Sunday, October 24, 2010

Little Sweet Pea? Perhaps We Should Call Him the Jolly Green Giant

photo by minnemomvia PhotoRee

Pre game thoughts:  Today could be a difficult one, given United's away form this season, as well as the Brittania's reputation for being one of England's most intimidating venues. Hard to figure, too, how the Wayne Rooney saga will affect the team. Although Rooney is in Dubai, celebrating his 25th birthday thousands of miles away, his presence will hang over the entire match. Whether or not the events of the past week will produce a hangover in United's form, we'll have to wait to see.

Starting in Rooney's place is Chicharito, whose starts are beginning to come more regularly now. Let's see what he can do with this one; fingers crossed he'll show us once again why we signed him. Other surprises in the lineup include RedNev making his 600th appearance for United, and O'Shea featuring as a left back(?), with Patrice Evra switching to left wing(!), likely due to the need for height on the pitch to deal with Stoke's free kicks and long throws.

Stoke start off the more aggressive of the two sides on a sunny but cool day, with United baring their teeth mainly on the counter attack.  Both teams trade jabs in a surprisingly open game with the crowd loudly in support of the Potters.  Berba, Nani and Chicha look fast and menacing when they're on the ball, but to this point the final pass or shot has been just lacking that little bit of quality that makes all the difference.

United are playing with fire as they concede several corners in a row, not usually a winning tactic against Stoke. Much of Stoke's pressure comes down the left flank as they look to take advantage of United's Old Man, Gary Neville.

Chicharito opens the scoring in the 27th minute, as it's surprisingly United that capitalizes first on the aerial game, with Hernandez knocking home a Vidic header across the goal mouth to put the Red Devils up 1-nil.  Chicharito had some significant work to do, as he was facing away from goal and somehow managed to bank it in off the back of his head. Not even the announcers can believe how he was able to generate the power he did; this guy is just an out and out goal scorer.

Ten minutes later and the scoreline and gameplan are still the same, Stoke trying to impose their physical brand of football on the Reds, and succeding only in drawing yellow cards from United's old guard Neville and Scholes.  Neville in fact could be gone, and probably should be a second half substitute, as his presence in the game is allowed to continue only through the good graces of referee Andre Marriner.  We go into the half with 11 men still on each side of a tense 1-nil scoreline.

The second half starts with a no-surprise-to-anyone substitution of Gary Neville (except, apparently, Gary Neville), as Wes Brown makes a rare appearance.  With only Manchester City having a better 2nd half record than Stoke City, United now has its work cut out to come away with a result today.

What referee Marriner gave in the first half, he's taken away in the second, as he forgets to bring his eyes back onto the pitch and misses a clear push on Evra in the box during a 55th minute counter attack that should have sent United to the penalty spot, and the scoreline to 2-nil. With the way this season is playing out, I feel fairly certain in stating that we'll come to regret that moment.....

Stoke ratchets up the pressure as the game hits the hour mark and tempers show signs of fraying, with VDS and Rio duking it out with Robert Huth in front of the United goal. Once again, United see little of the ball for long stretches of the match, as the weak underbelly of the current United midfield is exposed in yet another game.

My sinking feeling continues as Carrick comes on for O'Shea.  Chicharito misses a rare second half opportunity off a volley, and the Potters return to the attack yet again as the game enters its final quarter. United enjoy their first sustained spell of possession this half, before Paul Scholes gifts the ball back to Stoke, and my worst fears are confirmed: Stoke tie the game in the 81st minute, as United are undone again by late strike, this time courtesy of Tuncay Sanli.

Even as a United fan, I have to admit that Tuncay's strike was pure quality. In fact, it's hard to be upset at this point in the season, as rooting for a United win at this point would seem only to beg Einstein's age old question: What's the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

But its right at the moment that I type this that Chicharito does something different: he scores to give United an 86th minute shocker, and a 2-1 lead. The Little Sweet Pea's touch is instinctive, with nowhere near enough time to think about slotting it home before he magically does so.

Chicharito with the brace, and United with its first away win of the season, as the goal holds up until the final whistle. Three points gained, and maybe the Rooney incident behind us with the emergence of a new superstar. Who says United haven't signed quality players?  Oh, it was Rooney, wasn't it.....

Well forget that, but remember this: The kid is good, and I've known it all along. I'm farlieonfootie for October 25. 

Game Day Beer ReviewSam Adams Octoberfest Märzen (5.30% ABV). It's that time of year, so we might as well drain another Oktoberfest beer before it's too late. Sam pours a clear copper color with a fluffy, three-fingered off-white head that leaves behind only minimal lacing. Rich caramel malts upfront, with a just-this-side-of-smokiness overtone, and hints of herbal tea moderating into a quick and easy finish. Highly drinkable and very smooth, with just the right amount of carbonation, I think this could be the season's best Märzen: B+

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