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Dec 192013

Stoke City 0-2 Manchester United
Javier Hern ndez of Man 011 Evra Gets it Right!In the midst of a night of torrential rain and competitive caroling from the two sets of cheery fans, Manchester United eased into the semifinals of the Capital One Cup against Sunderland thanks to a couple of surprising, timely strikes from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra. Before the match, knowing that Robin Van Persie is already out for a month and that Wayne Rooney seems to have hurt his hamstring, too, was a downer to match the miserable weather for any United fan. Who would have expected Ashley Young, who has been a footstep short of pitiful all this season and last, to be the hero? Well, just as the actress said after stepping out of the casting director’s trailer and spitting out her mouthwash, “Football is a funny game!”

The torrid, relentless rains prevented the game from having any kind of flow throughout the first half. When the hailstones began to ping off players’ foreheads, it all became too much for the referee Mark Clattenburg, who wisely suspended play in the 29th minute. Normally this kind of weather might offer a minuscule advantage to the home team, but, truthfully, neither side really was able to regroup or play with any kind of rhythm. With neither side standing out amidst the wind gusts, and hail, the mostly intoxicated fans came up with some interesting if not obscene alternative lyrics for ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ that made the Britannia stadium reverberate.

The break lasted about eight minutes or so. It was arguably a blessing for the players because they were given the chance to regroup midway through a dull first half during which no one stood out, though the men on the pitch could rightly point to the gusts and heavy rain pouring down enough to make their lives difficult. Certainly, before Clattenberg blew his whistle the match was dreadful. Each side lacked even the slightest hint of technique or finesse, especially at any point where they reached the final third of the field.

The most confident player on the field, the Potters big Irish warrior, Jonathan Walters, seemed to thrive in the mud and soaking rain, nearly inspiring a Stoke fightback, the striker first launching a dangerous cross across the box, which Chris Smalling had to head away, before subsequently wasting two great chances to restore parity. Ultimately, Stoke paid the price for their profligacy in front of goal.United might have broken the deadlock a number of times, especially when a Cleverley corner from the right was touched on by Smalling to his fellow center-back Jonny Evans who couldn’t get his feet coordinated in time to take the shot. And although United’s midfield of Anderson, Jones and Cleverley studiously avoided tackling entanglements with Wilson Palacios and other members of the Potters’ burly midfield and defense, they held their on the muddy surface, nevertheless. Anderson may no longer have the confidence he once had in his passing, but he was able, nevertheless, to put his body about. Still, it was surely a consolation for David Moyes to see Cleverley who–clearly knowing that his career is floating on a bubble–actually carried on after being hit by a number of clattering tackles without creating a passion-play’s-worth of drama out of his predicament. Indeed, with Jones running interference on his left, Cleverley was able to pump more and more useful, Carrick-type passes in Rafael’s direction as the field dried.

The game desperately needed a goal. Thus Moyes tossed the dice in the 58th minute, replacing a largely ineffective Anderson with Chicharito Hernandez. Three minutes later the move was vindicated when the striker laid off an exquisite tap which Young blasted mightily past Sorensen for his first goal in nearly two years. Young’s relief at scoring was beyond simple joy. Sliding before the traveling Red Army, he tore off his shirt and embraced a number of fans, much to the chagrin of the local police force and the referee, who gave him the expected yellow card. Another one whose career, like Anderson, is truly on the bubble, Young had been so amped-up since the beginning of the match that he resembled a ferret trapped in a box and was pumping(and squandering) both corners and free kicks far from their targets, repeatedly skying balls into the crowd.

Now United took charge of matters. And beyond Walters coming close for Stoke with a couple of 30-yarders, including one that deflected off Evans for a corner, they failed to profit. Otherwise, United dominated and the final payoff came in the 78th minute as an unmarked Evra had time to cock himself like a revolver and use his normally redundant right foot to fire the ball home past Sorensen after Young had dazzled his way into the box before beautifully setting up the left-back.

“Manchester United Football Club are used to winning trophies, it’s just business as usual, but I’ve got to say we’re all delighted that we’re in the semi-final.”

Moyes was his usual subdued self after the game, but was sure to have gained some satisfaction from observing the desperate energy put into the game by both Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young. It’s obvious that both would prefer to stay at the club then be sold on elsewhere. The nearness of imminent death is said to concentrate the mind splendidly, especially in the case of Young who will soon be 29 and has always flattered to deceive when the big-time beckoned. At any rate, although Anderson seems to have played his last quality football for United in September, 2011 and seems bound to move on if any interested club can afford to match his high wages. With approximately six weeks to go before the transfer window closes, don’t be surprised to see Young and Cleverley finally playing as a if there’s more to playing football for Manchester United F.C. than being a millionaire and having a buxom girlfriend!
phil jones peter crouch Evra Gets it Right!

Ivor Irwin

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