After 20 minutes, realisation dawned in the away end. We weren’t here for scraps. Not for a flukey goal to soothe our spirits before the inevitable home deluge. We weren’t just competing; we were the better team. Straightforwardly, simply, dominantly, undeniably so.
As if to prove the point, Joelinton drove towards the box only to be tripped. Alas, wor Kieran’s free kick failed to make it over the wall as legend dictates, but big Jow was on hand to head the rebound over De Gea… and against the woodwork. Not once but twice. A goal then was the least we deserved.
Underneath the dreary rain-stained, corrugated plastic of the dilapidated South East corner, belief stirred. Confidence even. The other United were restricted to occasional sorties into our half. We weren’t here as grateful supplicants, but as equals. As superiors even. We had Man United playing on the break at Old Trafford.
And it was all down to Eddie and his superhuman high-pressing get-a-fucking-foot-in Mags. Whenever we lost possession we won it straight back. We might have missed the magic that Maxi and Isak can provide, but Murphy and Miggy ensured that we played to the plan. And for 45 minutes we were magnificent.
A year ago, we were here to witness the fabled return of the plastic Portuguese wankbot. With generous assistance from Freddie Woodman, we had to endure the man-child’s pathetic but inevitable celebrations.
This time he slinked off midway through the second half, the only inevitability that he made no impression on the increasingly error-free Schär and the utterlessly peerless Sven (Adult books) Botman. Fear of the imperious no. 7 had turned to indifference tinged with contempt.
The away end trotted out the usual Old Trafford standards amidst the silence of the library around us. We were still on a bender, Christiano remained on a dubious legal footing. Meanwhile, we had Bruno in the middle, Botman at the back, Isak (not) in attack and were going to win the Premier League. Apparently. Give it time.
The second half was a different story. As black-and-white (well, white and green) legs tired, we began to absorb pressure. Burn began to be, ermmm, burned by Anthony and the game was played entirely in our half as cramp seemed to infect our whole team.
As Wilson gave way to Wood and Bruno to Willock, priorities changed. Understandably, Targett replaced Burn. But the anticipated deluge still never came. Rashford’s floated header in injury time seemed destined to nestle in the net, but went past the post. On another occasion, we waited for the inevitable flag that never came, but still Pope was not tested. Rashford had been more of a threat than Ronaldo ever had been. But hearts remained resolutely clear of mouths.
Penalties seemed like the only way the deadlock would be broken. Wilson was scissored in the first half, though the claim seemed optimistic. I’m told Ronaldo had a decent shout. All I saw was an expression of desperation from a team devoid of ideas.
For those with short attention spans, and even shorter memories, today might seem like 90 minutes to forget. In truth, it probably was. But for those of us who’ve been trudging dutifully to the Theatre of Wank ™ on and off for the past 30 years, this signalled a sea-change.
The lowlights from those years are too numerous to list. Top of that very long list comes the 6-0 after Allardyce’s sacking. The walk home as the skies opened and deposited their own version of a beyond pathetic fallacy will live long in the mind. But emotionally every match has felt that way, even when we were favoured by the result. A sense of inferiority and gratitude.
This time we weren’t baying for the final whistle. We didn’t glory in a point gained. Yes, we sang and clapped as the plastic Reds headed for the exits, but this all felt very different. We hadn’t emerged with a fortuitous point, we had been denied a victory.
Longstaff, Murphy, Miggy, Fraser. All players who lack the quality we need to take the next step. But against the billion-pound theme-park XI, they more than held their own. Off the bench came only consolidation, not renewal. That will change.
And as the tourists wandered out down Chester Road, vaguely inconvenienced by a goalless draw and clutching their Megastore carrier bags in their hands, it was clear that things had changed.
We’re coming for you. You’d better get used to it.
Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731