Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back to the Future

photo by anne.oeldorfhirschvia PhotoRee

Pre-game thoughts: It's a young squad tonight versus Wolves, with Sir Alex living up to his reputation for using the League Cup to "blood" the squad's younger players and give them top flight exposure under fire.  There's no survivors from the eleven that started the weekend, and it's the first start for Bebe and Ben Amos, which should be intriguing on both counts.  Also receiving rare starts are Brown, Smalling, Evans (haven't heard much of him since Rio has returned), Fabio, Carrick, Gibson, Park, Macheda, and Obertan -- nary a veteran (except Carrick) in the lineup.  The bench has little experience, as well, with Gary Neville and Rafael being the only "veteran" names -- Michael Owen is excluded.  With six starters under the age of 21, it's truly back to the future for the Red Devils tonight.

United's young stars show promise right from the opening whistle, with Bebe giving a glimpse of his much heralded speed inside the first three minutes of the game, attempting to chase down a long forward pass from Smalling before ultimately running out of pitch.  It's just a little hint, but the first view suggests we may see some good things tonight out of the former homeless star.  

Although both sides work out the nerves in the early action, its United getting the better of the game's early stages, with Obertan's direct play in particular causing problems for Wolves' defense. United evidently believe that the pace of the young squad they have on the pitch tonight will give Wolverhampton problems, as they try long pass after long pass in an effort to open up the opponent.

Both teams trade the ball back and forth, although neither creates what would be described as a genuine opportunities, with Obertan and Macheda coming closest for the home side. Bebe also shows good hustle, tracking back and forth on the right side and tantalizing the crowd with brief flashes of pace. Although Macheda is playing up top by himself, he doesn't feature much in the games first half hour as United struggle to get him involved in the offense.

Wolves' best opportunity in a scrappy half comes from a free kick resulting from a Jonny Evans foul 25 yards outside the goal, although David Jones ultimately finds the wall and the threat is snuffed out before Amos has any significant work to do. By half's end, though, it's Wolves with the better of the play in my opinion, as they rack up a succession of corners and free kicks, although they are ultimately unable to capitalize in front of a very subdued Old Trafford crowd.  

The action picks up in the second half as United begin to string things together just a bit more, Obertan and Macheda fashioning a decent opportunity which the Italian flashes just wide when it counts. Two minutes later and it's Darren Gibson unleashing a typical cannon blast of a free kick that registers as the Reds' first shot on goal after 53 minutes. Shortly after Gibson's shot is parried away by Wolves 'keeper Wayne Hennessy, it's Ji-Sung Park with a clear opportunity to put United ahead, and the South Korean really should have done better with his effort, as he's unable to get the ball in the back of the net off a nifty through ball from Michael Carrick.

Despite United's pressure, the goal when it comes is still shocking and unexpected, as the play develops from a United counter off a venomous Wolves' shot from the top of the 18 yard box. The shot is painfully blocked by Jonny Evans (the body-aching thud can be heard all the way back here in Florida), and the resulting rebound is picked up by Obertan who races the length of the pitch before dishing off wide to Bebe.  The Portuguese winger runs roughshod over Wolves' defense, galloping into the box and attempting....something.

I'm not sure whether it's a shot or a cross, but it loops over Hennessy and has to has headed off the goal line by defender Kevin Foley, and Wolves appear to have narrowly escaped the best United opportunity yet. Before play can continue, though, the referee's assistant is signaling a goal, and the replays appear to confirm the decision as correct. If it's a shot, it's one of the more audacious attempts at goal I can remember in a long time. I think it was more likely a centering cross, but before you can say "Bebe," United's newest star is sauntering over in the corner and the scoreboard reads United 1 - Wolverhampton 0 with a little under 35 minutes left to play. 

Before United even manage to take their lead to the hour mark, though, Wolves level the game with a George Elokobi free header thumping home a corner kick. It's game on as the hushed Old Trafford crowd rumbles back to life. 

Both sides miss nice opportunities as the game opens up, with Hunt clipping the bar for Wolves and Macheda missing a perfect set up from Bebe to take the lead for the Red Devils as the game enters the final quarter of action.   Ji-Sung Park finally restores order in the game's 70th minute, picking up an awkward Wolves' attempt at clearance and depositing it in the back of the net for a 2-1 United lead.

Fergie goes for experience to try and see out the game, swapping Fabio for Gary Neville's 601st appearance for the club. The move doesn't pay off, though, as it's the aforementioned Kevin Foley capitalizing on a Darren Gibson giveaway to blow the ball past Ben Amos' outstretched foot, and the score is suddenly tied at 2.

Sir Alex throws one last roll of the dice to stop the teams from heading into extra time, bringing Chicharito on in place of a clearly exhausted Bebe in the game's 82nd minute. Wolves counter with Irish international Kevin Doyle, although truth be told I'm happy to see Matt Jarvis exit the pitch, as he's been a holy terror on the left side all night long.

In the end, it's no surprise really. It's the Little Sweet Pea scoring the 5th and final goal of the night and winning it for the Reds in the game's 90th minute. Call me crazy, but this kid is going to be our leading scorer this season, could in fact be tops in the league, and you heard it here first.  He's ecstatic, and so am I -- and I'm farlieonfootie for October 27th.

Game Day Beer Review: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (6.00% ABV). Pours medium amber orange in color with a healthy two fingered off-white head that leaves behind decent lacing. Smell is of pumpkin spices mixed with something vegetal in nature. Up front taste is all smooth pumpkin pie, including a definite cinnamon and nutmeg presence, but then a very earthy, vegetal after-taste with a hint of hop bitternes kicks in and spoils the party. Lacking balance in my opinion, this is not my favorite example of this great fall seasonal style: B -

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