Not again...©Getty Images
The challenge was a big one and the news of no Rooney or Rio was a welcome boost as we looked to turn the table on recent history by actually getting something, anything from Old Trafford. The news from our own team was also interesting, with Pennant being benched and Tuncay starting in favour of Ric, I was happy with the latter but not at all with the former.
The main talking points, as ever, are as follows;
Team Selection/Setup – As I said above, I was largely happy with the line up save for the benching of the influential and balance giving Pennant, Delap on the right simply doesn’t work and if he was put there to protect Wilko it doesn’t make sense given that JP has been doing that and doing that well since he arrived. By putting Delap out there in his less favoured position we effectively gave up any intention to attack down our right which in turn put more pressure on the in/out of form Matty who Man Utd duly doubled up on. I was also interested to see Wilson being given a start, I think his last start was the same fixture at home so it’s clear that Pulis has a role for him in mind, I expect it was one of orchestrator, we’ll come to Marc shortly.
Wilkinson – I have been critical of Wilko in the past and true to form he put in a very good performance, I think it’s that inconsistency that frustrates fans so much, which makes good showings like this all the more bitter sweet. We all recognise Wilko’s shortcomings and they were there for all to see as he launched the ball forward into space or went on one of his runs before losing the ball. As I’ve said here before, I’d be more than happy retaining Wilko as back up for that spot and it won’t be the end of the world if we have to wait until the Summer before he is replaced, which I can’t say for…
Collins – I’m not sure I can put into (publishable) words just how angry I am with Danny and his performances of late and this one was one of his worst. For the first time in decades we had the chance to get something at Old Trafford and it was more schoolboy defending by Collins that led to both of the goals conceded. If he’s close, he’s too close and if he stands off he is punished, like he was that night. The first goal he stood 15 yards off Nani and managed to get nutmegged by the cross, yet another he has let past him. For the second he visibly stepped off Nani, giving him time to look up, pick his spot and score. I’ve talked about Wilko above and whilst he too has his limitations, he does the basics well and it pains me to watch Collins do nothing of the sort week in, week out. I don’t just want him replaced, I want him gone. Higgy is a must to start every single remaining game until a replacement is found; my personal preference for this position would be Warnock, though if a deal with his club could be done, Lescott.
Shawcross/Huth – These two were superb throughout and together take my Man Of The Match Award. It was such a shame that their excellent defending didn’t get the rewards it deserved as they were let down by their full back Collins who offered them zero protection throughout. There were a couple of goal saving challenges made by each and whilst Shawcross was ‘beaten’ for the goal, there are some moments when you have to congratulate the striker’s improvisation and finishing. Liverpool have made their intentions towards Huth known recently and the fact they think he is worth £5m only serves as an insult to the team who plucked him from the Championship and turned him into one of the best Centre Backs in the Country. The fact is we don’t need to sell anyone and whilst the figure remains at the unrealistic level deemed acceptable by Liverpool, we won’t entertain the option of doing so.
Wilson – Another start against Man Utd for Marc and in the first half he was my MOTM as he sat, akin to a Quarterback, in front of the back four literally spraying passes left, right and centre. Some of his balls were exquisite and his range of passing most welcome in that area we struggle so much in, to see someone look so comfortable on the ball and actively seeking to receive it at every opportunity was great to watch. However…. I think it was a little of a false prophecy in as much as he was under no pressure on the ball in the first half and had the wide Old Trafford pitch to play with. The second half was different as he was given less time on the ball by Man Utd and it was then that he started to drift out of the game and lose possession cheaply. I think what we saw for that first 45 mins was a glimpse of the future, and with a few more games and a Pulis pre-season on and off the pitch we will see an almost new signing come next season, there is plenty to be excited about with Marc, I really believe he will be a big player for us in time.
Etherington – Matty is showing some indifferent form of late and I think it’s a mixture of a bad patch and playing through the pain of a back injury with injections. As I said above, the omission of Pennant on the right meant all our attacking had to go down the left and Man Utd knew it as they doubled up on Matty throughout. If we’re honest with ourselves Matty hasn’t been great for a while, sure he can pick up the ball and run with it but some of his bursts of pace and crossing has been short of what he and we know he is capable of and I think he needs a rest.
Tuncay – I was happy when I saw Tunny was to start and he started brightly as you would expect. A lot of people are so desperate for Tunny to succeed they often see things that aren’t there or concentrate on single plays to convince others he is worthy of a first team spot when in actual fact he did everything you would ask of him and as such had an average game for me. On more than one occasion he lost possession, in fact he injured himself retrieving a wayward pass meant for Delap at one point. His work down the left was good and it was from there that our goal came after a good cross in from the Turk. I’d like to see Tunny come in on the left for the Cup game against Cardiff for the reasons above, it gives Matty a rest and allows us to see a bit more of a player I think most would like to stay. On that note, I would be very happy indeed if he did stay and was content with the bit part role he currently fulfils as he offers us something different and is starting to show a little more discipline than he has in the past. Unfortunately I’m not sure he is happy to stay a bit part player and if I’m being practical, I would rather we had a younger player of a similar ilk on a fraction of his wage.
So onto the next game and rivalries are resumed with our old foes Cardiff City, it seems a lifetime ago that we won that fateful game at Ninian Park in extra time and what a ride it’s been since then. So Stokies, please remember on Saturday to stay off the pitch so the Cardiff players can finally complete their lap of honour, and while you’re at it make sure you kneel and pray to the backside of Oulare, without which we wouldn’t be where we are today. Amen…
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