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Percentage game gave United advantage
Mar 21, 2006
Since deciding to hang up my boots, I can honestly say I have not missed
playing. But when the two teams walked out on Saturday, my feet began to twitch
for the first time since retiring.
The Hawthorns was packed and the atmosphere was crackling - it usually is
when United are in town - while the winter afternoon and a pitch which looked in
great nick made it perfect for football. Despite those cravings, after 70
minutes I would not have swopped places with any of the Albion players.
Manchester United were 2-0 ahead and for the Baggies, that pitch would have
seemed as big as a polo field on which they were facing not 11 but17 red
The thing about United is that they know how good they are and, 2-0 ahead and
into their rhythm, they will swarm all over you. I know, I've been there and
it can be an intimidating experience and incredibly difficult to play
Whenever Albion got the ball they were under immediate and intense pressure;
United, it seemed, had all the time in the world.
At that point I felt they could run away with it and so I give full marks to
Albion for sticking to their task and hitting back to make a game of it over
the final phases.
That, I am sure, has left Bryan Robson with some serious thinking to do about
how he now approaches the spread of fixtures which will be vital.
For me, this was a 'free' game. Albion had nothing to lose because no-one
would have expected them to win and I was a touch surprised that Robbo didn't
'go for it' from the outset.
I know that he has settled on this way of playing, with my old Arsenal mate
Kevin Campbell rolling back the years as a lone striker, and I can see some of
the logic behind the tactic.
Take a look at the goal differences of the teams among the relegation scrap
and they are all within range of each other. In that situation, one bad
afternoon getting put to the sword could be the difference between staying up and
But I look at the game very simply. How many Albion players would get in the
United side? The answer, I'm afraid, is none. So by playing the percentages,
the most likely outcome was always going to be a United win.
Albion had to do something to shake it up, to surprise United and knock them
out of their stride.
I would have opted for the arrival of Nathan Ellington and Kanu after
half-time, for Kevin and Jan Kozak, who I felt was having a tough time of it.
Unfortunately, by the time those changes came, Diomansy Kamara had been lost to
injury and Robbo lost that vital element of pace.
He must now decide whether to stick with his 4-5-1 or - especially in the
nothing-to-lose battles with Liverpool and Arsenal - take a risk or two. As
always, it's easy to talk about, much more difficult to make the call.
Finally, I was amazed with Curtis Davies's Man of the Match shout from the
sponsors. Were they watching the game?
He was too easily pulled out of position by the movement of Saha and Rooney
and made vital errors in the build-up to both goals. I know the lad has a
bright future - but this was an afternoon when he was reminded he has much to
learn to cope with the very best in the Premiership.
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