Date: 18th December 2006 at 1:10pm
Written by:

We were bound to lose in the league sooner or later but I hoped we would produce a good performance in the face of overwhelmingly hostile fortune in the process. That was not the case, West Ham clearly deserved to win – they were the better team.

United just never really got going. We did not create enough chances, we were slow and the attackers looked out of touch. Giggs and Rooney both had a day off and that was too much for the team.

West Ham looked lively in the first 15 minutes, closing down every area of the field and trying to take the game to United. They failed to create a noticeable chance though and United grew in stature as the game went on but we never really looked like scoring. In fact, Bobby Zamora was who almost gave the lead to West Ham after he definitely fouled Ferdinand – Dowd ignored it – but his low shot was saved by the advancing van der Sar.

First half over, I was quietly hoping it would not turn into a 1-0 defeat in the mould of the Celtic and Copenhagen games. My fears have been confirmed of course as you all know but there was some hope. After a fine, quick (and regretfully rare) counter-attack, Ronaldo beat Collins with a dribble and aimed for the far post. Robert Green produced a spectacular, one-handed save to deny the Portuguese. Giggs also had a clear chance after a scramble in the box but fired well over the bar from 12 yards out.

United were punished for missing these chances but to be honest, our attacking play was not up to the sratch. I don’t think Green’s performance was so heroic – his only really good save came after Ronaldo’s effort, otherwise he was rarely troubled.

Then Teddy came on, sent in a low cross and the heart-breaking moment arrived: I’ve known all along we would concede in the last quarter of the hour, it’s not the first time we do it and it may prove our downfall.

I sincerely hope I’ll be proved wrong but I feel something has fallen apart on Sunday. When Everton were leading 2-1 with fifteen minutes to go I started to visualise United being 8 points ahead. Then of course Frank Lampard scored a magnificent goal (how unlikely this is), Drogba fired into the net in similarly stunning fashion and life were drained out of me. I felt this team could not be beaten.

It’s possible our players felt the same. I don’t know. But I think they gave everything, their concentration and effort was there but that was all they could produce yesterday. Now I fear Chelsea will storm as past during Christmas just as they’ve promised they would. I love this team but they don’t seem to have the mental strength and confidence Chelsea have. Forget squad depth, that’s not the key. It’s not Roy Keane’s football, it’s his personality what we miss.

There’s an other side of course. You could argue it was only a game and we still top the table. We have the best goal difference and we scored the most goal. But I believe I’m right about all the psychological stuff I have laid down above and I fear we will not be able to pull ourselves together. Yesterday’s performance was not a simple hiccup that is bound to occur sometimes. No, we were second best against a team that’s 18th on the table. United did not create chances and could not produce a response after they had fallen behind in the 75th minute. And that’s alarming, especially if you watch the reigning champions who always seem to provide something even when they’re playing badly.

Oh, and I’ve been right about the uplifting effect of a change at the helm. At least Park returned, it was good to see him back.

Player Ratings

Van der Sar 6
Rarely troubled, no mistakes.

Gary Neville 5
Some truly dreadful crosses.

Ferdinand 5
He was nutmegged at the goal, that was a moment of intense embarassment for him.

Vidic 7
Impressive and solid as ever.

Heinze 6
Could not stop Sheringham before the goal but otherwise solid and did a good job.

Ronaldo 6
He was the main threat but he was visibly frustrated in the last fifteen minutes. He reacts very badly when we are behind in the closing stages.

Scholes 6
Quiet and wasn’t creative enough but tried to pull the strings.

Carrick 6
A good showing, tackled and passed effectively.

Giggs 4
I felt he was very bad.

Rooney 4
Frustrated throughout. I reckon he’s a bit desperate to do well.

Saha 6
Never gave up, tried, but failed to be clinical in front of goal. He hesitated too long in the first half after a good Rooney pass thus his shot was blocked when he could have given us the lead.

Solskjaer 5
No impact on the game.

O’Shea 5
I really don’t see why he had to be brought on. No impact.
No impact whatsoever but good to see him back, if only for a couple of minutes.