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December 28 / St. Andrews / Birmingham, England
Lee Mason is shite. There, I've said it. The Premier League has the odd combination of the word's best footballers playing alongside the world's worst referees, and Lee Mason is right up there in the pantheon of losers with Mike Dean. Missing an offside? Maybe. Missing a handball? Possible. Missing a foul? Everyone has an off day. Missing all three on a play in the 89th minute that costs United two points? I'm sorry sir, but it's three strikes you're out, and straight to the third division for you.
Mason's bottle job cost United a hard earned victory against a dull and dreary Birmingham side that wouldn't have scored if they weren't allowed to whine, moan and cheat. For much of the game Birmingham's offense consisted solely of falling over anytime a United player drew close by, in a baseless effort to draw opportunities for their free kick specialist, Sebastian Larsen. I used to like watching the Blues, but this year they seem unispired, insipid, and just flat out boring. In fact, after the drivel that they produced today in the name of offense, I hope the crowds at St. Andrews are enjoying the best football the Championship has to offer next season.
The affair this evening opened cagily enough, with United looking remarkably fresh despite starting virtually the same side which played a short 48 hours ago (Gibson replacing Park was SAF's only change, qualifying as a miracle in the current days of constant squad tinkering). Although the Reds had the better of the opening twenty minutes, the Brum squad gradually pulled themselves back into the match as the free kicks began to pile up in their favor.
But as the fog began to dissipate in the second half, so did United's wariness, as the Reds set out to attack after the interval in an effort to open the home side up. Fittingly, it was Dimitar Berbatov who opened the scoring, finishing off a fine move that began with a backheeled pass to Gibson, and beating his former teammate Foster on the near post.
The goals are beginning to stack up for the languid (I'll only use it once today, I promise) Bulgarian, and it's becoming harder and harder for Sir Alex to keep him out of the lineup. Fourteen goals in 15 games is none too shabby, but what's equally impressive as the goals is all the little stuff I've been noticing: tracking back to play defense, fighting to maintain possession, and hustling -- not a word commonly associated with the Berbinator -- are becoming a regular and integral part of Berbatov's game. The boo birds are virtually impossible to find this year, banished underneath a barrage of goals, and his renewed confidence and, dare we say it -- charisma? -- are quickly turning him into a talismanic figure among the United faithful.
In fact, Berba's torrid form only serves to sharpen the contrast with Rooney's current dreary output. Although the Englishman began the game with intent -- his first shot had some real menace -- he quickly petered out, and one is left to wonder how long his goal scoring drought might continue. Maybe it's time for Sir Alex to give young Javier Hernandez a start and bring Rooney in off the bench -- rather than the other way around. In any event, it's just plain old depressing to see Rooney tracking back to play deeper than the United fullbacks -- love the work rate, but how about a goal or two, Wayne?
Although the Reds took their foot off the pedal after they scored, 1-nil should have been enough to see them leave the Midlands with three points in hand. But apparently, it wasn't enough for referee Mason and his assistants, who miseed three obvious calls on the 89th minute goal that led to yet another away draw for United.
They could have called a foul on Zigic, who went right through the back of Ferdinand and clearly pushed off the defender to create a significant height gap in the box. They could have called handball against Zigic, who blatantly struck the ball with his arm, deflecting it for the thuggish Lee Bowyer to knock home. Or they could have called offiside, as Bowyer -- as well as one or two of his teammates -- were clearly deeper than the United defenders when the ball was played in.
Instead, Mason and his assistants chose to call none of the three. As blind as men encloaked in a blanket of fog that no longer existed at game's end, Mason and his band of merry numbskulls missed the call, and United missed the two additional points that should have rightfully been theirs to claim.
The unbeaten streak persists for the Red Devils, but so does the puzzling form away from home. It's United 1 - Birmingham 1 at full time, and farlieonfootie is drawing a black mark through Lee Mason's name on December 30.
Game Day Beer Review: Ridgeway Brewing Pickled Santa Winter Warmer (6.00% ABV). All the way from South Stoke, England, Pickled Santa pours a clear golden honeyish color with a one fingered white head that leaves behind little lacing. The smell is on the mild side, with just the barest hint of malt and spices. The beer's taste is more mild, bitter hops than Christmas spices. It's a strange beer; decently drinkable, and not offensive, but definitely not was I was hoping for, either -- much like today's game: B-.
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