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Jan 082014

Capital One League Cup Semi-final
Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United

David de Gea 008 Fool Me Thrice!Bereft of all confidence, Manchester United conspired against themselves to lose a third match in a row to an anemically poor Sunderland team that has only won three Premier League games all season. After the match, having already poisoned the dressing room by having one of his coaches tell the Observer that Fabio Da Silva has played his last game ever for the Red Devils and that Sergío Contreao is still not coming to the club before the match, he then felt the desire to wax bitter about the match referee André Marriner.

The chalice Moyes inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson is not the poisoned one that follows naturally with, say, the England national team or the Spurs job. No one expected the job to be easy, and most of the club’s millions of fans accept that their piggy bank isn’t as big as the one supplied by an oil kingdom to Manchester City and PSG, or the well-laundered heroin, oil and natural gas money that fuels Chelsea and AS Monaco. We have lowered our expectations, although only slightly.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who refused to sign a quality central midfielder for seven seasons after losing Keane and Hargreaves, bears some blame. Although acknowledging the Gaffer’s faults simultaneously allows you to appreciate his utter wizardry as a manager for somehow papering over the cracks and still winning again and again, getting your head around the club’s current situation is still a sickening process. Having vented about Fabio’s perceived idiocy, the press and its rumor mills and the officiating, Moyes, it seems, has the hump about SAF, Bobby Dazzler and Bryan Robson following him to Wearside because someone has been talking to a reporter at the Guardian, too. Perhaps none of us would like to have Big Daddy staring us down from the back seat after we’ve just received a chauffeuring license, but the fact is that Moyes received a six-year-contract and a strong vote of verbal confidence from the boss when he first started the job. Despite just having his hips operated on and the relentless rain and the danger of a gale coming onshore somewhere around Harrogate, Scotland’s peerless Peer of the realm and best-selling memoir was there to bear witness.

At any rate, Sunderland take a one-goal lead into the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg and United are arguably in their biggest funk since relegation in 1974. Neville Marriner, another controversial referee with a vast ego and a crew of lick-spittle assistants may have made more than a few bad calls during the game, but they were truly against the interests of both sides and the penalty call against Tom Cleverley for a rough challenge on the tricky Adam Johnson was clearly righteous. Fabio Borini’s 64th minute penalty winner was the dull winner of an insipid match after Tom Cleverley was controversially penalized for a challenge on Adam Johnson. It was a rash attempt at a tackle and one more slap in the face for Moyes, who refuses to bench a player who repeatedly cracks under the minimum of pressure.

Out of the FA Cup already, United are 11 points behind the Premier League leaders Arsenal and pretty much left with ghost of a chance of making the PL’s top four and a Hail Mary for the European Champions League.

Sunderland were supposed to be a happy distraction and with three of their back line–Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Phil Bardsley–being old red devils who were tossed on the scrapheap by Ferguson, they usually tend to tense up against and flatter to deceive against their old team. Yet in spite 18,000 empty seats at the Stadium of Light, United still floated around with what’s becoming a consistent lack of energy we’re all getting used to now. One harbinger of things was when a 40-year-old Giggs had a well-hit 20-yarder shot ricochet off the crossbar via a slight deflection after a making a strong sprint from midfield.

Then the brilliant baby-faced bandit Adnan Januzaj made cool work of scoring, calmly firing the ball home after his initial shot had been blocked by Giggs, only for the same ferociously aggressive Welshman to be correctly flagged offside. To be sure, Giggs was trying to lead a cavalry that only Welbeck and Januzaj were interested in accompanying him on. It’s hard to find fault in a player for his wanton aggression, isn’t it? Giggs’ night then took an even more severe turn for the worse in first-half injury time when he diverted the ball into his own net as he deftly tried to prevent Bardsley from placing the ball home, after Brown volleyed a Sebastian Larsson deep free-kick back across goal.

Sunderland’s lead evaporated as soon as the second-half began when Vidic rose easily above above Brown and O’Shea to head Cleverley’s corner into the net in the 46th minute. Behavior that would have seemed enigmatic a few weeks ago now seems regular, however, and the Moyes Boys began to play a draw. Slowing the tempo to a slow canter, it was clear that they were asking for trouble.

Eight minutes on, after a hard Larsson volley was well saved by United’s goalkeeper David De Gea, Cleverley clearly fouled Sunderland’s brand-new substitute Adam Johnson and Marriner pointed to the spot. When Borini’s high penalty actually scored, the young Italian striker who has had two miserable seasons in England with Liverpool and Sunderland, looked so relieved and happy, I almost felt happy for him. That, as they say, was all she wrote!
Adan Januzaj right and Da 011 Fool Me Thrice!

Ivor Irwin

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