There’s no disgrace in going to Old Trafford and getting beaten.
I don’t buy the idea that the players just weren’t putting the effort in. From a distance, on a TV screen I guess it can look like that but you only have to look at the manner in which John Pantsil was aggressively throwing himself into tackles and how Tony Kallio stuck to his thankless task of trying to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet. The Finn’s performance at left back was one of the more pleasing parts of the evening.
We went there with a gameplan as well as with half an eye on our more winnable home games that are coming up. You can argue that we should have been a little more ambitious but the chances of us going at United and not conceding a cricket score would have been very slim. Chris Baird got a rare start as a holding midfielder – which he has earned through his impressive cameos earlier in the season – and didn’t do an awful lot wrong. The survival plan was always dependent on getting through the early stages unscathed and once Schwarzer’s juggling act allowed Scholes to score from the edge of the box we were always up against it.
Clint Dempsey might have scored with a header and that could have made things very interesting. It wasn’t until I saw it again this morning that I realised quite how close he came to finding the net. United bossed the midfield and there’s no shame in that. Scholes is a fantastic player and it was always a bit of a long shot to think that someone like Simon Davies, who is much better going towards the opposition’s goal tha his own, was going to be able to shut him down with enthusiasm alone.
We could bleat about the two penalties that might have been for handball but you’re unlikely to get a penalty at Old Trafford at the best of times. Much more of a concern is the lightweight nature of our midfield. Zoltan Gera’s been the biggest disappointment of the season for me – he came in and everybody had such high hopes. It’s not the usual signing Championship player thing, because he’s got the quality to play in the top flight and helped West Brom get there. Yes, he’s been played in plenty of different positions so far this season, but that doesn’t account for the almost laughable way he gets knocked off the ball. I’d much rather have seen young Wayne Brown or Robert Milsom get a go from the start because Gera’s looks woefully short on confidence at the moment. He’ll be lucky to make the bench on Sunday.
Turning our thoughts to the reasons why Roy picked the team he did, resting the likes of Dacourt, Johnson and Konchesky, have a look at the games to come. There’s not a lot of time between the West Brom and Swansea games for our players to recover. Maybe that points to the possibility of changes for the Cup replay, but I – for one – hope we take it seriously. The romance of our Cup run might have been diluted by the fact that should we overcome the Swans (which is no given) we’ll have to face United again, but on our day – especially at home – we should feel we can give anyone a game.
Our two home games after that our definitely winnable. Hull City – now without Jimmy Bullard – might have been found out a little in the Premier League and if we play as we know we can then we should back ourselves to avenge our opening day defeat at the KC Stadium. Blackburn will be a tough game, they’ll be physical and effective, and Big Sam will have them right up for it – but three wins against three of the sides who could be down there in the relegation scrap at the end of the season would go a long way to securing our own safety.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): van der Sar; O’Shea (Evans 62), Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic; Scholes, Carrick (Gibson 69), Ronaldo, Ji-Sung Park; Tevez, Berbatov (Rooney 61). Subs (not used): Kuszczak, Nani, Rafael Da Silva, Fletcher.
GOALS: Scholes (12), Berbatov (30), Rooney (63).
FULHAM (4-1-4-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Dacourt 67), Kallio, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird; Murphy (Milsom 80), Davies, Gera (Brown 86), Dempsey; Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Gray, Smalling.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).