This is called gut check time. This is the time to find out who the real supporters are and who the bandwagon fans are. After Monday’s loss to City, on so many message boards and blog sites, I saw expressions of rage, grief, sorrow and denial. And yes, to a degree it was warranted. But come on people! So many fans ‘leapt to their deaths,’ ‘slit their writs’ and ‘wailed to the football gods’ that the final result was wrong and that we had been cheated.
No we weren’t.
Reading this blog post probably won’t make the loss feel any better, but guess what? It’s another day in the long life of a supporter of any team that you get behind. And it’s also called a reality check. By the way, I am still wearing my Red and Black jacket proudly today, how about you?
Let’s take a hard look at this entire season and face the fact that everything that has happened was nothing more that the call to make key changes in the off-season to shore up weak positions that opposing teams have taken advantage of all year long. And honestly as any fan that looks past just the wins and losses, you can see where the team has lacked this season and before I go dragging stats into this, it’s already evident that United lacked at the midfield position and at defense.
Look at what happened. Sir Alex Ferguson had to convince Paul Scholes to come out of retirement to fortify the post that younger legs like Anderson and Tom Cleverley weren’t yet prepared to do. And also with the huge loss of Nemanja Vidic and an aging Rio Ferdinand holding the back end, the defense had to really step up. The bright light of it all really has been that it caused Jonny Evans to mature and become a better player even though in the last Manchester derby, I still think he was the stupid red carded spark that set City on fire that helped light us up for 6 goals. Even David De Gea, who I lost confidence with at mid-season, has shown surprising form late in the year but he still has a long way to go to solidify his post at goalkeeper. Even the strikers may need a bit of work in finishing on key plays but the upside is that with youth comes improvement through Danny Welbeck and Chicharito. There has been a lot of spark coming from both of them and hopefully the future is brighter with them both being on the team.
I am saying all of this to say, supporters be prepared. While some of you may read this and get angrier, I will say again that this is a reality check — one that I have seen so many times in American sports with dominant teams failing in the final leg to get the Big Finish:
- Watching the New York Yankees come up short in the post season because their pitching staff fails or the aging line up can’t score,
- Watching the Baltimore Ravens execute well on the defense but struggling on the offense and losing games in the waning moments because the defense faltered,
- Seeing the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers poised to take it all only to run out of gas at crucial times in the latter stages of games because the teams relied heavily on their stars and not having a bench to support them.
There are many cases also where teams ‘stacked with stars’ simply get outplayed by a scrappier hungrier band of no name players itching to take the giants down.
These things happen and one can only hope that United has learned from the crucial mistakes that cost them key games. All this past month it has been about key games and we blew it on two occasions; losing to Wigan Athletic and although it led to an astounding run against Aston Villa we “lost” against Everton. Huh? Yes, I saw the 4-4 score as clear as day and there was no reason why we should have drawn that game except complacency and the lack of depth crept in. So yes that key draw “lost” us the cushioning lead at the top of the table. Had we beaten Everton, Monday’s loss wouldn’t sting so much and now United has to win the last two and still have to seriously hope that City loses one match in order to secure the title and the odds are long that these things will happen.
So, are you long time supporters angry at me now? Good. But let’s remember one very important fact about this season, the one piece of good news that has carried us all the way to this point. Despite yesterday’s loss, despite the injuries over the course of the season, despite watching players struggle to grow into their positions, despite not qualifying for other tournaments and despite some news outlets quietly asserting that this Manchester United team is not one of Fergie’s best, this team still fought to the top of the table with spare parts, glue and spit. Even way back in February and March when City had a substantial lead, United still fought when it was easy for other teams to give up, they continued to fight. And even if it comes down to the wire, to the last day of the season, it’s not going to be easy for City. They will have to earn it, struggling and clawing tooth and nail until the final whistle on May 13th. And then defend it. THAT is how you get to 19.
I know this may have read like the glass is half empty, but realistically speaking this side has still excelled far more that what people would have expected to see at the beginning of January.
So have hope people. There are 2 games left and when the dust clears, either way it will be time to plan for next season and shore up those key spots that we have sorely lacked in.
Hang in there, step away from those rooftops, put the razors down, light a match at the altar of your football gods and pray. Even if we don’t get the results we are looking for in number 20, be proud of the team’s accomplishment in the table run and that at least we didn’t go down without a fight.