17 May 2015

We can still mangle these Mancs, whether they're Sky Blue or Devil Red...

Once Sunday began with an improbable, last-ditch win for City at Liberty Stadium, we might be excused for mailing it in a bit at Old Trafford. After all, Yaya TourĂ©'s winner all but cinched the belt on second place, and what else is there Arsenal to play for but third? For 75 minutes, we played in such a way that a comparison to dog food would be insulting to it, not us, and we still emerged from a stadium in which we haven't won a Prem match for how long I don't dare mention it (okay, September 2006). It's not the win we clamored for, but it's a result that sees us batten down hatches and all but dare Man U to overtake us anyway. Like it or lump it, that's a far-cry better than we might have hoped for when the first half of the season unravelled unfolded.

I know what you're going to say: "Man U were missing key players. We needed to win. We had a chance to do a double of sorts at Old Trafford." To which I reply, "it's one match. Yes, it would have been amazing to win there—but we were the visitors, up against a club that had spent £175m on transfer-fees in the summer and that waged a Prem campaign free of Champions League commitments or League and FA Cup distractions. Still on the pitch against us were some £70m of those transferred players, not to mention other additions such as Fellaini (£29m), Mata (£40m), or van Persie (£27m). Yeah, they went in without Rooney, Carrick, or Rafael, but frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn. They spent so much that drunken sailors are offended.

And still, we went into the belly of the beast and played like shite only to emerge with a vital draw, a result that is almost good enough to secure us a third place finish. Yes, there's still some business to tend to, but even at our best, it was perhaps a bit optimistic to expect a win at Old Trafford. Even if previous results (ahem, Swansea, I'm looking at you...twice) had gone our way and we'd sewn up third place, leaving Man U had nothing left to play for, pride would still have driven them to do their damnedest. No, we were not at our best for the second week in a row, but few other clubs can boast of going on a run as dynamic as the one we've been on since February. Hell, it might be heresy, but I'll take a loss in a North London derby every year if it impels us an 13-match unbeaten run as it did this year.

Back to the match, let's admit that we played like we were safe from relegation rather than safely in second place for 'round about 75 minutes. We didn't even squeeze off a shot in the first half, even after Herrera, ironically one of the shortest players on the pitch at the time, scored from a cross in the 29th minute. Our fight-back was hardly the stuff of legends, coming only in that 75th minute—whether this corresponds to de Gea coming off (in his last appearance at Old Trafford?) is an open question. Even the equaliser, coming as it did in the 81st minute after Walcott bobbed and weaved before sending in a cross that deflected under Tyler Blackett's foot to send Valdes the wrong way, felt a more than a bit unearned. Then again, we've been on the short end of enough of these situations to feel like we're due. In fact, we might even feel a bit aggrieved not to have nicked a win. Giroud had a golden chance that he put into the side-netting in the 83rd minute and followed moments later with a penalty-shout (that would have been awfully harsh, to be honest).

For those demanding, insisting, and clamouring that we had to win, yes, a win would have been nice—but that's not always the way things work. Yes, Man City went into a hostile environ and emerged victorious, so for us to similarly go in as visitors only to emerge with a draw might feel like failure. Then again, our result does keep a bit of heat on Man City while slamming shut the door on Man U. As it currently stands, we trail Man City by five points and lead Man U by two. We have a game in hand. Man City host Southampton, who know that a win could send them as high as fifth—their highest-ever Prem finish. Man U travel to KC Stadium to face Hull, who are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. We can do the Tigers a favor (not to mention ourselves) by clobbering Sunderland midweek, which would put not only put more pressure on Man City but would also consign Man U to a fourth place finish.

The fat lady hasn't sung, but she's warming up. We have that Wednesday clash with Sunderland, followed by a visit on Sunday from West Brom. Everyone kicks off at the same time on Sunday, so we'd better make sure we take care of business on Wednesday. Let's do this.