If last year’s trip to the self-titled ‘Theatre of Dreams’ is anything to go by, Saturday’s road trip promises to be an interesting one.
I say interesting… come 4:55 on Saturday afternoon I could well be searching for an altogether different adjective to open my match report, but I’ll run with ‘interesting’ for now.
The abiding memory of last season’s visit to the red half was not the performance of Lambert’s boys – although it was typically gung-ho and gutsy – but the magnificent way the Yellow Army responded to the austere surroundings. Whisper it quietly, because how very dare they, but some brave neutrals suggested that those few thousand in yellow and green out-performed 70,000 of Manchester’s finest – prawn sandwiches et al.
They certainly took the plaudits – particularly from Manchester’s blue half – for the pièce de résistance of their repertoire that day: the modern standard… “We’ve come for our scarves…” For those not lucky enough, to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” (obviously), the lyrics are thus…
“We’ve come for our scarves; we’ve come for our scarves,
We’re Norwich City; we’ve come for our scarves”
And while I’m not aware that any of said prawn sandwich army did actually hand over their ill-conceived, but beautifully coloured, attire (how amusing would it have been to see them being ceremonially handed back) support for the ‘green and gold until the club is sold’ movement does appear to have waned a little. Or to put it another way… when you watch United on Match of the Day there are fewer green and yellow scarves than there used to be.
Either way, the Yellow Army’s tongue in cheek message set the tone perfectly for a rip-roaring afternoon that saw City lose 2-0, but not before they’d given Fergie and his foot soldiers a real scare. In fact, but for a little profligacy and some ill-fortune, Anthony Pilkington could well have departed the ‘Theatre’ with both a match ball and three points tucked up his sleeve – and what a fitting reward for that would have been for the magnificence of the travelling faithful.
As it happened of course, two goals inside the last 22 minutes – Anderson and Welbeck – negated the need for Sir Alex to turn his book of excuses (as described beautifully by Ed Couzens-Lake). Instead we were treated to a condescending, slightly patronising… “We deserved to win because we had the most pressure and we tried to win the game as we always do. But even when it went to 1-0 they still had a go and opened up their game, and it became a very good game in the last 20 minutes.”
Correct me if I’m wrong… but the “we tried to win the game” comment implied that City didn’t try to win it; parked the bus even. All about as far removed from the truth as is possible (this is Lambert’s team we’re talking about after all) but provides a neat little snapshot of what we – and others who dare to have a game plan – are up against when we enter Fergie’s Den.
Turn up with a smile, marvel at the surroundings, be grateful to be there and enjoy the occasion by all means, but do so with a game plan that may involve defending in numbers at times? Not a great idea unless you’re prepared to risk the famous wrath of Sir Alex.
Quite what the ruddy-faced one will make of Chris Hughton’s two banks of four (possibly a four and a five if we revert to one up-top) will clearly depend on the result, but given City’s rediscovered solidity there may well be long periods of hard core gum chewing in evidence on Saturday afternoon.
With the forecast showing a 95% chance of prolonged spells of United pressure, much will naturally depend on Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner’s ability to organise themselves, their full-backs and those in front of them. If they can somehow do to Rooney, Hernandez and co what they did so successfully to Fellaini and Jelavic then maybe, just maybe, City can ‘do a job’ on the Champions-elect in the way they so gloriously did back in November.
With Fergie well-known as a grudge holder, his team talk is virtually guaranteed to contain the phrase ‘owe them one’ – the 1-0 win at Carrow Road has surely made Saturday’s task that little bit more difficult – but with it being just three days prior to their finely balanced return leg with Real Madrid one suspects one or two may be rested in preparation.
With Robin van Persie still recovering from a grapple with a Loftus Road TV camera bunker, logic says he will be one of the ‘restees’ – although, with the element of surprise being a key part of the Ferguson armoury, Hughton’s carefully conceived plan will no doubt contain a few RVP related caveats.
In Hansen speak United’s home form has been little short of sensational, so to come away with anything will require something special – but given the said proximity to their Champions League tie there have been worse times to play them.
Either way, we know the Yellow Army will make Saturday an occasion to remember; let’s just hope Fergie is forced to decry the sheer audacity of City as they nick a point or three.
And let’s not forget to bring home those scarves this time…
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