Full of Christmas cheer and too full of scran, we set off on the relatively short drive to Manchester late morning on Boxing Day along with 3200 travelling Mags, leaving behind angry partners, families, husbands and wives who expect Boxing Day to be a family event. It would be worth it to see Bruce’s Festive Mags take something from one of the worst Man United teams of my lifetime, right?
No. The short answer is no. And the longer answer is nooooo. After a couple of cans in the car and a sit down at Frankie and Bennies, the lineups were announced at 4.30pm to see the Longstaffs restored to centre midfield and Gayle alongside Joelinton in a 5-3-2 formation which I don’t think I’ve seen any other teams play ever in my 30 years watching professional football.
The festive cheer was apparent as we barged our way through a packed concourse to our seats and the away end was boisterous from long before kick off with a decent array of chants being taken up by near enough everyone in the away end. It’s a good away end to make noise in as everyone is in what feels like a small, enclosed space.
The noise ramped up as we approached kick off and went up further after Gayle missed an early chance. Then, pandemonium as Matty Longstaff scored (again!) against the Cockney reds, although it felt like it was against the run of play. We enjoyed it for ten minutes until some easy play down their left led to Martial having far too much time in the box and Dubravka making a mess of it at his near post. We expect him to do better and 99 times out of 100 he would – he has been magnificent this season and has earned a mistake.
From there, it was dreadful. We backed off way too much, allowed their attacking players far too much space. There was acres in the middle of the park with the three centre midfielders stretched right across the pitch, covering their centre mids and full backs. It was never going to work. On the matchday and post match pods I gave some unfair, heat of the moment criticism to the Longstaffs which was wrong. They had no chance, along with Almiron, of coping with the red midfield and Man United exploited our formation easily without ever really playing well to run out comfortable victors on a boxing day we’d all like to forget as quickly as possible.
Joelinton had a quiet and very isolated game and much like the manager appeared to throw in the towel in the second half (see all three subs, finishing the game with three right backs on the pitch, reverting to 5-4-1 etc etc) and again I gave him a bi of criticism which was probably undeserved – for 60 or 70 minutes he ran himself into the ground and with his one real opportunity in the box he held the ball tremendously and made a great pass into Matty L for our goal. Probably one of his better games for United.
It’s difficult to take many positives yesterday (other than, for me, celebrating a goal at Old Trafford for this first time) and it was a bitter pill to swallow to see that we’d all but given up in the second half when thousands of us had made the effort to get down there on boxing day with no public transport, but in the grander scheme of the season it was probably the right call. Bruce and the lads are lucky that there’s a game in two days as this one was definitely one to forget. 3 points on Saturday will make that a lot easier.