Sunday 11 December 2016

Red Devils' heritage in the mire on sad night in muddy Meadow

Jim White

Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30

'For Louis van Gaal there was no resting his key players ahead of more important fixtures. The FA Cup represents United’s most likely route to a trophy this season' Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates
'For Louis van Gaal there was no resting his key players ahead of more important fixtures. The FA Cup represents United’s most likely route to a trophy this season' Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates

Outside the Greenhous Meadow stadium a couple of hours before kick-off an excited group of locals had gathered to watch the Manchester United team arriving.

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This was the big time landing in Shropshire, autograph books were at the ready, mobiles switched to selfie mode.

Then the bus arrived and the gathering swell of expectation swiftly disappeared as the visitors stepped off and headed for the dressing room.

The club of George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham, of household names and international faces, the club that, as the United Calypso sung endlessly by their supporters insists, demands that when they are playing in your town you head straight to the football ground, is now represented by Guillermo Valera, Joe Riley and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

And this was the best available United side. Unlike Manuel Pellegrini, Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino, for Louis van Gaal there was no resting his key players ahead of more important fixtures. The FA Cup represents United's most likely route to a trophy this season.

Besides, Van Gaal's decision to strip the squad to its basics at the start of the season has left him with little options now he is in the midst of an injury crisis. So the manager put out the best 11 he could muster.

Back in 1993, Alex Ferguson drew questions in the House of Commons from an irate Stoke MP who angrily accused the United boss of defrauding paying customers for fielding a side of unknowns in a cup tie at Port Vale.

That those youngsters included Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers was an irony presumably beyond the honourable member.

The only defrauding on a cold Shropshire night was of the heritage of a grand old club.

If this was the best he could muster, no wonder Van Gaal's job is under unrelenting threat.

The ground was packed as the home support sensed an upset. Just a shame no-one communicated that urgency to the players.

Instead of discomforting the visitors, Micky Mellon's players treated them with a deference bordering on the sycophantic, politely declining to do anything like closing down, tackling or applying any attacking threat whatsoever.

Not that initially United could accrue much advantage from the hospitality of their hosts.

For the first half hour, possession was not matched by execution, a period of inertia that culminated in a moment that encapsulated the reign of Van Gaal.

Looping

After winning a free-kick on the edge of the Shrewsbury area, United's Memphis and Juan Mata stood on the ball, while Antony Martial, Chris Smalling and Morgan Schneiderlin lined up five yards beyond the wall.

Memphis shot, the ball looping over the Shrewsbury wall, before, to the huge amusement of the local crowd, it hit Martial on the head and scooped several yards over the bar.

This was the philosophy in action. Like van Gaal's attempt to drink from a water bottle without squirting himself in the eye, it was comically inept, leaving you wondering why anyone might think building a second defensive line would do anything other than keep the ball away from the goal.

But no matter the incompetence, Shrewsbury's cowed refusal to take the fight to their elevated visitors gave Van Gaal's side an unbeatable opportunity to relax, even finishing the game with ten men.

Independent News Service

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