Sunday, October 2, 2011

Things Get Sticky As United Defeat Norwich City

Sticky gooey amazingness
Photo by SanFranAnnie on Flickr
It's a sticky situation at Old Trafford Saturday, as David De Gea is left out of the starting lineup, perhaps in retribution for his alleged donut stealing incident at Tesco earlier in the week, and Anders Lindegaard is handed the keys to the United goalmouth. Ashley Young is rested, too, angering hordes of fantasy football managers around the globe, but secretly pleasing owners of Ji-Sung Park, who is preferred in midfield to the former Villan. Despite United fans' pessimism earlier in the week, Wayne Rooney partners Chicharito up front, and the Reds' top striker partnership will be licking their lips in anticipation of goals against the newly promoted Canaries of Norwich City. United loanee Richie De Laet, a stalwart in Norwich's season to date, is ineligible to play, which should theoretcially further ease United's task in the blazing sunshine that greets kickoff.

United begin the contest with a couple of early turnovers, one by Anderson combined with a poor clearance by Lindegaard, leading to some early pressure from the visitors. The Reds' offense is slow to kick into action today, and the first ten minutes are notable only for the lack of any real opportunities for the home side save a tame Wayne Rooney roller toward goal.

Playing against type, Norwich continue to look the more threatening of the two sides, causing problems with their big men up front, and creating chances over the top and through the middle.  Things are not quite so pleasant on the Reds' side of the pitch, as several members of the home crowd begin to show their vocal disapproval of the Reds' continued struggles with sustained possesion after the twenty minute mark is reached.

The home side pick up their attacking intent near the half hour mark, if it's possible to do so without appearing threatening in the least.  It's a particularly toothless attack from the champions today, and the most optimistic fan can only surmise that they are saving their energy for the second half.

Darren Fletcher offers a cheeky backheel off Nani's corner kick, and it's United first shot on goal since Rooney's effort, but the outcome shows the same 0-0 on the scoreboard. When Rooney shoulders another Nani free kick just over the bar, though, the tide may finally be starting to turn against the visitors on 35 minutes.

The Reds manage a sustained bit of pressure as the clock ticks toward halftime, and the question will have to be asked whether the Canaries can keep up their stalwart defensive efforts for a full 90 minutes in this heat. Meanwhile, the visitors continue to employ a high line defense to beneficial effect, as they head to the locker room with Chicharito being flagged offside for the third time in the first 45 minutes of action.

It's a determined, red-faced Sir Alex who strides back on the pitch after the interval, and you can be certain he's not kept his feelings to himself about the labored offensive effort the home side has displayed to date. In response, the men in red pick up the tempo, and the possession stats slowly but inexorably begin their slide in the direction of United.

Steve Morison leads a two-on-one counter attack, with only a marvelous Phil Jones tackle breaking up a Houlihan tap in. At the other end, Chciharito is flagged offside again -- incoreectly, this time -- but the Mexican is able only to hit the bar before the whistle blows. It's wide open, full throttle football as Anthony Pilkington almost wrong-foots Lindegaard off a Jonny Evans deflection, and surely the scoreline can't remain at double goose eggs for much longer -- but in which direction will it change?

Jones bombs forward with one of his trademark runs, and this time it's a Canary defender with a last second tackle to spare the Norwich fans' blushes. Old Trafford grows restless as the remaining time shows less than a half hour, but United's sloppiness in possession continues to plague the home side. Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck replace Nani and Chicharito, both men strangely subdued on the afternoon, as Sir Alex shuffles the deck  in an effort to claim the three points.

It's the visitors, however, who are the first to threaten after the changes: the increasingly dangeorus Pilkington somehow conspires to miss a wide open goal when Antonio Valencia is pushed off the ball. Valencia's lapse leaves Lindegaard completely and utterly exposed, but the Dane comes quickly off his line to close down the angle and force the Norwich striker just wide of the mark.

It's at the other end that the stalemate is finally broken: just as the clock nears 70 minutes, it's Giggs with the corner, Jones to Rooney to Anderson, all in the air and off the head, and it's United with a somewhat undeserved late afternoon lead. The ball hangs magically suspended above Norwich's outstretched defensive desires, United's men leaping just that little bit higher, and when it settles into the back of the net there is a massive sigh of relief from the Streford End as the Reds claim a 1-nil lead.

Nowich come close to equalizing when Pilkington strikes a ball off Anderson, the orb once again wrong-footing Lindegaard, and this time it's the goal post saving United's lead. Sir Alex makes his final substitution of the day a defensive one, opting for Rio Ferdinand's defensive experience to see the game out over Anderson's role in midfield.

Ferdinand takes control of the center with Evans, Jones slides over to right back, and Valencia moves forward to cover Nani's position on the wing. The move offers Jones more offensive freedom from which to operate, but Danny Welbeck can't stretch far enough to convert his laser-like cross into the back of the net, and the two sides head into the final ten minutes of action separated by only a slim one goal margin

It's a rare game in which United take the air out of the ball, but that's what they're doing here as the Reds play keep away from the visitors. Norwich carve out yet another chance on a midfield giveaway, with the referee conveniently overlooking several clear Canary fouls, but Morrison's tired shot is deflected out of bounds to snuff out the threat.

Welbeck seals off any chance of a Norwich comeback in the closing minutes, as he slides Park in through alone on goal, and the Korean repays the favor by unselfishly dishing the ball back to the Englishman for a tap in.  Wayne Rooney just misses a lob attempt in stoppage time, so it's 2-nil at the final whistle in favor of the Reds. The game has not been nearly as comfortable as the final scoreline indicates, and the Reds are fortunate to emerge unscathed from a rather sticky wicket.

This is farlieonfootie for October 2nd.

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