It’s pretty alarming that an out of sorts Manchester United don’t play particularly well at St James’ Park yet still run away 1-4 winners – and it could’ve been a lot worse.
Despite taking the lead early in the opening exchanges, we sat back, were passive throughout and set up far too defensively against a side who could’ve been there for the taking. The players weren’t always aggressive enough, but you’re sometimes only as good as your game plan – and ours seemed none existent tonight.
I just hope no one reading this paid £14.95 to watch it on Sky Sports Box Office!
Steve Bruce made just ONE change for this one, taking out Fabian Schar and recalling fit-again skipper Jamaal Lascelles. Hendrick also kept his place in the side – a call which didn’t go down too well with some Mags on social media after Ryan Fraser’s eye-catching displays over the international break.
That said, we set up in more of a 4-5-1, with Joelinton down the right-hand side, ASM left, Wilson up top and a midfield trio of Shelvey, Hayden and Hendrick.
Sadly, it didn’t work.
Within two minutes of kick off, we took the lead! Wilson held the ball up well, released Saint-Maximin and he and Shelvey then combined to get the ball out to Krafth down our right-hand side. There were few options in the box, but his cross took a wicked deflection off of Luke Shaw and snuck past a rooted David De Gea. 1-0 and a dream start, but it only went downhill from here!
At this point we should’ve kicked on and jumped all over a Man Utd side who were on the ropes with zero confidence, yet we sat back and invited pressure as if we were playing one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winning sides from the 90’s.
The visitors then dominated the ball and immediately pushed for an equaliser, with us choosing to sit back and invite pressure – not press on against an under-pressure side and push for a second.
An away goal was coming and Man Utd had the ball in the net via a stunning finish from Bruno Fernandes 19 minutes in. However, VAR soon chalked it off after Juan Mata was shown to be in an offside position as he received the pass that saw him set up their Portuguese star.
So, it remained 1-0 – and rightly so based on the replays – but not for long. Man Utd forced a corned after Rashford got in behind Jamal Lascelles. Juan Mata took it and his tempting ball was headed home by Harry Maguire, who was afforded far too much space in the box and glanced home past a helpless Karl Dalow. 1-1.
It had been a dream start from us, but this was the equaliser we had been asking for after sitting deeper and deeper, with a hit and miss Saint-Maximin and isolated Wilson being our only outlets when we had rare moments on the ball. A baffling and utterly frustrating approach from Steve Bruce.
Aside from a brilliant ASM effort that was well saved by De Gea, we barely threatened. The midfield trio of Shelvey, Hendrick and Hayden wasn’t really working, being bypassed far too often, and Joelitnon looked lost down the right-hand side. Bruce’s decision to play him out wide was baffling given he’d just had one of his best performances for the club in a no.10 role just behind Wilson last time out.
Darlow was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers and could come off with his head held high at half time after several solid stops and punches, however it felt like a Man Utd win was only a matter of time away if we didn’t impose ourselves on the game in the second half.
Just a few minutes into the restart and it was bad news for Steve Bruce, with Hayden limping off and being replaced by Schar – who slotted into midfield in a holding role.
We then very nearly took the lead just moments later, with some brilliant skill and a sumptuous cross by ASM being met by Wilson in the six-yard box. It looked a certain goal, only for De Gea to claw the ball off the line miraculously.
A Jonjo Shelvey shot aside, that was the closest we’d come to a goal before Man Utd ran riot.
VAR came to our rescue in the first half, however it earned Man Utd a penalty in the second half, with the referee deeming Lewis to have tripped Marcus Rashford after being referred to the pitch-side monitor.
Bruno Fernandes stepped up. We all expected him to score given his immaculate record from the spot until this point, however his penalty was superbly saved by the outstanding Karl Darlow.
Our star player (again!) kept us in it, however he could only do so much as Man Utd went on to win the game comfortably in the final 10 minutes.
Fernandes made up for his penalty miss by latching onto a Rashford through ball and smashing past an injured Karl Darlow – who was somehow left to soldier on through the final 20 minutes despite clearly being in too much discomfort to continue!
Aaron Wan-Bissaka then added a third in the 90th minute with a thumping strike, before Marcus Rashford made the scoreline that bit more emphatic with a 96th minute finish after being slipped in by Fernandes.
It says a lot when your goalkeeper is the man of the match despite conceding four!
We may have taken an early lead and kept the scoreline to 1-1 until the 86th minute, but never imposed ourselves on the game and gave Man Utd the freedom of St James’ Park for most of it. Bruce’s changes were either too late or not positive enough, bringing Almiron on with just five minutes to play despite several of our midfielders being out on their feet for most of the second 45!
Bruce has promised a more attacking style of play – and we saw that against Burnley last time out – however it’s an alarming case of one step forwards, two steps back after what we’ve just witnessed here.
Next up we face a tough trip to Wolves next Sunday – and we’ll need to be much better if we want to avoid another hiding.