Quarter to Eight at night on Boxing Day. Funny time to play a game of football. It may well ensure some hangovers on the 27th. Last season we got a home game against a rubbish Everton side who beat us in the 93rd minute when Rob Elliot flapped and Tom Cleverley pounced. The manager talked up the performance and believed that January would save us (and by extension, himself). He was wrong on both counts. What a difference a year makes. United have a better squad and a better manager. There is Christmas cheer around St James’ as a city and region pulls together.
Every football team makes the traditional hospital visit to bring cheer to ill children, but it was nice to see United engaging with the media and Rafa Benitez getting involved. Little things. The big things also matter and Sky have decided that our clash with promotion chasing Sheffield Wednesday is worthy of national attention. This game is sold out (again) and Wednesday will be bringing 3,200. A good effort with no trains – but big clubs always fill allocations, whatever the time or place. Take note supposedly MASSIVE clubs like Palace, Southampton, Stoke, Villa and others – who struggle to bring half of what Wednesday are bringing to St James’ for a Saturday 3PM kick off.
Wednesday travel to us in great form with four wins in five, albeit three of them at home and all against bottom half of the table sides. Their one defeat came via a last minute goal at Reading. After an indifferent start to the season Wednesday find themselves on 37 points (12 behind us) and in sixth place. After losing in last seasons Play Off Final to Hull (via a Mo Diame screamer) many expected them to really push for automatic promotion. They hit some form though and this should be a difficult game. Ex-mackem Steven Fletcher and alleged United Summer target Forestieri are their leading scorers with 6 goals a piece. The latter has missed the last three games with suspension but returns for this game.
I say this should be a difficult game, but Birmingham came to St James’ in 5th having lost less games than only Brighton and four nil was extremely flattering for them. If United perform like we can and have, it’s hard to look past three points. We’ve the ability to throw in a stinking performance (Wolves/Blackburn) but with Dwight Gayle in the side you feel we’ll score, and then Wednesday have to score two. I found the Wolves and Burton results extremely satisfying. I found the performances satisfying. We grafted, headed, cleared and worked together to keep two reasonable sides out. At the start of the season everyone talked about how much of a grind the league can be and wondered if United possessed the character to win dirty. We’ve shown that in abundance away from home.
One thing we’re still waiting to see is United winning a game conceding first this season and United battling out an undeserved home winner this season. That didn’t happen against Blackburn. We’ll have to do it at some point this season. It could be Monday as Wednesday will be up for this.
I expect Goufrann and possible Anita to return to the side as well as Shelvey to start. Things will need to be said and written when the details are made public and the club pass comment. Until then I think it’s wise not to speculate on what was or wasn’t said and if the judgement is just or not. The usual suspects are out in force looking for exposure by making ludicrous demands for RTs – the people looking after the case and passing judgement one way or the other will know far more about any need for penalties, bans fines etc – so please don’t embarrass yourself asking for a sacking or a season long ban/’sell him.’ You aren’t a qualified expert in racial discrimination in the work place and if he is found guilty with or without an appeal then I’m sure whatever fine and ban imposed will be compliant with existing regulation and befitting his offence. There’s no place for racism in society in this country and if the guilty verdict is upheld or not appealed then we should back his ban and hope he comes out of this messy experience a better person.
Back to the football and I expect United to win. I really hope the Birmingham performance was the blue print for the rest of the season at home. No team will be able to live with us.
Thanks to all who read and comment on these previews, and everything else on tf.
2 – 0 United
ALEX HURST – Folow Alex on @tfalex1892
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