900. The number of games in which Ryan Giggs will have represented Manchester United, given either a starting role or substitute appearance against Norwich, at Carrow Road. He could have been given this honour from the bench against Ajax at Old Trafford, in which Sir Alex Ferguson opted for a youthful set up, resting some players while giving others some game time in the process, but avoided this to give him a starting role for the trip to Norwich. Knowing a win was vital to keep pace in the title race, there was a more experienced look about the side compared to Thursday night. It was also important to keep in mind that Norwich have impressed since gaining promotion to the Premier League, and Lambert’s side gave United plenty of problems when they travelled to Old Trafford, a scenario that Ferguson was undoubtedly keen to avoid this time around. Defending, David De Gea De Gea had Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones in front of him, with Patrice Evra returning from a break out on the left and Jonny Evans on the right. With the news that Tom Cleverley could be out for up too 3 weeks with a new ankle injury, United opted for an experienced midfield of golden oldies Ryan Giggs and Paul scholes alongside Michael Carrick as well as Nani with the line being headed by Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. The game kicked off with a decent pace, and it was Manchester United who dealt the early blow, going 0-1 up within 7 minutes to give themselves the ideal start. The move started with Scholes picking out Nani who then played in a short cross on the right to find the head of a charging Scholes to nod home and provide an early advantage. The first half continued to play out fairly openly, with Norwich perhaps producing the more dangerous of the chances forcing good saves from David De Gea. Some good play between Welbeck and Hernandez proved fruitless in a first half in which United went in as leaders, but Norwich as the side on the front foot. Would United be able to put the game beyond their hosts or would Norwich capitalise on their play? The second half began as it ended, with Norwich initially looking to get forward. United picked up the pace somewhat but struggled to find their way through. The best chance fell to Welbeck not long after the hour mark, as Giggs found the striker who flicked the ball over Ruddy, only for Whitbread to get back and clear the line. Norwich too, had their chances, continuing to press De Gea, and providing opportunities to display his capabilities as more than just a shot-stopper. Giggs came close to getting a goal on his 900th game, as he flicked Jones’ cross on to the crossbar. There were a couple of penalty appeals waved away, but on 82 minutes, it seemed United’s failure to increase their lead went punished as Grant Holt was played in and drilled a shot to the far corner shortly after De Gea produced another fine save. 3 added minutes and United were probing for a winner. Finally, on 91 minutes, who else but the evergreen Ryan Giggs, who met substitute Ashley Young’s cross to give United a late late winner, and give Giggs the perfect way to cap his 900th appearance. And with that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Ryan Giggs – 900
Approximate 90 minutes, Giggs scores the winning goal in his 900th game. If it were a film it would be considered the cheesiest of endings, it seemed almost scripted. One can only imagine through watching the game the kind of emotions amongst the teammates as the masterful Welshman hit home and won the game for his side. It capped a game in which he was one of the better performances in one that was often lacklustre at times for the team as a whole. He was involved in much of United’s attacking play, setting up chances and threatening to score himself, hitting the bar during the second half. A player who has maintained a standard of play that has kept him in the line up whilst younger players and bigger “stars” around him have been and gone, talent such as his do not come around often and fans will want to enjoy however long Giggs chooses to remain in action.
2) David De Gea – kept United in it
Given the circumstances around the occasion and timing of Giggs’ winner and performance, one might consider it logical that he be awarded man of the match. However, in truth the real credit lies with David De Gea, my man of the match. Throughout, Norwich tested him, forcing quality saves from good opportunities. It was a display that further indicated the growing confidence in the young Spaniard, displaying a greater assurance in other aspects of his game, taking a greater command of the box, looking to catch the ball and holding it well when called upon. There were also the reaction saves that we have become accustomed to in recent weeks. He deserved a clean sheet for his efforts but alas it was not to be. One could almost argue that Lindegaard’s injury may have benefitted him in the extra playing time he has received. A fine performance and yet more evidence as to the potential he possesses.
3) Ashley Young – anonymous yet significant
The general belief amongst fans watching the game after Young replaced Hernandez, was how the England winger seemed almost anonymous at times, not really making an impact on the game after coming on. Matters were made worse by the fact that United seemed to take their foot off the pedal somewhat for much of the half and when Norwich equalised, it seemed points may have been wasted. And yet, despite this, with only minutes remaining it would be Young who delivered a superb cross to find Giggs in the box and produce the winning goal. A significant assist and credit for the part he played. One hopes that as match practice increases and fitness improves, Young’s contribution to the side will also augment.
4) Welbeck and Hernandez – threatened but no goals
At times the link up play between Welbeck and Hernandez was good and threatened on a few occasions to grab a goal each, Hernandez failing to get a strong shot off with his and Welbeck being denied by a goal line clearance. With the news that Wayne Rooney was not to feature in the game, some wondered whether United would struggle going forward against aNorwich side that gave them issues when they visited Old Trafford. Whilst the day could have been better for the United forwards, they were certainly able to create as they got forward but it was left to the midfield maestros in Scholes and Giggs to provide the goals.
5) One goal advantage, should have pushed harder for a second
In the run up to the game, there was much talk about how in the game against Ajax, the youthful set up almost cost United the tie and knocked them out of Europe. In the Premier League match with Norwich we found the more experienced heads brought back into the side having been rested, with the idea that they should control the game and comfortably see it out. With an early first goal things looked promising, but with the one goal advantage United almost seemed to sit back and take their foot off the pedal. Yes, they created some good chances to score a second but one feels they let Norwich back into the game far too easily at times and were it not for the performance of De Gea, the result could have been a different outcome. Even with experience, complacency may prevail.