Man United 4v1 West Ham – League Cup Review & Arsenal Preview

Looking back and forward. How will West Ham react to midweek disappointment against Arsenal?

Carroll ArsenalI began my preview of the Manchester United League Cup game with the title “West Ham in the League Cup”. I could have titled the review of the game “West Ham no longer in the League Cup.” And from the second minute of the game I knew we were on our way out of the competition. I continued to watch throughout in the hope that I would be wrong, but despite equalising late in the first half, and going in level at half time, I just could not be my usual optimistic self, and my fears came to fruition with a second half performance even more abject than the first, and that takes some doing. We could easily have been 4-1 down at half time, let alone at full time.

I was pleased for Fletcher scoring the goal in front of the Stretford end, and enjoyed listening to our magnificent away support singing “he’s one of your own”. When they were coming through the youth ranks in Manchester, apparently Fletcher was considered more highly than Rashford, and I hope that, in time, he is given the opportunities. I thought that Fernandes once again showed promise, and remain convinced that he will turn out to be an excellent acquisition. I’m not really sure about any of our other summer signings. Masuaku could be an OK squad player as backup for Cresswell, and Ayew hasn’t really got going yet. Where was he at Old Trafford? Was he injured, or just being saved for Arsenal this weekend?

And talking of injuries, our run of bad luck (if it is bad luck and nothing to do with the preparation and conditioning of our players) continues. I just hope that the withdrawal of Cresswell and Antonio were precautionary, but at the time of writing I’ve not read anything so don’t know if they will be available against Arsenal.

Only West Ham can seem to make Rooney look like Messi, when for much of the season he has looked a pale shadow of the player he once was. I hate to see him berating referees, and reckon he is lucky to stay on the field on so many occasions, mainly I think because of his reputation, and position as England captain.

Our defending was shocking, and although Manchester United were clearly up for the game and attacked us at pace, I was disappointed by the ease with which we were opened up. For me the 3-4-3 formation, whilst it worked initially, has to be abandoned. In any event we need to be able to adjust tactics to suit the opposition we are playing, even in mid-game when plan A is not working. It’s hard to believe that our manager, and one of the first team coaches (Dicks), were such excellent defenders at the club, yet fail to inspire a defence that has conceded more goals in the Premier League than most other teams.

You couldn’t fault Adrian for any of the goals, but for me Randolph is the safer bet, and is less prone to error. I noticed that one of the many hundreds of players that we are being linked with at the moment is Joe Hart. I can recall twice in our history we’ve set a new world record when buying a keeper, Ferguson in the sixties and Parkes in the seventies. Although the first didn’t turn out to be a great success, Phil Parkes was probably the best keeper I’ve seen at West Ham. Wouldn’t it be good if our owners showed some intent, broke the bank, and once again bought a really top class keeper. I don’t know if any would come, but the best I’ve seen in recent years is Butland at Stoke.

The Payet debate continues on social media with many, including some ex-players, believing that he doesn’t look interested and wants to leave in January. He was certainly largely at fault for their second (and crucial early second half) goal, and didn’t have one of his better games, but then how many of the team did?

As for Zaza, his cameo included a shot from around twelve yards that went out for a throw-in (at the edge of the penalty area!), and completely missing the ball when he could reasonably have expected to have put a header on goal. If ever there was a player lower on confidence I’ve yet to see him. Feghouli has failed to live up to his initial promise, and had two late chances, but criminally failed to hit the target from good positions.

Obiang, once again, demonstrated that he is the best midfielder at the club, certainly from a defensive viewpoint, and for me should always be the first name on the teamsheet. Quite how he was overlooked for so long continues to baffle me. I presume Mark Noble will be back for the Arsenal game, though, much as I admire him in so many ways, I’m not sure that this would in the best interests of the team.

I think that if Carroll is fit then he will play, just because it is Arsenal, and he scares the living daylights out of their defenders. But he will be massively rusty and I wouldn’t necessarily expect too much, nor a full 90 minutes. If he does play then I would hate to see him isolated a long way from the midfield. He would be a much better proposition playing alongside another striker, although I can’t see that happening, especially against Arsenal, where Bilic will want to try to match them in midfield.

Personally I’d much prefer to see us play with four at the back, but in the absence of a decent right back (any news on Byram by the way?), I reckon Bilic will stick to the same three, although we could easily be torn apart by Ozil, and more importantly, the movement of Sanchez.

I haven’t got a crystal ball but reckon Bilic might pick the following team on Saturday if they are all fit:

Kouyate, Reid, Ogbonna,
Antonio, Noble, Obiang, Cresswell,
Ayew, Carroll, Payet.

It would be a shame if this is the case as I would like to see places for Fernandes, Lanzini and Fletcher. They are three players that I believe will be very much part of our future, and they do add pace and urgency to the team, which has been sadly lacking for much of this season.

On recent form it’s hard to be too optimistic, but I’ll go for a 2-2 draw.

5 Painful Points from the Old Trafford Sequel

The litany of lacklustre league cup exits just got a little longer.

5 Things WHUYet Another Tame Cup Exit

Yet again a promising cup run comes to an end in the most disappointing way. Not that away to Manchester United was ever going to be easy. And that the cause was helped by having held them to a draw a few days earlier leaving the hosts with a feeling that they had something to prove. No, it wasn’t simply the fact that West Ham are now out of a competition that was probably the best chance of silverware it was the manner of the surrender that has created such disappointment and disquiet. It is difficult to find any positives in the game with the possible exception of Ashley Fletcher’s first goal for West Ham.  Otherwise it was a lame, tame, feeble performance.

Look Through Any Window

Much has been said already about the outcome of the terrible summer transfer window and there I was believing that we had poached a hot-shot head of recruitment from Everton. There are possibly one or two for the future in the assorted incomings but none has served ti improve the first team. The only silver lining is that common sense prevailed and that Zaza and Tore ended up as loan deals rather than parting with £30 million plus for theor services. Our stock in being able to attract players before the season would have been reasonably high but now, out of Europe and looking at a relegation battle, it is a much less attractive proposition for potential transfer targets. The worry is that we will need to shell out for short term fire-fighters to get out of a hole at the expense of continued squad improvement. It would be a big surprise to me if Payet is still at the club in January; maybe it would be a good time to cash-in (it’s what Arsenal would do) but the worry is that modern day Rigobert Songs and Titi Camaras would be the type of players bought with the proceeds.

Less Than the Sum of the Parts

We had played reasonably well on Sunday but then so poorly just a few days later. Same ground, same opposition, same formation and with only minor personnel changes. How does a team go from being organised and disciplined to amateur and shambolic in such a short space of time? Bad attitude or bad coaching? The 3 at the back formation was instigated to fix a particular defensive problem, had some initial success but is now looking very unconvincing when taking account of the players that we have at our disposal. It might have looked a good option for the defence but ignored what would happen in front of it. The system/ formation is not a good fit, players do not look comfortable with it and it does not allow some to perform to their strengths. A club that has such blatant gaps in its squad strength (right back and striker) in a multi-million pound industry raises some serious questions as to how it is governed.

Careful What You Wish For

We were careful what we wished for and got ourselves an ex-player as manager who performed commendably well in his first season even though it was characterised by over-performing against big clubs and under-performing against the others. Most of the goodwill earned, however, has dribbled away in the opening months of this campaign. On the evidence of the season to date the coaching staff do not score highly on the team’s motivation, discipline, fitness or organisation. Add to that some bizarre transfers, team selections and substitutions then the level of confidence in their ability is trending relentlessly downwards. Perhaps it is not yet time for hysteria but I’d be removing the glass from the panic button just in case.

Turning Down The Volume

The Owners have come in for a lot of stick about the shortcomings of bringing new players into the club. Personally, I don’t like the way that they appear to do so much of their business in public, giving it large in the press and on Twitter as to who the targets are and how much wedge is in our war chest. On the other hand I don’t think that it’s a case of money not being made available. For a club our size the net spend is significant in circumstances where we have had no big-money exits in many years.  If rumour is to be believed it was Sullivan who vetoed the straight transfers of Zaza and Tore which at least shows some good judgement. Overall I still believe that they have done a great job for the club, but wish they would do it more quietly.

Matchday: Episode 2 Mancs versus West Ham

Here we go again with a second consecutive awayday at Old Trafford.

MAN WHU EFL CupIt is relatively rare these days to play the same team twice in successive matches as West Ham visit Old Trafford for the second time in four days.  It was a more common phenomenon in the past where home and away fixtures against the same club were scheduled during the Christmas and Easter holidays or when drawn weekend cup matches were replayed on the following Tuesday or Wednesday.

To the best of my knowledge West Ham meeting the same opponents in successive cup and league fixtures has occurred 5 times previously this century: January 2002 v Chelsea (Lost, Draw); April 2006 v Middlesbro (Lost, Won in FA Cup semi-final); December 2007 v Everton (Lost, Lost); January 2008 v Manchester City (Lost, Draw) and March 2011 v Stoke City (Won, Lost).  History suggests that by not winning on Sunday we have given ourselves a better chance tonight.

Head to Head

The head to head record is little changed since the weekend.

































Team News

Predicting lineups for League Cup games has become very difficult with selection contingent on how seriously the respective managers view the competition in the context of their overall season.  It is a potential route into Europe; probably the most promising one for the Hammers while Mourinho’s hubris will ensure his mind remains confident of Champion’s League qualification.

“If we change a few players like United will, it doesn’t mean we are going there just to play a game.It is a quarter-final and to reach the semis is a big thing and we are just a couple of games from the final.”

– Slaven Bilic

Diafro Sakho is back in the treatment room with a hamstring injury while Winston Reid is available again after a one match suspension.  Once more an Andy Carroll return has been rumoured but my instinct is that the Arsenal game is a more realistic target for him.  The alternating goalkeeper’s rule should mean Adrian between the sticks and I would guess at starts for Reid, Fernandes, Ayew and Fletcher.

Pogba and Fellaini are suspended for Manchester United following their yellow cards in Sunday’s encounter.

The Man in the Middle

A first meeting of the season with referee Mike Jones from Chester. Jones was in charge of two West Ham away fixtures last season at Norwich (D 2-2) and Stoke (L 1-2).   Jones has officiated 10 games this season issuing 36 yellow cards and 2 red ones – an impressive 9 of these yellows coming in last weekend’s Arsenal versus Bournemouth game.

Man United v West Ham – League Cup Preview

West Ham in the League Cup

League Cup Programmes

I know that the competition has had a number of names over the years according to the particular sponsors at the time, but to me it has always been the League Cup. The current title, the EFL Cup, sounds to me just like a trendy attempt to use initials to jazz up interest in, what, after all, is traditionally the minor competition in the English football calendar. I can never understand why so many clubs treat it comparatively flippantly, because in many ways it is the easiest of the trophies to win, and winning it is a passport into Europe for the following season.

Clubs like ourselves, who were in Europe this season (albeit briefly in our case), received a bye into round 3, and by winning two home games against Accrington Stanley and Chelsea, now find ourselves in round 5, which is the quarter-finals. Get through this round and you are into a two-legged semi-final with the prospect of a trip to Wembley for the winner. Effectively you only have to beat five other clubs to land the trophy.

Now I am old enough to remember the competition starting in 1960-61. It had a controversial beginning and some of the bigger clubs in the Football League didn’t even enter at first. And though it gained surprisingly more popularity than a lot thought it would, many teams even today use the early rounds in particular to give a run out to squad players who wouldn’t necessarily be first choice for Premier League games.

From the outset of the competition we always fielded strong sides, and it is only comparatively recently that we haven’t gone flat out in the early rounds to try to progress. In 1960-61 the side we put out against Darlington was virtually identical to the team that had scored five goals in a Division One game just two days earlier, and the one that put six goals past Arsenal less than a fortnight later. Nevertheless we still managed an ignominious defeat at the hands of a lower division team (3-2), something we have managed to do consistently in our 56 attempts to win this competition. Throughout the years we have been beaten by football giants such as Rotherham, Huddersfield, Stockport (twice), Barnsley, Luton, Oldham (twice), Oxford, Crewe, Northampton, Chesterfield, Aldershot, Wigan, and most recently, Sheffield United. Nottingham Forest have eliminated us four times!

We have been knocked out in Round One on one occasion, Round Two eleven times, Round Three nineteen times, and Round Four ten times. That means we have reached the quarter-final on 15 previous occasions, and our trip to Old Trafford is number 16. Of those 15, we have gone out at the quarter-final stage just six times, and progressed further in nine, which is a decent enough record. But in our nine semi-finals we have only reached the final twice, losing to West Brom in the last of the two-legged finals in 1965-66 (the following year the final was held at Wembley for the first time), and then in a replay to Liverpool in 1980-81, when we were a second tier team taking on the best club in England at the time. That was Liverpool’s first win of the League Cup trophy, but they have gone on to dominate since, and have won it the most times (8).

Of all the players in our current squad, only Noble and Sakho had scored a goal in this competition in previous seasons. Noble scored in the two-legged semi-final in 2010-11 when we went out to Birmingham, and Sakho found the net when we were eliminated by Sheffield United on penalties the season before last. Of course, Payet, Kouyate and Fernandes have all notched a goal this time around. Players of yester-year, on the other hand, managed quite a few goals in League Cup games, with six reaching double figures, Cross and Goddard (12), Stewart (14), Byrne (15), Cottee (18), and Geoff Hurst the most prolific, notching 43 goals in just 47 League Cup appearances.

However, I’ll always remember the penalty Geoff Hurst had saved by Gordon Banks in the final minutes of the semi-final second leg against Stoke in 1971-72. If that had gone in we would have been through to the final (probably). As it was, in the days before penalty shoot-outs, that epic semi-final tie took four games to settle before we lost 3-2 in the dramatic second replay, even though Bobby Moore saved a penalty when taking over in goal from the injured Ferguson (no substitute keepers in those days!).

This is only the third time we have ever faced Manchester United in the League Cup. In our record breaking season of 1985-86, they knocked us out 1-0 in Round 3, whereas on 30 November 2010 (exactly six years ago today, when it was called the Carling Cup) we famously beat them 4-0 in the quarter-final on a freezing night at Upton Park, with a brace apiece for Jonathan Spector and Carlton Cole.

It is 22 years since we last lost a game on the final day of November. Since then we’ve won three and drawn one, with 10 goals scored and only two conceded. And who can ever forget November 30 1988, when we famously put four past Liverpool in a League Cup fourth round game?

It would be great to progress to another semi-final, and then we could even begin to dream of another trip to Wembley. Manchester United are not the force of old, and I am looking forward to us repeating our promising visit there last Sunday, but this time returning with a victory.

5 Reflections from West Ham @ Old Trafford

Trying to make sense of the encouraging improvement at Old Trafford.

5 Things WHUPerformance & Selection

Taking everything into account the performance on Sunday was a pleasing one. Manchester United may not be the greatest team at the moment but they have a squad of very talented (and expensive) players. Whether Mourinho can mould them into a great team remains to be seen. West Ham gave a good account of themselves and were ahead before a Manchester player had taken a meaningful touch of the ball. The fatalist in me felt that we had scored too early and when Ibrahimović was allowed a soft equaliser it was easy to imagine the floodgates opening. But we stuck to the task and despite their dominance of possession were restricted to a few cut and dried goal-scoring opportunities. Some fine performances where my standout players were Randolph, Kouyate, Obiang, Payet and Sakho. Yet again Obiang was excellent and the delay in him being given the chance to secure a regular start leaves me scratching my head.

A Deserved Result

Football reporting is largely presented in black and white terms with a narrative that big club should beat little club and if they don’t it is because of big club’s shortcomings rather than the small club’s skill, resilience or determination. Allied to this there is the concept of the ‘deserved result’ which has been debated on social media in the aftermath of our game. MOTD pundits Martin Keown and Trevor Sinclair had declared the result a fair one while Twittering Robbie Savage disagreed stating that the outcome was due solely to Manchester’s wastefulness in front of goal. The Mourinho spin for Manchester United’s mid table position is that they are the unluckiest team in the history of the game. There could be a case to argue if incorrect refereeing decisions kept going against you (as they did with West Ham last season) that you have been the victim of misfortune; but if it is simply your players not being able to do there job effectively (e.g. by converting goal-scoring opportunities) then this is a reflection of ability or coaching rather than luck. As Mourinho seems to believe that every decision given against his team is an incorrect one then he will never be able to accept that he gets what he deserves.

A Passing Conundrum

Leicester won the league last year in a manner where they invariably had less possession than the opposition during games. A misinterpretation of this statistic might lead the foolish coach to instruct his side to lose possession as soon as possible in order to improve the chances of winning the game. It would be a comical tactic and yet our attempts at keeping the ball frequently appear as if this is something we strive for. It is difficult to decide if this sorry state is due to poor technique and decision making by the passer or insufficient movement in providing options by potential receivers. Perhaps I view West Ham through a more critical lens but I don’t believe any other Premier League side has such difficulty in ball retention or ends up playing it back to the keeper so often. It is one thing to use the keeper under pressure but not because you have run out of ideas. Experience tells us that it is rare for a punt up field from the keeper, or even a central defender for that matter, leading to anything constructive.  If we are going to pick up the points we need from games against the less glamorous clubs (an issue both this and last season) then we have to greatly improve ball retention.

One Up Front

It had been an encouraging return for Diafra Sakho up until his latest injury setback and he finally provided an opportunity to celebrate a goal from a striker when he headed home Dimitri Payet’s free kick. The striker situation at West Ham has been a perplexing one where the supposed no-stone-unturned search for a goal scoring forward has been confounded by not having a clear profile of the type of player sought. Our current style of play is based upon one up front and in the modern game that ‘one’ needs to have pace, energy, strength and mobility. Sakho is by far our best option for this role at the moment. If we are really on the lookout for reinforcement up front it needs someone with his attributes but with a more reliable fitness and goal scoring record. It is difficult to see how an Andy Carroll fits into such a system; it brings with it a far more predictable style of play and for optimum effectiveness requires the presence of a second striker to pick up the pieces. This is precisely the reason why Benteke was seen as surplus to requirements at Liverpool given the fluid style now being successfully employed by Klopp; and it was very worrying to hear Bilic say that he was an admirer of the Belgian.

As for Sakho it was impossible to tell from his demeanour if fences have been mended and he is now back committed to the West Ham cause or whether his efforts were an advertisement to potential suitors.

Good is the Enemy of Great

There is a saying that ‘good is the enemy of great’. It alludes to the fact that people are often prepared to accept competence rather than always working harder and striving for better. We are good, we are not the worst, what is there to worry about? It is a state of mind long associated with West Ham particularly as the self-styled family club more at home with ex-players in the dugout and local lads on the pitch. A number of times in our history we have been on the verge of great but decided to stick. In some ways it is admirable to display loyalty but is not a good fit with success in the modern game where sentiment is a thing of the past. This is how I view the Mark Noble situation. He is a good player but could never be great due to several significant limitations. I don’t dislike him in any way (and have always loved his passion and commitment) but those limitations are becoming more apparent the more intense the game becomes. I would love him to prove me wrong but, on current form, he is very fortunate to get a starting berth; local lad or not.

This Week in Hammer’s History

Re-living some special League Cup memories from the week 28 November to 4 December.

This Week Hammers HistoryThis week we are going to gloss over a 7-0 defeat at Hillsborough by Sheffield Wednesday in 1959 and a 5-2 reverse at Tranmere in 1992 to focus our attention on famous League Cup exploits that have taken place between 28 November and 4 December in Hammer’s history.  It’s your own cut out and keep League Cup supplement.

The 1980/81 season was one of the most memorable and successful ever for the Hammers.  Although consigned to the second division at the time West Ham boasted a top flight team and were well on course for promotion when they came up against Tottenham in a quarter final tie on a frosty evening in early December.  West Ham had won each or their last 13 home games and after a slow start to the match began to get the better of their close neighbours whose lineup included Hoddle, Ardiles and Villa.  With less than 10 minutes left and still scoreless Brooking was put through on goal but his shot was blocked by out-rushing keeper Barry Daines in the Spurs goal.  The ball broke loose to the right hand side of the penalty area where running away from goal David Cross chipped the ball delightfully in at the far post to score his 21st goal of the season.  Cue pandemonium and one more famous victory over the north Londoners.

Parkes, Stewart, Bonds, Martin, Lampard, Holland, Pike, Brooking, Devonshire, Cross, Goddard

On 30 November 1988, second from bottom West Ham entertained high flying current champions Liverpool at Upton Park in a 4th round tie.  It turned out to be another memorable occasion under the floodlights and, in particular, for Paul Ince who scored two first half goals (an excellent volley and a deft header) to set the Hammers on their way.  Liverpool pulled one back from the penalty spot (how else could they beat Allen McKnight) before half time but a bizarre Steve Staunton headed own goal restored West Ham’s two goal advantage.  The scoring was then completed courtesy of a Tony Gale Payet-esque free kick that had been awarded after Nigel Spackman tried to remove Julian Dicks head with his boot.  The Hammers securing an unlikely 4-1 victory on the night.

McKnight, Potts, Dicks, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Brady, Kelly, Rosenior, Dickens, Ince

On the very same day but 22 years later it was top versus bottom as Manchester United were the visitors to Upton Park for a 5th round tie against Avram Grant’s erratic side.  Manchester United were the holders of the then Carling Cup and came into the match unbeaten in domestic competition that season and off the back of a 7-1 annihilation of Blackburn Rovers the previous weekend.  The match was played in what journalists like to call ‘arctic conditions’ and after some early scares Super Jonny Spector took centre stage to notch a first half brace (the American’s first goals in English football) against his former club.  In the second half two well take goals from Carlton Cole made it a wonderful 4-0 humiliation of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and leaving Sir Alex even more red in the face than usual through embarrassment and cold.

Green, Faubert, Tomkins (Reid), Upson, Ben Haim, Barrera (Hines), Kovac, Spector,  Boa Morte, Cole (Stanislas), Obinna 

So maybe 30 November is an auspicious date for successful League Cup encounters as we prepare for episode two of the Old Trafford series on Wednesday.  Just bear in mind that West Ham were relegated in both the 1988/89 and 2010/11 seasons.

A more personal memory was one where I failed to observe my unwritten rule of never attending matches with supporters of the opposing team.  This was in November 2000 when I took two work colleagues from Sheffield to watch second division Wednesday play West Ham at Upton Park.  This was the first home game after the sale of Rio to Leeds and featured the debut of cut-price replacement Rigobert Song.  With Di Canio in full flow against his former employers we started as if we were going to murder them but the footballing gods had other ideas and we lost the game 2-1 to prompt much mickey-taking.

This week’s birthdays.

1 December  Francois Ven Der Elst (62)

Man United 1 v 1 West Ham

And it’s live!………. Not it’s not!

Embed from Getty Images

After spending a pleasant late autumnal Sunday afternoon doing some of those jobs in the garden that need to be done at this time of year, I was looking forward to listening to the radio commentary of our game at Old Trafford. So I came indoors shortly before 4.30 p.m., took my seat in the lounge, and switched on the TV and tuned to Sky. I was going to watch the Southampton v Everton game “live” on Sky with the sound turned down, whilst simultaneously listening to our game on the radio on my i-pad.

I tuned into the normal radio stations, Five Live and Talk Sport, and was surprised that our game wasn’t on either of them. As I was searching for Radio London, who I discovered were actually broadcasting our game, I was initially listening to the commentary of the Southampton game, and heard Charlie Austin scoring a goal in the first minute. Looking up at the TV screen to see the goal I noticed that the players were still in the tunnel!

Then as the players were coming onto the field I heard the commentator telling us they were going to a break, and suggesting that we stay tuned to Sky for the game, finishing with the words “and it’s live”. Well according to the radio the game was already well underway. By the time they kicked off on TV, the game had been going for more than five minutes. The top right hand corner of the screen had the word “live”. How can Sky get away with this?

Anyway, back to the radio commentary. Whilst still waiting for Radio London to kick in on my i-pad, I heard the dreaded words from the commentator at Southampton, “goal at Old Trafford.” Oh no, how can we have conceded this early? As they went over to the reporter at our game, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we had, in fact, taken the lead. What is more, one of our forwards, Sakho, had scored the goal. This was the first goal scored by a West Ham forward since last May when Sakho opened the scoring in the thrilling last game at Upton Park. It was his third goal against United in four games and his second at Old Trafford. Apparently it was also the second quickest goal that United have ever conceded at home in the Premier League.

I listened as the half wore on and we seemed to be playing quite well. Then, once more, according to the commentator, we conceded a goal because of a defensive mistake. How can we keep doing this? Then, yet another surprise (not)! A Pogba dive after Mark Noble hadn’t touched him, and United’s costliest ever player was booked for simulation. Mourinho did his pieces on the touchline, kicking a water bottle, and was sent off by referee, Moss. If I remember correctly Moss was the referee who sent Mourinho to the stands when we beat Chelsea 2-1 at Upton Park a little over a year ago.

By all accounts we were well worth the draw, despite United doing more attacking and having greater possession, but you would expect this at Old Trafford. Darren Randolph vindicated his selection in goal with some magnificent saves. I look forward to watching the game later on Match of the Day 2.

At the end of the match I had a look at the league table, and had a few “if only” thoughts. How many points would we have had at this stage of the season if we had held on to win games that we were winning? How many points have we dropped? Watford (3 points), Stoke (2 points), Tottenham (3 points), and Man United (2 points). Three of those four games have been in the last three matches we have played. And how many points have we retrieved from a losing position? Just one I think, from the Middlesbrough game.

So despite having what most people would describe as a poor season, the loss of points from a winning position has been crucial. With those ten points we would now be sitting in fifth place in the league with 22 points. Tottenham would be sixth with 21, and Man United seventh with 19.

It is no good really looking back and saying “if only” because we can’t change history and what has happened. It makes you think though. We still have two tough games to come against Arsenal and Liverpool, before a run of four easier (on paper) games to take us up to the end of 2016, and the half way point in the season. Although we have risen to sixteenth in the table, we are still only one point above the drop zone. Every game is vital of course, but the next six games are critical. The table is very compact with only nine points separating Man United in sixth and Hull in eighteenth. Even Swansea and Sunderland have not been tailed off after their recent improved results.

Thirteen league games played now (and only five of them were Saturday 3pm kick offs!) Next Saturday’s game at home to Arsenal is at 5.30 pm, adding to the proportion of games played at a non-traditional time. Now that we have no more international breaks for a while, the games will come thick and fast with the EFL cup quarter final on Wednesday, followed by the six league games mentioned above all taking place in December. Wednesday’s game is “live” on TV. Well they say live but ………….