Playing at Old Trafford be it early in the season, mid-week, under lights or in the depths of winter usually results in one thing. Three points for the Reds. Can it be any different this year?
You have to say unlikely on the basis of our last two performances. Had we appeared so disjointed, lacklustre and bereft of ideas last August you would have cut the boys plenty of slack and reserved judgement while Jol remodelled the side in his vision. For the Villa and Swansea games, coming after two thirds of the season, one might legitimately ask, 'where's the progress?' In both games we barely managed a shot while playing like a bunch of strangers. Villa was bad enough, though we nearly escaped with a point. Against Swansea the closest we got to them all afternoon was the pre-match handshake.
We were utterly outclassed on the day. And the last side to do that to us on our own patch are Monday's match up, United again, the 5-0 victors in December in a game we had lost inside 30 minutes. One quirk of the fixture list down the years means we've never had to go to Old Trafford in the run-in desperate for a result. Just as well. Blackpool almost pulled it off on the final day of last season, Holloway's plucky band attacked from first to last before going down valiantly 4-2. Shortly into the 2nd half they led 2-1. Not bad when you consider United only gave up two points at home all season on their way to the title. Were we to pull out a similar show I'd be more than happy to take a defeat with honour.
Let's just not have the sort of timid, gutless performance we put on there last season, the template for which we have reproduced all across our league campaign on the road so far. Two skin of the teeth away wins at bottom three sides Wigan and QPR is simply not good enough for the quality of players we have on our books. Basic errors in our game will be seized upon Monday night no question. This summer could well see a changing of the guard in SW6 and one or two in white shirts may find this is their last competitive clash with United. Players have no time for our mood swings and fan talk truculence - to them it's a job of work. But out of personal pride the one thing they are all keen to do is match themselves against the best. Well, here's the ultimate test. And that goes for the manager too. Mentally we have to be ultra strong, impeccably prepared and tactically adroit. No half measures allowed.
No club has dominated the English scene like Sir Alex's Manchester United. For the last two seasons I've heard repeated criticism of the current side. Certainly the European campaign this season was uncharacterstically inglorious. Yet they took the title last May, and what's the betting it is Citeh who blink first this year over the run-in? The Reds will certainly be fired up for Fulham to regain top spot.
Would you have sat our first team down with tapes of the Bilbao games this week? As we are some way short of the Basque skills for ball retention and pass and move, I think I would rather have reverted to hypnotism in the run up to Monday night. Personally, I'm certainly not getting my hopes up. In fact, away games with United is the one fixture I try to blank out. So as Monday night sees me normally in the West End for readings at the Phoenix Theatre Arts Club, that's were I am headed. (ulterior motives here as I am in the throes of trying to get my first play staged). I shall of course be moving out into the Charing Cross Road traffic at 10 daring to dream as I tune in the radio...Looking forward to hearing from you all over the week.
Here's to the most improbable of results in this topsy turvey season. Well, if Wigan can do it at Anfield...?