Look ref – here’s what you do…
Yesterday’s entertaining draw at White Hart Lane featured a Spurs team trying to recover from their six-goal hiding at Man City last time out, and a Man U team which featured Wayne Rooney, who should have been absent suspended after his wild kick at Cardiff last week, the type of foul for which only a Man U shirt will exempt the offender from a richly-deserved red card. Rooney, let us not forget, scored twice at Cardiff when he should by rights have been wallowing in self-pity and an early bath. And he scored twice again at Spurs, one of them a traditionally dodgy penalty as Welbeck somehow managed to hit the arm of keeper Lloris with his trailing leg and collapse like a house of cards – as per the kind of training drills they’ve provided at Carrington and the Cliff for years now.
The four goals Rooney has scored, when he shouldn’t have been on the pitch at all, have garnered the Pride of Devon 2 points that might well otherwise have been none. David Moyes therefore has the nervousness of referees to thank for there not being a great deal more pressure on him this morning. It was a factor that had often come to the aid of his curmudgeonly predecessor. Plus ça change…
Spurs had taken the lead twice, firstly from a zippy Kyle Walker free-kick blasted along the ground under the defensive wall. The Man U defenders had jumped in anticipation of something quite different, ending up politely letting Walker’s effort through to beat an unsighted de Gea. The second Tottenham goal was a real beauty, Sandro looking up and striking a violent shot which soared into the net under the angle of post and crossbar, leaving the keeper rooted to the spot.
In between the two Tottenham strikes, Walker had gone from hero to zero when a cross ball into the Spurs area hit him too briskly for him to control it and bounced fortuitously into the path of Rooney (who shouldn’t have been playing). Sandro’s goal was worthy of deciding any match, any time, anywhere. It was so good that Man U should really have put their hands up and said, ok – fair enough. Instead, spoilsports that they are, they waited only three minutes before playing their penalty joker. As Welbeck hit the ground, referee Dean had already sprung eagerly into life, risking muscle injury in his haste to sprint towards the penalty spot where he stood, quivering with virtue and resolution as he pointed for the award that was a foregone conclusion. And Rooney – who should have been back home in Manchester – blasted his penalty down the middle to deny Spurs the win they probably deserved.
After the match, AVB – a man who has been under the cosh all week – was a mixture of defiant and philosophical. He dismissed the rantings of the gutter rags with admirable contempt, not being drawn into any discussion of the scorn heaped upon his head since the disaster at the Etihad. As for the Man U penalty, he simply shrugged and pointed out that he’s seen their players hang a leg out to win penalties before. He knows, as we all do, that these are the penalties refs will always give at the end Man U are attacking, just as the ones they give in the area they’re defending are as common as hens’ teeth. It’s the way of the world – and you could empathise with the Spurs manager’s wearily resigned acceptance of it. But rival managers must surely be heartily sick of this ridiculous quirk of the game by now. It’s been over twenty years, and the wonder is that, even with such a helpful wind at their backs, Man U have somehow contrived not to be champions on several occasions. That’s like tossing a double-headed coin and calling “tails”.
For all that it could have been worse for Man U, had Rooney been dismissed last week as he should have been, and had Welbeck been booked for deliberately tripping over the keeper’s hapless arm yesterday, as he should have been – still, two points from two away games is not vintage stuff. But it’s two more than they should have had, and those nicked points might just count at the end of the season – even if it’s only to get Man U into the Europa League ahead of the likes of Newcastle.
Managers come and go, but some things never change, it seems – and so the fading champions are “only” nine points behind Arsenal, who looked irresistible at Cardiff. There’s a long way to go yet – and surely there won’t be a defender’s gift and a soft penalty for Man U every week? Watch this space.