There were more negatives than positives (obviously), but I will start by looking on the plus side. Andy Carroll, miss aside, was very good. Playing up front alone at Old Trafford vs Vidic and Evans would be enough to scare almost every 20 year old in Britain â€“ not Caveman Carroll. He battled all match against the two of them and was aerially dominant. It might have looked even better if he had someone supporting him to capitalise on his flick ons. Giant Serb Vidic will certainly have known he had been in a game when he woke up this morning.
I get the impression that Hughton sent the team out almost happy to lose, as long as it was not a slaughter (damage limitation). If you go in to a game at Old Trafford sitting as deeply as we did from the off, there is only going to be one outcome whether you are NUFC or AC Milan. Alan Smith barely wandered any more than 25 yards from his own goal â€“ surely he would have been better deployed shadowing 35 year old Paul Scholes? Scholes ran the show without covering too many miles but he was allowed far too much space and respect. This was obvious from 5 minutes in but no moves were made to address this.
Another thing that caught us out was the pace of the game in comparison to the Championship. I think Kevin Nolan struggled most with this â€“ the rare times that he got on to the end of a Carroll header or a pass from the midfield, he was tackled almost before he even had full control of the ball. Last year he was almost always allowed to set himself and storm forward. He looked overweight and unfit in this environment.
His midfield partner, Joey â€˜Barry Chuckleâ€™ Barton (Google him if you arenâ€™t from the UK) fared little better and most of the game passed him by. The same can be said of the wide men â€“ Routledge looked lightweight and Jonas didnâ€™t seem entirely sure what a football was when it was at his feet.
As for the back 4, more negativity Iâ€™m afraid. Plenty of valiant defending, especially early on, but little in the way of quality defending. It occasionally had the look of a lower division team at a Prem ground on FA Cup 3rd round day. Jose, easily the best full back in the Championship last year, was making basic errors and was caught out of position too often â€“ this led to problems for Colo who was caught between covering for his mate and defending his own ground. Williamson did OK but sometimes seemed completely bamboozled by their forward moment. Im not going to be too harsh on Perch â€“ others have been quick to get stuck in to him, but this was his very first top flight appearance and there could not have been a more difficult environment for it to take place.
We could have conceded 6 but WE DIDNâ€™T. We also had as many shots on target as the home team (OK, a slightly misleading stat as a few of them were weak, hopeful digs from 25 yards that barely reached Edwin) and our morale did not fade â€“ our best period came midway through the second half at 0 v 2 and we looked much better when we went to 442. The spirit was good.
The season ahead is going to be tough â€“ but I saw enough in this game, in the most difficult of circumstances to believe that we will have enough to survive.
Villa at home on Sunday is a big game for us â€“ competing with them will be heartening as it will show that we can compete with more than just the bottom few â€“ and I think we will give them a game! Howay the lads.
My player ratings:
Harper 5, Perch 3, Enrique 4, Colo 6, Williamson 6, Smith 6, Barton 5, Routledge 4, Jonas 5, Nolan 4, Carroll 7
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