Was it two points dropped? A point gained? I’m sure we could argue until we’re blue in the face but the fact is we were 1-0 down to Manchester United and come away with a point. You would take that any other day without hesitation.
The first half, despite the goal, was the half we looked our most potent and accomplished. Our structured set up really made it difficult for United to have much influence on the game and that was primarily due to the excellent Lee Cattermole supported by Seb Larsson and Jack Rodwell. Stifling the middle forced United to use their sparse wide-men in effectively every attack, they who were outnumbered down our right-hand side – but that structure wasn’t repeated on the opposite flank which eventually led to the opening goal.
I find it hard to be too tough on Patrick van Aanholt, to me the joy United had down our left side was as much to do with Connor Wickham’s unwilling to track back. This left a relatively naïve and offensive-minded wingback an awful lot to do and it cost us as van Aanholt couldn’t stop Antonio Valencia’s drilled cross, tapped in by Juan Mata. That wasn’t the only cringing aspect of that goal, Larsson’s marking of Mata was horrific and I’m sure he knows it. He made up for that with his delivery for our equaliser mind.
To bundle all the negatives into one, Steven Fletcher was never in the right place at the right time, which is essential as the striker. He seems to lack a yard of pace and a bit of guile as you couldn’t really fault the effort this time; he certainly put himself about – just more like a headless chicken than a Premier League striker.
That deficiency was negated by the attacking intent of our wide-men, particularly Will Buckley, who looks a very exciting player indeed. Every time he was on the ball he was looking to beat his marker – which he invariably succeeded in – and produce some kind of a cross. We might have been 1-0 up had Wickham not made such a hash of a decent opportunity crafted by Buckley. But whilst Wickham deserves some criticism for his lack of defending, he certainly gave United’s defence a lot to think about.
Another massive encouragement was Rodwell. I wouldn’t say he was scintillating, he was certainly outshone by Catts, but he broke the play up excellently and control of the game swung heavily in United’s favour after he was substituted. Oh, and he scored!
It’s a system that seems so close to working but I think we need to get Wickham up top. Fletcher doesn’t seem to offer the same pace and power that we need in that position. Sign another winger and we have a wealth of options out wide all of whom would bring something different to the table, meaning we can be a bit more adventurous and vary our attacking play more.
However, perhaps the biggest positive of all was the defence. It barely resembled the poor performance against West Brom with John O’Shea and Wes Brown their usual reliable selves, Santiago Vergini excellent on his return with just van Aanholt showing the odd signs of weakness. It could be a very solid back four if we give the Dutchman a bit of support down his side and perhaps drill a few more basic defensive positions into his brain.
Overall, you can’t not be happy with the performance or result.