I had a feeling the match wouldn’t turn out well from the offset; lets just say my choice of location to watch the encounter at the St Andrew’s could have been planned out slightly better.
As I sat in the pub awaiting kick-off, I was once again reminded of how unwelcome the locals made it for us Cockney Red’s (said in capitals because it is an official title). The unsavoury characters around me, otherwise known as Arsenal fans, were still buzzing (pissed) on an undeserved sense of achievement having luckily stolen a point from Everton’s brave travellers just before our game kicked off.
So as usual, every time United lost possession, misplaced a pass, or the camera simply honed in on Sir Alex chewing gum, I expected the typical jibe’s of ‘aaaaaahh yoo fackin cants’. But, as the first half an hour of football progressed, those chants were not in attendance.
I’m certainly not ruling out the obvious fact that they probably couldn’t even see straight, however, having placed my red-tinted spec’s on prior to kick-off, I would like to think it was more that they genuinely had nothing negative to shout about. Our football was, surprisingly, rather formidable. Our passing, movement, solid progression up the field and firm, miserly use of possession was at times verging on exceptional.
After a number of high-profile changes from the Leeds disaster – including dropping Berbatov, as well as replacing the incapable Wellbeck and Obertan on the wings with Valencia and Park respectively – you felt that our tactics as well as our mental attitude was thoroughly improved and aptly amended.
However, as should be expected due to the topsy-turvy nature of our season, we found ourselves 1-0 down on 40 minutes. How the hell that happened is well and truly beyond me, but those previously hushed up Gooners had miraculously sprung to life.
For all our careful, well-guided possession, there was one miniscule problem: other than Rooney’s shot that was directed straight at the legs of Hart, we didn’t actually have a shot on target. We went 1-0 down at half-time after an utterly one-sided encounter due to, yet again, lack of ambition in the attacking quarter. It served us right.
The second half could have gone either way; we would be rampant as Sir Alex was once again forced to get that handy bathroom appliance out, or we would crumble as the momentum was now unfairly with the home side. Well, we hardly crumbled, but it was Birmingham who had a much improved contest; with Jerome confident and more comfortable up-front thanks to his fortunate opener.
We did however continue to press, as we always can at these ‘backs against the wall’ moments, and so the leveller came on 63 minutes after Evra – as brilliant on the left as ever – placed a powerful, tricky cross into the box that was converted by City’s Dann. The linesman’s flag immediately went up however Clattenburg bravely, and CORRECTLY, overruled his action. A great decision that fortunately put us back in the game, but was unfortunately balanced out later by the ref.
Probably still nervous about the angry reaction of the fans, players and McLeish, who they felt had seemingly robbed them of a win, Clattenburg sent-off Fletcher; probably our most determined performer of the day, for a stupid little trip on Jerome late on. Even for a second yellow, it was harshly judged, yet at that stage, with the game drawing to a disappointing (for both sides) close and neither team finding a way through for the winner, you knew it would have little genuine impact.
So that’s how it ended. If someone had asked the day before that, if Arsenal dropped two points at home against Everton, would you be happy with a draw against the in-form Birmingham (12 consecutive games unbeaten now)? I would probably have said yeh. As annoying as the result is with regards to Chelsea being able to go 5 points clear if they win their game-in-hand against Hull, it was a tough encounter against a resilient and thoroughly improving side.
Our first half display deserved more, even though you could argue that it was our own fault to fall behind thanks to our non-existent finishing. But, as is often the case with United, we never died and fought back well to secure the draw. It’s also worth mentioning that our defence – the position on the field that has been under sever scrutiny recently – will take a turn for the better sooner than expected.
With Ferdinand announced back in a fortnight, and Vidic hopefully returning this week, our centre-back pairing will finally resume its more recognisable, consistent feel. Surely positive news that will help us to rebuild and improve in the title-race half of the season.
So, this time, my trip to one of North London’s Red and White dominated pubs didn’t quite end up with me leaving before full-time; too ashamed to face the onslaught of abuse and torment (…I will NEVER forget where I was in 2001 when Arsenal won the League at Old Trafford…). There was obviously no point in them having a go due to their equal inability to capitalise on the opportunity of gaining pace on the leaders.
I suppose on that note, it was probably, ironically, a good thing that we were in the underachieving comfort zone of London’s north, as no doubt there was a premature, although equally entitled party occurring in the West.