Manchester United 3 (Evans, Fletcher, Hernandez) QPR 1 (Mackie)
By Jack Holt
The match was, in many ways, an illustration of much of the season so far. The first half was poor; Manchester United barely offering even fleeting glimpses of productive attacking play. The second half was better, but only once QPR had taken the lead and the subsequent introductions of Hernandez and, more tellingly, Anderson. Three goals in a fantastic eight minute spell won it, eventually. Three points was desired – necessary, you might say, ahead of Manchester City’s trip to Stamford Bridge – and duly achieved. Job well done?
The Manchester United line-up failed to inspire. Sir Alex had clearly been at the tombola again; Lindegaard starting in goal ahead of the fit again David de Gea. If the back four of Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans and Evra was as expected, the midfield four was not. A hip injury forced Faux Valencia out of the side, while Carrick was rested and Cleverley and Anderson once again had to settle for a place on the bench. Darren Fletcher partnered Paul Scholes in a criminally pedestrian centre midfield with Young, Welbeck, Rooney and van Persie completing the forward line.
In the first half, Manchester United threatened all too rarely; Rooney shot straight at Julio Cesar after good work from Welbeck, before then seeing a long-range drive parried away, while Ashley Young and Robin van Persie both shot wide. QPR rarely threatened themselves, mind you, with Jamie Mackie rightly adjudged to be offside as he headed in their best opening.
There was a general lack of pace, vibrancy and, most worryingly, real imagination. With QPR deploying a solid(ish) bank of two fours, continual attempts at quick one-twos around the edge of their box became difficult. Each time the pass was slightly misjudged, a little too predictable. “Lethargic, careless, slow.” – Fergie’s words, not mine. Whether the half-time boos were warranted, of course, is up to you.
If the Old Trafford faithful (as well as the those further afield) expected a rip-roaring start to the second half, they were left unsatisfied. In fact, as is becoming an increasingly frustrating theme this season, QPR took the lead. After (criminally) falling asleep at a corner, Manchester United allowed QPR to engineer a two-on-one, resulting in Kieron Dyer’s shot across goal being parried into the path of the on-rushing Mackie. He slotted it home, and this time it stood.
Fergie’s response was to withdraw the ineffective Scholes (who picked up a booking and now misses the visit of West Ham) and the worryingly-poor Young. (As a quick side-note, if anyone knows where our real wingers are, would you please return them?) They were replaced by Javier Hernandez and, to rejoicing fans everywhere, Anderson. While their impacts were not immediate, they were telling.
Firstly, from a 64th minute Wayne Rooney corner, Welbeck nodded the ball back across goal into the path of Jonny Evans, who ghosted around the back of the defender to head home from almost on the goal-line. It was the impetus United needed, resulting in their best period of play in the game, and two further goals.
“The only thing it meant was that it put us in front. It is great coming back and scoring, but you want to be on winning teams.” Darren Fletcher
Four minutes later, Darren Fletcher made it 2-1. A Rooney corner (again) was met by a United head (again), with the much-missed Scotsman powering the header home. It was his first Old Trafford goal since putting us 2-1 ahead against Benfica, almost a year to the day. It was a great reward for all his hard work in getting back not only to fitness, but into the first team equation.
A third – and clinching – goal was added a further three minutes later, and it was the goal of the game. The superb Anderson broke from midfield with the pace and power missing in the first half, before slotting a sublime pass through into the path of Hernandez, who calmly slotted the ball past the exposed Julio Cesar.
There was still time for van Persie to go close twice, shooting wide and seeing a shot well blocked, but the game was already won. Manchester United held on relatively comfortably, with Sir Alex also able to introduce Nick Powell for the final minutes. A return to the top of the table – for 24 hours at least – was attained. Thirty points – a decent return from an admittedly uninspiring start to the season – sees the Reds two clear before tomorrow’s City/Chelsea clash.
All too common concerns remain, however. The game only changed once Fergie introduced the obviously-required pace and power of Anderson. It is not the first time this season – or this week in fact – that the Scotsman’s team selection has left the majority of fans scratching their heads. Giggs and Carrick last week, Scholes and Fletcher today. While it was great to see the latter starting Premier League fixtures again, his partnership with the even more immobile Paul Scholes was genuinely baffling. Again, the ease with which sides can currently break on us is beyond a concern. It’s a worrying trend.
And again, of course, we fell behind (9th time in 13 league games). Only then did we see any real sense of urgency, any real pace and purpose. The laborious fashion Manchester United spend spells of games this season is worrying; as we saw last week, the fire power to fight back cannot always be there. Far be it for me to question why this keeps happening, but it can’t continue.
Old Trafford turns host again in four days, when West Ham travel up to Manchester. A win, followed by another against Reading next weekend, is surely required before we make the short trip to Manchester City on 9 December