Manchester United are in the 4th round of the FA Cup. That’s good. We played well in the 3rd round, created a lot of chances and apart from a 10 minute period, we defended well. That’s also good.
But it wasn’t all happy and beautiful. United dominated the proceedings in the first half, having 68% of possession but in the first 35 minutes, they failed to light up the stage. We were comfortable in passing the ball around and waiting for chances to come. Of course, it’s possible we had a strategy of letting Villa relax then strike. Villa did not relax but we struck and only some serious profligacy prevented us from taking the lead in the last 10 minutes. Debutant Henrik Larsson proved he’s more than a worthy addition to the squad as his shrewd moves and efficient passing helped us to create trouble. He missed the best chance of the first 45 minutes when Carrick’s fantastic long ball found him on the edge of the area but his shot hit Kiraly’s leg.
We picked up the pace early in the second half and exciting and delicate passing led to an excellent goal by Larsson and I was out of my seat, celebrating him and Sir Alex’s shrewd acquisition. Two minutes later, Kiraly watched frozen as Giggs’ freekick hit the bar but problems were on their way.
The reason is quite simple: United relaxed. We let our concentration diminish and allowed the hitherto outplayed opponent back into the game. They had had two chances in three minutes before they found their equaliser which proved again that our defence is just not quite the same when either Rio or Vidic is absent. I believe the Serbian’s absence is the bigger blow and that showed on Sunday.
Having said that, I must admit the boys found their stride at once and they were wreaking havoc in Villa’s half. Larsson did not seem tired but Fergie brought Solskjaer on for him and we plummeted Villa, with Rooney leading the line as playmaker, with some help from Carrick. Still, we could not find our way past their keeper and when Sir Alex brought on O’Shea for Carrick in the 89th minute I braced myself for the thought of a replay at Villa Park. The rest, as we know, is history as Rooney picked up the ball in Villa’s half, laid it into Ole’s path whose shot somehow found its way under Kiraly’s arm.
So, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to score a decisive goal in the dying seconds of a cup game. Seems familiar, doesn’t it? Evoked some sweet memories…
He was a bit uncertain at corners but rarely troubled, not at fault with the goal.
Gary Neville 6
Good defensive work but strangely quiet in attack.
He forgot about Milan Baros at the equaliser.
The usual high-standard performance.
He had some difficulties against Bouma so he was rahter quiet.
Deployed as playmaker in the absence Scholes, he handled the task fairly well.
Good freekick, good passing but not at his best in the centre.
Improved performance but his shooting is terrible, to be frank.
A bit desperate to do well but he did well.
Considered him for Star Player but I didn’t want to overhype him after only one game! Good goal, a lot of running, an encouraging display.