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Feb 032014

Stoke City 2-1 Manchester United
Premier Saturday 031 The Killer of True Believers!Early in the morning, hours before kickoff, I called my dearly beloved Aunty Joan at her home in Marple, Cheshire because it’ll be her 88th birthday on Tuesday and my idiot bastard cousin Colin will be there then. Colin is a gloating City fan who has still not forgiven me for photo shopping pictures of his wife—who shall remain nameless as I endeavor to protect her innocence—in a porno picture being rogered by Yaya Touré and Samir Nasri.

Anyway, never mind Colin. Aunty Joan, who took me to my first United match ever as a four-year-old nipper in 1957, has seen it all and is an unquestioning true believer in the Gaffer and the club of elephantine proportions. Sharp as a razor still. She always tells the truth. I own far less faith, especially of late, but mostly I just want to say hello. I know it makes her miserable that she can’t go to matches since she fell and shattered a hip. Despite giving up her season ticket she’s still cheerful and her only comment about the smutty picture I sent to Colin was that his wife’s gob was definitely big enough.

“‘Ello, our Joanie!” I said “Are we going to win today?”

“No, we’re bloody not, our Ivor. Do you know what that bloody Pict Moyes ‘as gone and done now?”


“‘E gave away Anderson to Florence for nowt* and he just cut Fabio and that Wilfried Zaha, one of the best English wing prospects in decades, loose. On loan for a bloody pittance.

“I am in a state of utter bloody despair!” she said. I’m translating it politely. This follower of the club through thick and thin. This true believer who would have marched with Sir Alex Ferguson through a minefield covered twelve-feet-high in pig crap. A loyal defender of Moyes for over half a season. He has worn her out already. “I feel like I’ve been stabbed right in me ‘eart. I’m shattered. I give up!”

“Well,’ I said about 30 minutes later,” never mind. “There’s nowt* like playing Stoke to get us out of a slump.”

“Not today,” she said, going tut-tut-tut-tut. “Gonna get another bloody rollicking and bollocking.”

“To Sparky and Stoke?” I said, fool that I am. “As bad as we are now, Stoke’re dead predictable. Bet you anything you want, you silly moo.”

“A year’s supply of Vimto.”

“You’re on,” I replied, kiss-kissed her goodbye and told her to tell Our Colin to get stuffed.

I didn’t think about her during the match. I was too enraptured with shock!!! But, later, watching Moyes give press conference after presenting Stoke City with their first ever Premier League victory over Manchester United ever at the Britannia, he owned the bare-faced bottle to actually say, “We were really unlucky,” in the least sporting and generous way one can imagine. Indeed, although over the years, I’ve seen Fergie, Busby and others choke on the bitter fruit of humiliation and self-pity to the point where they can’t bring themselves to talk to the press, neither one of them would have tried running that bit of porky-pie bullshit. It’s awful to be the boss when your team, the defending champions, performs dreadfully yet again, collapsing to their eighth league defeat of the season against a mediocre team of large journeymen who have gathered a single point from their previous six games, but, you know the cliché: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

The relentless noise from Potters’ fans and more than a few from United singing, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!” made for a certain atmosphere. But that was nothing to the Brittania chorus after Charlie Adam’s fantastic second goal and the laughter which accompanied “Zaha shags your daughter!” If you’re weak and own no will to the battle and can’t stand the pressure that goes with being hated, say like Tom Cleverley, this kind of pitiless, perpetual, obdurate non-stop war of physical and mental attrition will find you out. Having been the reserve center-back at Dunfermline and Celtic and paid his dues as a manager in the third-tier with Preston North End and a poverty-stricken Everton, I have no doubt about the obdurate toughness and obstinacy of David Moyes. He will survive just fine! If fired he gets to pick up five-and a-half years wages and goes back to managing a team like, umm, Stoke City. More to the point, however, speaking as a true Manchester United fan, after watching Moyes’ ’tactics’ today I genuinely question whether the club can survive the utter cluelessness of his strategy without undergoing a collective nervous breakdown.

It must be terribly bad luck if you have Juan Mata, Robin Van Persie and Juan Mata starting for you. And, at the beginning, for more or less 35 minutes, they were all three pretty consistently aimless. Only Ashley Young and Patrice Evra had luck turning the carthorse-slow Stoke left-back Erik Pieters, but neither one could find a man in the box. Why Moyes keeps having Young take corners when he owns no sense of accuracy is unfathomable. Perhaps this comes at Wayne Rooney’s insistence, but statistics will show that his odds are better.

‘Wazza is hungover!’ came the text message from Marple. as she read my mind again.

At any rate, with nothing happening from the left flank and Mata lost among the big trees as Stoke kept nine men in the box, Moyes decided to go the old-school route. Seemingly having discovered a guru in Sam Allardyce, Moyes had them spend much of the of the rest of the match, despite the fact that Manchester United, beyond Chris Smalling, were so physically under matched, pursuing a ‘strategy’ of pumping balls into the box like a blind man throwing dice against a wall. This was never going to work and has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘luck,’ bad or good.

35 minutes or so in, after three ‘Hail Mary!’ pumps upfield, a tired, bruised United, were clearly at a psychological low, perhaps because the referee, Neil Swarbrick, seemed to turn a blind eye to Stoke’s relentless foul-and-feign-victimhood, Argentine-style tactics, which anyone remembering Sparky Hughes’ days’ as a United player and as manager of Blackburn Rovers and the Welsh national team know are his raison-d’etre. After Evans departed with a hamstring injury, cunning rather than clever, Hughes made sure Stoke’s fouling was purposeful and very effective. It was then, in the 37th minute, after a very iffy Swarbrick call on Smalling for holding, that United went behind as Michael Carrick stuck out a knee to send a Charlie Adam free-kick that was way off target past a stranded David de Gea.

Then, injury was added to insult as Jon Walters, always the good soldier, laid a perfect nut job on Phil Jones, butting him hard enough in the cheek to have him stretchered off motionless. With Rafael already in for Evans, and Carrick press-ganged into the second center back role, Moyes had another pair of ready-made excuses ready to file. With Carrick next to Smalling, Danny Welbeck came on to to partner Van Persie up front. Rooney switching to a deeper position in midfield may have seemed like a good idea had he not been playing so poorly.

With Rooney ineffective and Cleverley so petrified of Glenn Whelan and Peter Odemwingie that he rendered himself invisible, United simply ceded midfield. When the rain followed the wind just before Swarbrick blew for half-time, it was definitely a relief. Apart from the goal, the first half was as uninspiring as might be expected in such braw conditions at the Britannia Stadium, with little but a wasted half-chance for Rooney and just as raw a miss by Peter Crouch at the other end.

The second half started like gangbusters with Glenn Whelan botching a clearance to Mata, who had at that point been remarkably quiet. The little Spaniard threaded a deft pass through to a sprinting Van Persie, whose left-footed half-volley soared past Asmir Begovic in the 47th minute to tie the game up.

United kept their lead a pathetic five minutes. Wincing to avoid contact with Marko Arnautovic, Cleverley stood watching as the Austrian miskicked after collecting a Walters knockdown. Then, as if in slow-motion, United’s whole back line watched flat-footed as Stoke’s finest midfield craftsman, Charlie Adam—a player Stoke had been desperately trying to sell to Newcastle United for some of their Cabaye money on the night before—made an unstoppable howitzer out of the the rebound which gave De Gea no chance whatsoever.

The rest of it was a petty foul fest. Rooney got booked for a needless foul on Arnautovic. Walters left with two gouges in his knee after sliding in on two raised feet with the full intent of injuring Chris Smalling. How this merited a yellow card, but not a red, especially after Walters deliberately took out Jones earlier, is utterly beyond my ken. Erik Pieters even made an American football-style block to deny Welbeck at point-blank range at one end, but then, as the game ebbed away, Arnautovic missed a simple sitter, shooting narrowly wide after a gift from Smalling. Then the tricky Stoke substitute Oussama Assaidi, on loan from Manchester City, volleyed over an advancing De Gea’s only to hit the bar.

Moyes sent on Javier Hernández for Van Persie to see if fresh legs and speed might help over the last ten minutes, but it was the Potters who dominated as the clock ran out, with Crouch narrowly missing after Rooney blasted a free kick wide and Adam almost fooled De Gea with a seventy-yard blaster.

These are sad days for the Red Devils. Everybody seems to accept the inevitability of the club keeping Mr. Moyes for one more season and the financial realities that mean United will only talk about spending money. Nevertheless, Moyes’ file folder of excuses is full of stale clichés and we all feel contempt for a liar and killer of true believers. Nevertheless, now that any sense of trust is gone, we will all still attempt to keep the faith in spite of him for the sake of Our beloved club.

*Nowt is Manc dialect for ‘nothing.’

Ivor Irwin

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