|photo by TakenByTina||via PhotoRee|
Sir Alex put out a strong side for United's visit to the capital yesterday, shocking most observers by going with a lineup unchanged from the eleven that beat Wolves just eight days earlier. Manchester United were looking for a victory to put pressure on Manchester City and move into the top spot -- even if just for a couple of hours -- prior to the Christmastime fixture congestion. The Reds' controlled the match from start to finish, and although the 2-0 final scoreline might imply a tense match, it belied the action on the pitch. Herewith, the game report from our roving correspondent:
It's an ideal start for the champions, with Wayne Rooney getting just enough onto the end of an Antonio Valencia cross to head it past QPR 'keeper Radek Cerny inside of the game's first minute. Its 1-nil at the outset, but before another 120 seconds can pass -- including the time needed for a brief celebration and re-start -- United threaten goal again, QPR's back line a shambles and Nani picking out Danny Welbeck before Cerny can bail his side out and keep the damage to a minimum.
Rooney, Valencia and Nani look absolutely electric early on, making QPR's defenders appear as if they're back in the Championship. United look bigger, stronger and faster than the home side in the opening quarter hour, like QPR but on steroids.
Rangers' first opportunity of the day comes when Patrice Evra slips and falls near his own box, but luckily for the visitors Jay Bothroyd squanders the gift high over the bar. QPR have come back into the game by the 25 minute mark, although it's United, with the movement of Valencia, Nani and Welbeck, the drive of Rooney and Phil Jones, and the calm assurance of Michael Carrick on the ball, who really catch the eye.
How Jonny Evans misses an open header from directly in front of goal is a question both he and Welbeck will ponder for quite some time, with Welbeck wondering about the missed assist for his hard work in heading the ball over to the central defender, and Evans attempting to determine why he's still not on the score sheet. Jones will soon be thinking along similar lines, put through on goal with only Cerny to beat, but his finish is less than sublime and tipped around the bar by the 'keepers' foot. Ranger's 'keeper is more than up to the task today, and it's Valencia he denies next, somehow tipping the ball wide of goal as he falls to ground. Evans is cleared off the line and Rooney is forced just wide of net as the Reds continue their tremendous onslaught on the home side's goal. This is a different United side than we've seen lately, hungry and confident, and looking to take the game straight at the opposition.
David De Gea looks slightly less convincing than his opposite number, as QPR almost pull off a shock equalizer against the run of play, but the Spaniard's slow-motion toe poke keeps the shutout alive, if just so. United are narrowly shading possession at the half, but they've certainly created the better of the chances at the break. It's an ultimately frustrating 45 minutes of football for the Reds, who have created chance after chance but only have the one goal to show for it.
Nani and Rooney are on different pages to begin the second half, and the first real opportunity goes by the boards inside of three minutes. When Welbeck sloppily underweights a three-on-three pass to Jones, a general sense of unease begins to take hold, a nagging worry that the Reds may rue their missed opportunities if they don't strike again. The unease is short-lived, though, replaced by elation when Michael Carrick carries the ball more than half the pitch, driving ever forward, before beating the heretofore unassailable Cerny on his near post. Much of United's success today can be laid directly at the feet of Carrick, who's had a Man-of-the-Match performance in the center of the park.
United just miss adding a third, and Evans is left to wonder again, this time how his toe poke doesn't at least find an assist, but Wayne Rooney finds himself unable to finish the chance. Welbeck continues the onslaught, tipped over the bar by an outstretched Cerny, before he's replaced by Javier Hernandez, the Little Pea a surprise inclusion on the bench in London. Neil Warnock introduces Adel Taraabt and DJ Campbell to counter for the home team, but there's much work to be done by the duo and only 25 minutes in which to do it.
Phil Jones almost makes their task even more difficult, but it's the post that once again is QPR's best defender on the afternoon. The grounds crew may have to inspect the woodwork for its structural integrity after the game, so many times has it been cracked by the men in Red.
The two QPR substitutes almost pay off, Taraabt connecting his cross to Campbell's foot when United's defense momentarily switches off, but Campbell can only regret the miss when he somehow pops it over the top from virtual point blank range. Sir Ryan replaces Wazza as the game ticks down, and Ashley Young is handed a cameo for Nani, United easing toward victory despite the many misses which could have cost them dearly.
It's one of Reds' most complete performances in weeks, with one-touch passing making a spectacular return, the chances created counted in the double digits, and the cricket scoreline denied only by Cerny and the surrounding woodwork. Fergie may be squinting into the sun when the final whistle blows, but it's not to find the league leaders, because for at least the next two hours they're hiding in plain sight right in front of him. So too may be the answer to his midfield problems, as the central partnership of Carrick and Jones shows increasing signs of clicking into life.
This is farlieonfootie for December 19.