Watching United away from home has gone past the point of disappointment, through to frustrating to absolutely infuriating. Although the game against Birmingham-like so many others away from Old Trafford this season- had it’s plus points, nothing upsets quite like a Lee Bowyer last minute equaliser.
Going into the game at St. Andrews United had a record of won one drawn six away from home while Birmingham ha drawn half of their home games so there was no prizes for guessing what the more predictable outcome was going to be.
Unfortunately from a United perspective- which is the only one that matters- Bowyer’s late equaliser stopped the Reds from earning not only a rare away victory but also the chance to put a bit of distance between ourselves and the rest of the pack.
It’s easy to look at the draw at St Andrews and feel aggrieved for several reasons- the manner of Birmingham’s goal being one. Not only was it in the last minute but it also should not have stood. Nicola Zigic not only climbed all over Rio Ferdinand to set up Bowyer’s close range strike, but the assist also came off the lanky striker’s arm. Oh and to add insult to injury Bowyer should have been sent off earlier for a challenge on Darron Gibson that could have broken his ankles.
So what did we learn from the draw at St. Andrews other than the fact Lee Mason is not fit to referee Sunday League let alone Premiership games?
1. Chicharito needs to be given a game. With the Little Pea given only injury-time to try and make an impact it was no surprise he failed to do so. Bringing Chicharito on for merely seconds is totally counter-productive as not only is it not enough time for him to do anything but it can surely leave him feeling more frustrated than if he’d not been used at all.
With two games in four days coming up in the New Year, Chicharito should be given 90 minutes to get not only get some valuable game time but also as he did at Stoke, try and grab United a much needed away win.
2. Darron Gibson and Michael Carrick are not needed in the same team. Many people questioned the inclusion of Gibson especially after the result and while I’m not his biggest fan, I don’t think he was the worst United player on the pitch. My main doubt surrounding Gibson starting for United is when it comes at the expense of one of the more energetic players.
Although Sir Alex’s hand was forced due to Ji Sung Park leaving for the Aldi Cup and Darren Fletcher perhaps not quite fit enough to play a full game, with Gibson and Carrick in midfield alongside Anderson who looked a little fatigued, United lacked the energy of some recent performances.
For me Gibson is a player that needs a runner playing alongside- or even behind him as he’s not the most mobile of players. While Carrick is good at collecting loose balls, he’s not the terrier type of player that Anderson, Fletcher or Park are, meaning that with him and Gibson in United’s midfield it lacks a little bite that would have been very useful in a tough away game.
3. Killing off teams on the road is still an issue. After the games against Fulham and Everton it was United’s lack of gaining an insurmountable lead that was noted as the problem and in some ways the same can be said of the game against Birmingham. Had Berbatov’s shot which hit the woodwork gone in, or Gibson found the Bulgarian in space shortly before Bowyer’s goal, then it would certainly have been a second away win for United. Perhaps it’s now time to stop trying to defend leads away from home and really go for the jugular. As mentioned earlier perhaps introducing Chicharito sooner would have given United the impetus needed to add a second.
It’s becoming abundantly clear that one goal leads away from home cannot be trusted and it’s time to start putting these games to bed before it becomes even more of an issue.
4. Rooney needs a goal. In my look at the Sunderland game, I commented that Rooney’s lack of goals was not an issue. While that may still be true -especially if Berbatov continues in his current vein, there’s no denying that the ‘months without a goal from open play’ headlines must be a slight concern for the former Evertonian.
Strikers thrive on goals and I’m not doubting that Rooney will start scoring lots of lovely goals for us soon, but he needs to start doing it sooner rather than later or he’s in danger of having his lowest scoring season ever for United. Something which shouldn’t really be happening for a player who’s steadily improved each year.
The lack of goals for Rooney may start affecting his confidence slightly if he’s not careful- although that may seem unthinkable to some, especially considering the amount of goals he scored last season, but all strikers need goals, even Rooney.
Against Birmingham he didn’t have the best of games and never really looked like getting on the score sheet. If Chicharito is to be given 90 minutes it may be time to rest Rooney for the West Brom game and get him back firing on all cylinders for the visit of Stoke.
5. Two games in four games is too much for 10 players to handle. More than one or two of United’s players looked a little tired and out of sorts at St Andrews. The gruelling Christmas schedule seemed to have caught up with many of them and it was certainly not the sort of performance you’d associate with some of Sir Alex’s men. Why Fergie didn’t utilise his big squad and maybe give starts to more of the fringe players is a little bit of a mystery. Although you can claim-with some justification- that the team was actually good enough to win and merely robbed by a poor decision a draw is still a draw.
United have the squad players who should be capable of doing a job against teams such as Birmingham and it would have been good to see maybe the likes of Obertan, Brown and Chicharito- in case you haven’t noticed I’m a bit of a fan- being given a chance. I just hope Sir Alex hasn’t been too influenced by the Carling Cup loss at Upton Park as there’s still enough quality on the United reserve ranks to help with a title challenge.