't raised as Lukaku hadn't touched the ball. What ever happened to playing to the whistle?

Game over as United were only playing for pride in the hope of getting something from the game.

80th minute and another half chance fell to Herrera whose shot at least earned a corner.

Falcoa did manage to put the ball in the net after rounding the keeper only to see the flag had been raised for offside.

There was still time for David de Gea to pull off one of his usual world class saves as he tipped over an effort from Mirallas with his finger-tips.

It was a very similar save to the one he pulled off in this fixture at Old Trafford earlier in the season.

In the last ten minutes, Rooney seemed to have a knock which he couldn't run off so he was replaced by Robin van Persie in the 88th minute.

As the game came to an agonising close all credit to the United fans who had not stopped singing and chanting throughout the 90 minutes. We really are blessed with the best fans in the world especially away from home.

Full-time 3-0 to Everton.

Unfortunately, some United players didn't turn up for the challenge. Mata, Herrera, Rooney, Blind and Fellaini all struggled to stamp their normal authority on the game. After some solid performances of late it was surprising to see so many players off their game at the same time. The same could be said of Falcao and Di Maria after their introduction.

The only players who could walk away with their heads held high were Shaw and Young both of whom never stopped running down the left trying to create chances.

This was the first and hopefully the last time that United had lost two matches in a row under Louis van Gaal's reign as manager.

There are only four games left to get one of the coveted places starting with the visit of West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford next weekend.

Although there is a little breathing space behind United in the table it is imperative we beat WBA and not give Liverpool a sniff of a top four place.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A bridge too far for United.

Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0

Chelsea grabbed the points after being outplayed by a dominant Manchester United.

After the euphoria of beating City in the Manchester derby here was a true test of how far United have come under the guidance and philosophies of Louis van Gaal.

On the back of six straight wins in the Premier League, United travelled to the capital full of confidence.

Chelsea, who will only have themselves to blame if they are not crowned champions, welcomed the Red Devils to Stamford Bridge for a re-match against the Dutch master and his Portuguese protege.

The first meeting between LvG and Mourinho ended in a stalemate after a late, late equaliser for United by Robin van Persie back in October.

There was bad news for United in the build up to the match with four players ruled out with differing injuries. Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Daley Blind were all left back in Manchester.

The team that Louis van Gaal chose still had a strong look about it though: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, McNair, Shaw, Rooney, Mata, Herrera, Fellaini, Young, and Falcao.

Subs: Da Silva, Di Maria, Januzaj, Van Persie, Valdes, Blackett and Pereira.

Wayne Rooney was used in midfield in the absence of Carrick. That gave Falcao the chance to impress in the starting line-up after being on the bench in recent matches. With only a handful of games left to convince the manager and the fans that he has a future at Old Trafford.

Robin van Persie was handed a place on the bench after recovering from his ankle injury alongside Angel Di Maria.

In the bright London sunshine, United started the match.

Three minutes in and the first chance of the game fell to Wayne Rooney. Luke Shaw broke down the right and pulled a great ball back for the captain who let fly with a shot that most of the crowd, and De Gea, thought had gone in but was just wide.

Great start by United just what was needed.

Three minutes later and defender Shaw had a blast from the edge of the box which was blocked on its way to the goal.

It wasn't until the seventh minute that Chelsea had half a chance which De Gea managed to save for a corner.

In the first ten minutes, it was United who had started the better of the two sides especially down the left with Shaw and Young.

The away fans were in fine voice as always as they tried to spur their team on.

After 11 minutes and it was all United as Herrera tried his luck from distance but pulled his drive wide.

A minute later young defender Paddy McNair tried brought the ball confidently out from defence and fired a shot just wide.

On the quarter hour mark, Shaw won a corner after excellent work down the left flank. A bright start from Shaw in his first match for a while.

You got the feeling that United had to capitalise on their possession and grab a goal before Chelsea got their game together. United were by far the dominant team but they just needed that final ball to be of better quality.

Ander Herrera was having a great match in the middle of the park and the majority of United's creative play came through him.

Chelsea definitely looked out of sorts as United pressed up onto their defence. However, the home side seemed content to let United come at them.

In the 25th minute, Mata broke on down the right and produced a cross which was crying out for a red shirt to get on the end of it but the danger was cleared.

Two minutes later saw Chelsea's first real chance on goal for Oscar but his effort was blocked by Fellaini.

Just before the half hour Falcoa gave away a needless free-kick in a dangerous area which Drogba shot straight into the wall.

Ander Herrera continued to dictate the United attacks from deep, providing Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini the freedom to find pockets of space.

Drogba went through the back of Herrera but received no caution.

After 34 minutes as the ball travelled towards United's penalty area De Gea rushed out and looked to have handled the ball before clearing, but luckily the referee and his assistants didn't notice.

Then in the 37th minute a major blow to all United's domination as Chelsea scored through Eden Hazard. He received a neat back-heeled pass in the area from Oscar and gave De Gea no chance one on one. A goal of similarity to Mata's effort against City last week.

United let it slip having enjoyed the majority of possession.

Straight after the goal Herrera went down the other end of the pitch and won a corner.

In the 40th minute, Falcoa was unhappy after a tussle with John Terry. On further inspection, the Colombian was right to be annoyed as Terry quite clearly clobbered him with a forearm smash to the back of the head, but as it was Terry the referee saw nothing untoward.

Eden Hazard was proving to be Chelsea's danger man as he got more involved in the game following his strike, but to United's credit they kept plugging away at Chelsea.

As the first half ended it was all United with great approach play but with no penetration and they were unlucky to be behind from Chelsea's only real chance of the match but showed that they have the quality in the team to turn it around in the second half.

Manchester United began the second half as they had finished the first with controlled possession.

Unfortunately, Radamel Falcao was not having a productive day up front and once again seemed to be struggling to impose himself on the game.

51 minutes into the match and Chris Smalling did well to break up a Chelsea attack after Rooney had lost possession far too easily. Rooney was most definitely needed up front.

Two minutes later Drogba was up to his old tricks again as he fouled McNair to earn himself a yellow card then as his team countered he failed to put away a chance to make it 2-0.

United were so on top of the game it was like they were the home team and Chelsea had parked the bus in front of their goal and waited for the counter attacks. It was frustrating to watch and must have been even more frustrating for the players.

In the 56th minute, Ivanovic was cautioned for a foul on Shaw on the edge of the area. Mata delivered the resulting free-kick but it sadly came to nothing.

On the hour came a speculative shot from McNair which was well saved by Courtois and then Mata came close to converting a Shaw cross.

It was still all United but with no goal to show for all their efforts. As Falcao was producing another dull performance surely it was only a matter of time before Louis van Gaal made the changes needed to turn the match around.

After 62 minutes, Oscar was booked for a foul on the ever impressive Herrera.

Shortly afterwards yet another United attack as Shaw crossed, Fellaini laid the ball off to Rooney whose shot was blocked for a corner.

With less than 25 minutes to play Falcao had his first effort on goal but was wide of the mark.

Rooney did his best in midfield but was sorely missed at the spearhead of the attack.

Louis van Gaal decided on a double substitution in the 69th minute as Mata and Young were replaced by Di Maria and Januzaj. I would have preferred to see Robin van Persie introduced instead of Januzaj as the Dutchman would have been more of a threat than the young Belgian.

70 minutes on the clock and there was Falcao in the box producing a snapshot that was blocked at close range by Cahill.

Since the changes that were made by United Chelsea enjoyed more of the ball.

Falcao's best chance came in the 76th minute as he was put through by the lively Shaw but hit the outside of the post with a thunderous left- footed shot.

Shaw, who had impressed on his return to the team today, was replaced for the final ten minutes by Tyler Blackett. I think Shaw had literally run himself into the ground against his boyhood club.

Into the last ten minutes and it was still all United as they desperately searched for that all-important equaliser.

In the 82nd minute, a Di Maria corner was narrowly headed over by Rooney.

You got the feeling that with Chelsea's defensive tactics and United's inability to convert their chances that it was not going to be the Red's day.

Into the 4th minute of injury time and controversy as Herrera was booked for a dive in the area when he was obviously clipped by Cahill for a certain penalty.

However, the referee had decided that the Spaniard had deliberately tried to deceive him for a spot kick. Both players came head to head in a heated end to the match.

Final score 1-0 to Chelsea.

In a game that was totally dominated by United, it is still unbelievable how they managed to lose the match against a Chelsea team whose only real chance on target was the goal. But if you don't score you end up with nothing, which is exactly what happened.

All credit to the Red Devils for going there and trying to win the match. If not for a lack of finishing in the final third it would have been a totally different result.

Man United deserved more from the game but only have themselves to blame for not capitalising on the possession they had in abundance. Falcao once again flattered to deceive in another tepid display that will not endure him to van Gaal's future plans.

Sure, United weren't helped by some key injuries, especially to Carrick, but they showed their newly found collective spirit and can take heart from their display and hold their heads up high.

Next up is a tricky away trip to Goodison Park to face Everton. I fully expect the duo of Rooney and Fellaini to be fully pumped up to face their old team and for United to come away with the three valuable points needed in their quest for runners-up spot.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Derby Day Delight for United.

Manchester United 4 Manchester City 2

Manchester United produced a display of maturity and came out as victors in the 169th Manchester derby as they turned the game around in ruthless fashion.

While the City players decided that kicking their rivals was the best route to a win, United kept their heads and proved that they have a new found resilience and a collective team spirit about them.

City had won the last four derby games but have been in free fall over the last two months and were ripe for the picking by United.

Louis van Gaal made only one change from last week's victory over Aston Villa as Chris Smalling recovered from his illness and replaced Marcos Rojo in the center of defence.

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Blind, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Mata, Young and Rooney.

Subs: Valdes, Rafael, Rojo, McNair, Januzaj, Di Maria and Falcao.

Once again no starting place for Di Maria or Falcao as van Gaal decided not to change a winning formula.

City kicked off the match in front of a full and very vocal Old Trafford crowd.

In the first minute, Clichy went hard into Mata on the touchline and luckily there was no serious damage, but it showed City's intent. From the resulting free-kick Rooney was almost in on goal but keeper Hart rushed off his line to smother the ball.

Manchester United are the form team so it was a surprise to see the Red Devils make the most nervy start of the two under the rain at Old Trafford.

A long ball over the top of United's defence saw Aguero through on goal and as he bore down David de Gea produced an excellent stop to thwart the Argentinian and stop a certain goal.

However, City continued to press and in the seventh minute they cut the United defence open too easily. David Silva had all the time in the world to pick out Aguero who tapped the ball into an empty net.

First blood City. The most important question for van Gaal had to be where were his defenders?

A bad start from the home side but early enough to rectify the situation.

In the first ten minutes, United struggled to get a hold of the ball and City were finding it all too easy to control the play.

12 minutes in and Young was brought down as he attacked down the right. The free-kick from Mata came to nothing, but it was a sign that United were getting their game together.

Two minutes later and United scored to level the match. It was Ashley Young who came up with the crucial equaliser, but it was started from a David de Gea clearance.

As the keeper hoofed the ball down the field it was headed on by Fellaini and collected on the left by Ander Hererra who whipped over a cross that the City defence failed to clear under pressure. Young was in the right place and the winger reacted first to spin and stab the ball home.

1-1 and game on.

What a lively start to the game as both teams scored goals from defensive mistakes. I have never seen de Gea have to come outside his box to clear the ball as much as he had to in that mad twenty minute spell.

Milner received the first booking of the match on 24 minutes after he hauled back Herrera. Young took the resulting free-kick and picked out Fellaini inside the area, unfortunately, his header down found no one.

In the 27th minute, United took a well-deserved lead. The crowd witnessed great skill from Mata in the middle of the park as he brilliantly made room for himself and sprayed a pass to the left.

The ball came to Young who produced a back heel to set up Blind who returned the pass to Young allowing the winger the time needed to deliver a delightful cross to the far post where Fellaini powered home a header to put the Red Devils ahead.

A great team goal that showed the confidence pulsing through side and one that lifted the roof off Old Trafford.

Thirty minutes in and United had gained control of the match but City still threatened up front from the running of Aguero.

On the half hour, there was yet another booking for City as Silva brought down Mata. United's two Spaniards were certainly getting worked over in the first half.

David de Gea had to be on his toes as his defenders continually made him rush out and clear his lines after they continued to leave him unguarded at the back.

In the 42nd minute, Antonia Valencia brilliantly tracked Aguero all the way to the touchline to deny the attacker any chance on goal and even won a goal kick. In that instant, Valencia showed how much he has improved as a defender.

Just before the break the City captain Kompany should have been sent off for a terrible high footed challenge on Daley Blind but the referee Clattenburg, after consulting with his assistant, only produced a yellow.

A bad decision by the referee who had recently shown Kompany a red card on international duty along with the two dismissals of Blackett and Shaw earlier in the season.

United should have done better with the last chance of the half, but they couldn't get that vital third goal as both Rooney and Fellaini tried to create clear chances.

Half-time and after a nervy start United found their composure to make a fight of it and fully deserved the lead they enjoyed. However, the problems at the back had resurfaced again with Phil Jones being guilty of not man marking when City attacked, something that they would have to be aware of in the second half.

City were lucky to go in with eleven players as Vincent Kompany should have seen red for his challenge on Blind who in turn was lucky not to have a serious ankle injury.

Ashley Young was once again producing a sterling display down the left with a goal and an assist.

United started the second half attacking the Stretford End with no changes to the side. City, however, made a change by craftily dragging off Kompany so he wouldn't see red.

There was a cautious start to the half as both sides were wary of giving away possession too easily after the defensive mistakes in the first 45 minutes.

After 51 minutes, Mata was brought down yet again on the edge of the area. Mata and Rooney sized up the options and it was Rooney who fired a shot over the wall which Hart did well to reach.

From the resulting save all mayhem broke loose as the ball fell to Michael Carrick in the box, but his shot was blocked by a combination of Hart and an unsuspecting Fellaini.

Two minutes later Martin Demichelis went down clutching his face after seemingly being struck by one of Fellaini's elbow, but as soon as the referee approaches him and tells him to get up, he leaps to his feet in disgust. Either that was blatant simulation or it was the fastest recovery to top all recoveries. Pure comedy.

The thing that was pleasing was how the United players remained calm while most of the City players harassed Clattenburg. The blues showed their true colours and frustration that things were not going their way as their season was taking a turn for the worse.

58 minutes in and Valencia broke down the right he found Mata then the ball was eventually crossed into Ashley Young who headed weakly towards goal, but he was adjudged to be offside anyway.

United gave away a foul on Milner in a dangerous area after which he was immediately replaced by Nasri. From the resulting free-kick there was Fellaini helping out in defence to clear.

In the 67th minute United made it 3-1. Scored by Juan Mata but made by a wonderful through ball by Wayne Rooney. The Spaniard still had a lot do as he was one on one with Joe Hart.

But there was only going to be one outcome as Mata slipped the ball through the keepers legs to give United breathing space.

A brilliant goal by the in-form Mata who is just oozing with confidence lately.

73rd minute and it was 4-1 to United and game over. Chris Smalling ventured forward for a Young free-kick and as City's defence slept there was Chris Smalling to head home completely unmarked.

The ground erupted with pure joy as the fans wildly celebrated the goal and what was to be a well-deserved win.

Shortly after the goal Phil Jones was replaced by Marcos Rojo. Both Smalling and Jones had played well at the back together after a shaky start. But they don't exactly fill you with confidence and it was a relief to see Rojo at the back for the remainder of the game.

As the last twenty minutes came it was all United and they even had the luxury of bringing on Di Maria for the last ten minutes for the impressive Juan Mata, who fully deserved the standing ovation he received from the adoring faithful.

That was followed in the 82nd minute by the entrance of Radamel Falcao for Fellaini who also enjoyed warm applause from the crowd after his all round performance.

One minute remained on the clock and United were down to ten men with Michael Carrick limping off and United had made all their changes when City pulled a goal back through Aguero who shot from close range and despite de Gea being able to push it on to the post it crept in.

A consolation goal for the visitors but it showed you can never switch off with Aguero in the side.

The final score was 4-2 to United and a win that was thoroughly deserved in a hard fought match in which City started the better of the two sides. To their immense credit, United picked themselves up and proved their new found resolve by keeping their heads and playing some great attacking football.

A number of United players impressed during the match, but special mention has to go to Fellaini, who is proving unplayable in his current role. Mata had another brilliant match and linked well with midfield and attack. Rooney never stopped running up front and created the Mata goal.

But the man of the match had to be Ashley Young, who is having a splendid season and fully deserves the plaudits he is receiving. Chipping in with a goal and two assists he is playing so well that Di Maria is keeping the bench warm.

That was United's sixth straight win in the league and sets up a mouthwatering clash against Chelsea next weekend at Stamford Bridge.

Runners up spot has to be the main aim now as Champions League qualification has all but been guaranteed after today's great win.

Let's hope United can keep the good run going and add Chelsea's scalp to the so called big teams that have fallen before us recently.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Derby Day Duel.

Man United versus Man City a derby that will not only give one of the teams local bragging rights but will go a long way in deciding who will finish higher in the league this season.

For ages, it seemed that City had all but nailed the runners-up spot, but after recent results against struggling Burnley and Crystal Palace, the momentum has shifted and now their place is under threat from both United and Arsenal.

United will go into the match with their tails up and full of confidence after winning their last five league games. In that run, they have all but distinguished the chances of Spurs and Liverpool finishing above them.

It has to be said that the way the team has played recently has been a joy to watch. The attacking flair of old has returned but more importantly the side seems to be more comfortable and confident in their play.

I will admit that during the season, I have been critical at times of some of the tactical decisions made by the manager, especially the formations and players being made to play out of position.

Having said that, I will hold my hands up and admit that he seems to have found a winning system that the players look to be enjoying. One wonders where we would be if this had been realised sooner though.

A number of the players can hold their heads up high over the last few months, Blind, Mata, Rooney, Herrera and Fellaini all deserve the accolades, but there is one player whom I would pick out for special attention, and that is Ashley Young.

Young has been a much-needed breath of fresh air on the left since playing in his preferred position as a winger. Although he never let the side down as a wing back it is great to see him running at the defenders and delivering some sumptuous crosses. His late winner against Newcastle summed up how important he is to the side.

At the back, the defence looks more assured than at previous times this season with Valencia, Blind and Rojo being joined by either Jones or Smalling.

It's no coincidence that David de Gea has had less to do recently between the sticks. Daley Blind at left back is playing in such an assured fashion that Luke Shaw will have his work cut out to regain his place.

Michael Carrick has shown his usual composure in the center of midfield, which has allowed the Spanish duo of Mata and Herrera to strut their stuff with outstanding results. Having been given the freedom to use their creativity, they have certainly illuminated United's attacking play.

Up front, in the past United would have missed the threat of Dutch striker Robin van Persie, but now Rooney is banging in the goals, and in spectacular fashion having been restored to his rightful place. He has been assisted by Fellaini, who has given the team an extra dimension to their playing style.

Fellaini, now there's a player who has turned his United career completely on its head.

Let's not forget we have a certain Argentinian playmaker up our sleeves, Angel Di Maria. With ten assists in the league so far he could still prove to be our top trump in the final push for Champions League qualification.

So, it's onto the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. A match which United will go into as favourites. As long as Louis van Gaal sticks with the winning formula and with home advantage, I am full of confidence.

But as they say form counts for nothing in these games.

We will see.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.