Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shrewsbury Town v Manchester United - FA Cup 5th round review

The hype levels before this game were high. Shrewsbury had won their fourth round game against Sheffield Wednesday with a dramatic seventh-minute-of-injury-time winner. Manchester United have had a tricky season, including a Europa League defeat the previous Thursday to Danish champions Midtjylland. Manager Louis Van Gaal was "under pressure". They had a lot of injuries. Town fans could be forgiven for hoping for an upset - llike my Dad, who was interviewed for the Shropshire Star as he queued for tickets last week.

Dad gets internet famous

The ground was packed, as it had been for the Chelsea game back in October 2014. Outside, dubious purveyors of hastily produced half and half scarfs and other souvenir tat were touting their ways in the retail park we walked through to the ground. We had to queue to get in through the turnstiles a good half an hour before kick off. Such things are almost unheard of at the Meadow.

It was a cold night, but there's always something magical about a packed evening under the floodlights. This was the 50th Manchester United FA Cup game in a row that had been live on TV, and the third televised game I'd been to in a row, including Shrewsbury's round 3 win in Cardiff. The back of our stand had several cameras set up and the three sides opposite us had temporary electronic advertising boards set up - another novelty for Town fans.

I was down in block 18 where the more shouty fans stand at the back. There were some good chants, but unfortunately we were in front of a very loud mouthy bloke who just wanted to swear at the United players. In the first half he shouted racist ("Pikeys!"), sexist ("Get up you girl") and homophobic ("You ponce") abuse at them, along with generous use of the word "wankers". He was seriously draining and I was relieved that he turned out to have a small bladder and needed to keep going to the toilet. Having to put up with tiresome idiots like that makes football a drag sometimes. In the end, I ended up laughing at him with my brother and the friend we were with. It's just so ineffectual - what difference is spewing rage to the point of giving yourself an aneurysm going to make, I mean, really?

The away end was full. The 'Shrewsbury Reds' and 'Telford Reds' banners attracted a bit more ire from the crowd and chants of 'We support our local team.' I didn't join in with that chant as I'd driven 110 miles for a 'home' game and so I don't support my local team. (Not that I want to see them do poorly, or anything, but, you know how it is, they aren't the team I support.)

For some reason Manchester United opted to wear a white change strip. Our guess was it was for commercial reasons rather than a kit clash. Even though they did look like a knock off Tranmere Rovers, it was painfully clear they were a cut above within a few minutes. Juan Mata, in particular, oozed class. They passed the ball through Shrewsbury and had forced a clearance practically off the line and couple of good saves before they finally got the first goal about ten minutes before half time. Shrewsbury couldn't cope with the pace and the overlapping and a ball diagonally upfield was thumped home by Chris Smalling, the central defender who had stayed in the Shrewsbury half after a corner with nobody tracking him.

At this point there was all to play for

Just before half time Juan Mata dinked a free kick from just outside the box over the wall and into the unoccupied side of the goal and that was effectively game over. There's been a bit of a discussion about the Manchester United players standing behind the wall. Were they offside? Were they interfering with play? It doesn't really make a difference. You shouldn't trip opponents on the edge of the penalty box and give away free kicks.

Town only had time to kick off before the ref blew for the break. In the second half, Town switched to 4-4-2 and showed a bit more fight, even creating a chance in the United penalty area. Unfortunately then the visitors broke downfield and Jesse Lingard hammered in a third goal for them at the end of a lovely weighted pass.

After a couple more squandered chances, United also hit the post, although the substitute who struck the woodwork seemed to pull up with a groin strain after his shot and limped off soon after. So for the last fifteen minutes or so United were down to ten men as they had already used all their substitutes. This made the game slightly more equal and Shrewsbury had a couple of chances in the final ten minutes or so, including a free header from Abu Ogogo which went wide when it looked easier to get it on target.

Realistically, though the game was long dead as a contest and United saw out the game the way you'd expect from a top five team, completely regardless of the pointless bloke in row P's opinion regarding their self-pleasuring habits.

A blurred action shot from the second half

So, what went wrong for Town? Compared to the Chelsea game back in 2014, I felt this showed how the team this year is poorer than last season's, despite going up a division. Town had quite a clear out in January with experienced club captain Liam Lawrence moving to Bristol Rovers and several other more senior players moving on. Realistically, Town missed a wise head like Lawrence's in the middle of the park.

The young lads Town sold in the summer have not been replaced with players of similar quality and this game showed actually how good players like Ryan Woods and Connor Goldson were. Jack Grimmer and Junior Brown both played very well, and I thought Andy Mangan had a decent game, but like the rest of the team they were chasing shadows most of the time, second to the loose ball and unable to cope with a fluid opponent who kept moving and finding space.

So it was bit disappointing. It didn't feel like Shrewsbury gave much of an account of themselves and the scoreline may even have been generous to them. They could have lost by more. Of course, other teams with fewer stars and less quality than Manchester United have found Town pretty easy to beat this year - at one point the Shrewsbury fans sang "You're nothing special. We lose every week." It's just a shame they couldn't lose more gallantly.

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