Date: 28th November 2009 at 8:22pm
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I’ll be mild and won’t say harsh words: I’ll just say that it did not look like the Champions taking on the team in 20th place. United beat Portsmouth 4-1 at Fratton Park but the scoreline owes a lot to the profligacy of the hosts as well as our unusual efficiency.

It was a tad surprising that Fergie opted for a 4-3-3, with Giggs and Valencia flanking Rooney in front of a three-man central midfield consisting of Fletcher, Scholes and Carrick. The same formation, with Anderson instead of Scholes, worked almost flawlessly at Stamford Bridge but today we weren’t quite as much up for the game and Portsmouth had some really good chances while we looked out of ideas going forward in the first half.

The Brown-Vidic pairing simply did not work – it had showed signs of frailty against Everton and they both looked out of sorts today. Gary Neville fought hard but he has to give 130% in every game to paper over the limitations imposed on him by his age and injury history. Fletcher was very much off his game in the first half and Scholes contributed to defending as much as he always does: none at all. So it’s no surprise that Pompey found it easy to create chances but they’ve been struggling all season to put them away so it’s no surprise either that they could not convert them.

And Michael Brown is still a clumsy oaf so when Rooney left him for dead in the box (after some excellent work from Valencia) of course he tripped our Wayne who slotted home the penalty which Mike Dean awarded without hesitation (shocking). It was a flattering lead but a lead and it seemed to knock the stuffing out of Pompey.

But Dean was in a mood for penalties so he gave one for no obvious reason some ten minutes later. Allegedly it was awarded for Vidic pulling the shirt of Piquionne after a ball had been launched into the box. It was an extremely soft penalty but it did not deter Boateng who dispatched it calmly though Kuszczak went the right way.

The United fans and players were outraged at the decision but at the break we had reasons to be unhappy with our own teams’ performance as well. Fortunately, Fergie must have found the right words to say in the dressing room as we emerged after the interval with the right mentality and were soon ahead again after a fine attack. Fletcher released Giggs on the right, he chipped the ball into Rooney’s path and he slotted home from close range.

Interestingly enough, Fletcher was pushed closer to the attackers and though this ended any chance of United sorting out their defending, at least the attacking play improved markedly. And soon we were two up: Giggs harassed Piquionne on the edge of the Pompey box and he was determined enough to win the ball back from the striker who promptly upended him inside the area. Dean, again, gave a penalty which Rooney, again, converted.

Portsmouth still did not fall apart and they were menacing when going forward but with spaces opening up we could have put them to the sword: the outstanding Valencia, Giggs and the substitute Anderson all spurned very good chances. Our attacking was a little unbalanced as Giggs was drafted to the middle and he wandered out to the left only occasionally but it worked better than in the first half when he was sticking to the wing.

And ultimately his fine second-half performance was rewarded: Evra (I think) won a free-kick from 22 yards. Rooney ran on to it but stepped over the ball, allowing Giggs to curl a delightful effort into the low corner. Begovic had no chance – and this was the 100th Premier League goal of the Welsh legend’s career. Magnificent indeed.

The 4-1 result was very harsh on Pompey: Kuszczak had one of his best ever games in a United shirt as he thwarted them time and again, his most impressive save coming from an acrobatic Kevin-Prince Boateng volley which he tipped onto the bar in extra time. But ultimately the champions deserved the win as their greater quality prevailed. Our defending was worrying (very worrying) but we scored four times and it could have been more so we can’t really complain I guess.