Defeated but not despondent.
A week after our tedious goalless draw against the same opponents in the league at Anfield, the Tricky Reds made three changes from that lineup- and five from the midweek debacle against Burnley- for the short trip to Salford to face the Dicky Reds in the cup. Henderson, Shaqiri and- perhaps surprisingly- Mané were missing compared to last weekend’s eleven and Rhys Williams, Curtis Jones and James Milner started in their stead.
The visitors started on the front foot and generally controlled the early stages without creating any serious chances and it was Alisson who had to make the first proper save, denying Greenwood with his right foot. We continued to run things and Bobby released Mo with a textbook slide rule pass in the eighteenth minute; Mo lifted the ball over the onrushing Dean Henderson and the visitors took a deserved lead.
Trent whipped a free kick narrowly over a few minutes later but our next attack saw Bobby dispossessed on the edge of the United box and Rashford’s long cross from deep scraped over Milner’s head and fell into Greenwood’s path. No mistake this time; a barely-deserved equaliser for the home team in the 26th minute.
Pogba headed over- completely unmarked- from Shaw’s corner as the home team started to come more into the game and McTominay did the same soon afterwards. Pogba then blasted a free kick over before McTominay had a shot from the edge of the area blocked. The expensive Frenchman curled a late effort narrowly wide after more excellent work by Rashford.
All of United’s good work was coming down our right; whether they were deliberately targeting Trent or it was mere coincidence will depend on Ole’s tactical acumen. Coincidence it was.
As the players trudged off for their halftime oranges, a draw was probably a fair reflection of how the first forty-five minutes had progressed. We were the better team until they equalised but they were generally in the ascendancy for the last fifteen minutes of the opening stanza.
Williams had had a few dodgy moments in the first half, over committing on occasion, and he was punished three minutes into the second half as his missed attempt to clear Greenwood’s raking pass was slotted home gratefully by Rashford.
Milner missed a glorious opportunity to equalise in the 57th minute, hooking over from close range, but Mo made amends seconds later, slotting the ball through Henderson’s legs to equalise from Firmino’s squared ball.
Jürgen decided to go for it, taking off Gini on the hour mark and replacing him with Sadio. Solskjaer brought on Fernandes and Fred five minutes later; essentially, the home side now had their first team on the pitch in an effort to snatch the victory.
Fabinho was duped into challenging Cavani on the edge of the box with thirteen minutes left and Fernandes rifled the ensuing free kick low into the far corner, beyond Alisson’s despairing dive. The free kick was soft, to say the least, but our normally brilliant keeper might have done better. Advantage Red Devils again.
Jürgen’s last fling of the dice was to throw on Shaq and Big Div for the tiring Thiago and Bobby. We huffed and puffed but it was Danny Trejo’s sidekick who came closest to scoring, planting a header against Alisson’s left hand post with the keeper rooted to the spot.
Pogba brought down Jones on the edge of the box in stoppage time; it was too wide for a direct shot on goal so Robbo lifted it to the far post. Pogba headed clear, straight to Salah… who volleyed wide.
All in all, an improved showing from the Reds tonight. Although it obviously hurts to lose to our biggest rivals, solace can be found in Mo’s return to goalscoring form and much improved performances from several of our players. Ultimately, we were undone by a Williams mistake, a dodgy free kick award and iffy positing from Alisson. Two of those we can improve; sadly, the refs are beyond our control.
Next up is a trip to North London to face the Spuds on Thursday night. We only just squeezed past them at Anfield thanks to Bobby’s late winner… a repeat performance in four days’ time would be most welcome. We desperately need to get back to winning ways in the league before the Manchester clubs get out of reach.
MOTM: Gordon Motion, master whisky maker at Highland Park distillery in the Orkney Islands. Got a bottle of their Cask Strength Release No 1 in preparation for Burns Night tomorrow and it is fabulous. Can’t wait to enjoy it with my haggis, neeps and tatties.