Saturday, November 13, 2010

Keystone Kops or Comeback Kids? United Leave it Late

Keystone Kops or Comeback Kids?  You Decide.
photo by SMJJPvia PhotoRee

George "Sportif" Le Coq, Sissy Buttlefelt, and I, in attendance at Villa Park, to take in Saturday's near-noon kickoff against Villa.  We're joined by farlieonfootie's Director of Marketing, Oliver Miller.  It's a relief to be free of the events of the past week, enjoying football with colleagues as well as friends, and our correspondent Ed's problems are but a bitter memory in the farlieonfootie rear view mirror.  The four of us enjoy a game day beer, profiled later in this column, to cloud our memories of a week we'd like to forget. Herewith the game:

It's an experienced United side that travel down to Birmingham today to face a youthful Villa squad. The Red Devils have to be looking forward to this fixture, as they haven't lost at Villa Park since 1995. United emerge from the locker room in their white strip today, so let's hope the new color brings us luck.

United dominate the early possession, showcasing more aggression from the start than they offered in the entire 90 minutes mid-week versus City.  Villa fight their way back into the match after 15 minutes, though, with new boy Barry Bannan showcasing tremendous vision to unlock Ashley Young and fashioning the first opportunity of the day. Although Wes Brown is caught out on defense, Rio Ferdinand comes to his rescue and partially blocks the resulting shot before it can trouble Van der Sar.

Villa's offense comes at a price, as they've left acres of well-manicured pitch open for United to counter-attack. It's swift and dangerous when they do, with Chicharito slotting Berbatov in alone in front of the home side's goal. The Bulgarian's shooting woes continue, though, as he manages to pull the ball wide left from virtual point blank range.

At the other end, Villa is aided today by our inept man in charge. Displaying his usual inability to see what's going on, referee Mike Dean turns a blind eye to several prominent muggings by Villa in the offensive box.  The opportunities are shunted aside by the United boys in the middle, and it's superheroes versus villains locked in hand-to-hand combat; to this point in the action the good guys -- the men in white, after all -- appear to be up to the task.  After such a promising start for United, though, Villa have managed to play their way back into the game, and by the half hour mark they're giving as good as they're getting. 

Evra and Nani employ a bit of training ground trickery on a free kick at the Villa end, and remarkably it works, as Evra is put through on the left wing with five yards between him and the nearest defender. Unfortunately, none of his teammates make their way within five yards of goal, and the French fullback's fine cross skitters through untouched.

To this point in the game the United offensive effort appears lacking on the wing, as Nani repeatedly looks to cut in, as if dragged by magnet to a middle which is well-stacked with bodies. The Red Devils' offense is all too narrow, with Park, Hernandez, Berbatov, Carrick and Fletcher playing bumper cars as they routinely crash into each other around the 18 yard box.

Villa end the half with a nice spell of pressure, once again aided by a referee who fails to see the rather fiesty pushing in the box, but their best effort ends with a Stuart Downing shot partially blocked by Ferdinand.   The twitter maven is showing his worth today, as he and central defense partner Vidic are standing like unmoveable towers in central defense; against a lesser side it's likely Villa would be on the board at least once this afternoon.

It's a different United that start the second half, and as poor as they have been to this point in the action, it's still not a good thing.  United look like the Keystone Kops right now, as if they've made their way back onto the pitch but have somehow managed to leave their composure behind in the locker room.

Villa miss a sterling chance to take the lead as a ball dribbles through the box, but the resulting shot is fired wide. A short minute or two later and it's Albrighton somehow heading wide from right in front of Van der Sar, the goal gaping at his mercy. Although it's routine to say these misses may come back to haunt Villa, United have not created enough opportunities for one to see how they might punish the home side.

With a half hour left United are bloodied and losing their composure, as Chicharito is carded yet Warnock's high boot which bloodies Fletcher's face goes unspotted by referee Dean. Fletcher re-emerges onto the pitch looking angry; whether it's because his new jersey is numberless or he's upset at the biased officiating remains to be seen. 

The game becomes increasingly tense as Villa continue the pressure. Collins tries to claim the lead for Villa, but the top of the bar comes to the rescue and United is let off the rack.  Ninety seconds later it's the left post playing defense for United, as Agbonlahor is denied from giving his team the lead.  The goal frame may be saving United at this point, but even the neutrals watching on television will feel the goal coming

When it does come it's aided by a biased Mike Dean, who hands Villa a rather dodgy penalty on an innoucous Wes Brown shoulder barge, with Ashley Young converting from the spot to give Villa their deserved lead.  Obertan and Macheda are called on to replace the ineffective Berbatov and Hernandez, neither of whom has been given much to do today. In truth, Park and Nani in particular have stunk up the joint -- truly a faulty, pathetic performance from the midfield and wings today.

United are caught out on the counter in the 76th minute, as Macheda is robbed of the ball and Albrighton converts a cracking Stuart Downing cross for a 2-nil lead. It's hard to argue at this point that Villa don't deserve the two goal margin, and it could easily be double that amount.  United have been shockingly poor today, and the long run of unbeaten games now looks set to come to a crashing halt.

Ferdinand is denied by American goaltender Brad Friedel after creating United's first shot on target in the 80th minute. That says it all: a central defender has the first shot on target today with only a scant ten minutes left to play.

But it's at this low point that the tide begins to go out on Villa's remarkable run, as Kiko Macheda is not denied a minute later when he hits the target and pulls back a goal -- what is it about Macheda and Aston Villa?  We've got a tense finish set up here, and the Red Devils would be well pleased with a tie at this point, a thought most United fans would have scoffed at in their pre-game bravado.

Nani's inch perfect cross finds Vida in front of goal in the game's 86th minute, and United has fought their way back to tie the game at two, as the United captain finds the net with his head. 

It's an absolute shocker to be sure, and it'll be a true slam-bang mugging if United gain a point or more on the day. Five minutes of time are signaled at the end of regulation, offering further hope to the visitors.  Villa, after being in absolute control of the match only ten short minutes ago, are now just looking to hang onto their draw.

United fashion several chances in stoppage time, with the best being Obertan's direct route to goal, but Friedel once again manages to deny, with his face standing in the way of an undeserved United lead. Time ultimately runs out on the comeback, and it's another two points dropped by the boys in white.

Sir Alex shakes his head at the final whistle, befuddled by his team's lackluster play, and it's a truly puzzled farlieonfootie, as well, for November 14.  Who are these impostors in the white uniforms today, and what have they done with my team?

Game day Beer Review: Avery Brewing The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest (9.73% ABV). Poured into a goblet, displaying a translucent copper color with minimal head. Smell is mixed malt and dark fruits. Taste is malty, biscuity caramel, with herbal grassiness that leads to a long, sweet finish with a strong malt backbone. Extra thick, sticky mouthfeel, with highly noticeable alcohol. This is defintiely a sipper, from one of my favorite American breweries out of Colorado: B+

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