The race for European Cup places went down to the last game. United weren’t involved but not in a good way, as they were locked in 6th, unable to go up or down.
Crystal Palace weren’t too unhappy about this game being a dead rubber, having been battling against relegation for most of the season, securing their safety with a win over Hull City last weekend.
It’s an occupational hazard of being a football fan that you can book a trip to a football match well in advance, anticipating it to be a big decider, only for it to be a dead rubber.
It was still better than when I went to United’s last League game of last season, at least I got a game this time.
Despite being locked in their position, this was a game United still had to win, purely for form and morale ahead of the UEFA Cup Final against Ajax. United went into this game on a run of one win in seven games. Not ideal going into a game of this magnitude. One win in eight, isn’t exactly great preparation either.
I’m disappointed that United surrendered a top four place in to concentrate on Europe, when both were achievable. A strong finish to the League season would have been perfect preparation for Stockholm.
A downturn in form going into a European final brought back memories of 1991 for United fans. That season saw a 3-0 defeat against Crystal Palace on the last weekend. Hopefully, that would not be repeated.
Jose Mourinho had stated in the build-up that there would be a much changed United team for this game. The only certainty was that Eric Bailly would be starting, due to his suspension for the UEFA Cup Final.
In the end, there were debuts for Demi Mitchell, Scott McTominay, Josh Harrop, and a first start for Joel Pereira.
In years to come, I might be able to say “I was there”, though my record of Untied debuts isn’t great – Marouane Fellaini and Victor Valdes. At least I can say I was there for Sam Allardyce’s last game as a manager.
For a lot of people, there would be quick Google searches to find out more information on these players. I know, minus Top Red points for not having an MUTV subscription and watching Reserve and Underage match. I should never be allowed in Old Trafford again.
The first chance of the game came when Wayne Rooney got in behind Palace’s defence, but his lob went just over the bar.
It was two of United’s debutants who were involved in most of their early attacks, Josh Harrop and Demetri Mitchell combining to good effect down the left.
It was down the left that United’s first goal came, Harrop being played in by Paul Pogba, getting into the penalty area, cutting back and then smashing it into the net with his right foot.
He wasn’t the first United young player to score on his debut. Hopefully, he’ll be more of a Paul Scholes or Marcus Rashford rather than a Federico Macheda or James Wilson.
A few minutes later, it was 2-0 when a pass came to Paul Pogba when it looked like it was going to be intercepted by a Palace defender, and Pogba made no mistake.
Pogba was playing to give him game time ahead of Stockholm, after missing recent matches due to a recent family bereavement.
It wasn’t a long appearance by Pogba, as he was subbed for Michael Carrick towards the end of the first-half, followed soon after by Jesse Lingard making way for Anthony Martial. The substitution denied Lingard the opportunity to score against Palace on 21st May for the second successive year, as this match fell on the first anniversary of the 2016 FA Cup Final.
Jose Mourinho wasn’t taking any chances. United certainly were. If they were this efficient in the previous 37 matches, a top four finish could have been secured a long time ago.
Palace’s attacks were easily nullified by United. The best they could offer was a Christian Benteke header which hit the post, denying him the opportunity to equal Darren Bent’s record of scoring at Old Trafford in three successive seasons for three different clubs.
Unsurprisingly, the second-half was typical end of season stuff as United won comfortably. The main talking point was the introduction from the bench of Angel Gomes, United’s youngest player since Duncan Edwards.
He was also United’s first player born in the 21st century.
It’s sad now that I can now remember the closest game to when a United player was born. In Gomes case, he was born during an international break. The closest match was a 2-2 draw against West Ham at Upton Park. I watched the game in a bar while on holiday in Spain. United threw away a 2-0 lead.
The final table saw United finish 6th. A win in the UEFA Cup Final will certainly retrieve the season.
It frustrates me that United surrendered 4th. Even though winning the UEFA Cup will bring the same result for United next season, they would be one of five English teams in the European Cup. Being one of four would have been much better. We could have really damaged a rival.
Ultimately, it was points dropped in drawn games at Old Trafford which cost United a top four finish. If United hadn’t thrown away leads against Stoke, Swansea, Arsenal and Bournemouth, they would have finished 4th.
Add in an extra two points from the numerous 0-0 draws to that, they would have finished 3rd. It could have made the final weeks of the season very relaxing and made it easier to balance Europe and League commitments.
This was my last match of the 2016-2017 season. The day after this match, United announced a friendly against Sampdoria in Dublin for August 2nd.
Frustratingly, it’s a midweek, so I’ll have to take a half day on the Wednesday and try and get some sleep before work on Thursday.
In terms of trips to Old Trafford, I’ll have to wait until the fixture list is confirmed on 14th June.
As much as I enjoyed doing a Thursday-Sunday double header last November, it’s not something I’d want to make an annual event.
I’m hoping there’s a midweek fixture list in December, like in 2016-2017, with United at home, and then possibly a European group match. Midweek games are handy due to lower hotel costs.
Elsewhere, the Irish League hasn’t stood still since I attended the Irish Cup Final just over two weeks ago.
Lots of ins and outs at Linfield. The signings of Robert Garrett, Jordan Stewart and Andrew Mitchell are all welcome additions to the squad. It was Linfield’s squad which won them the title last season, when you consider the impact of players such as Cameron Stewart and Alex Moore/Gareth Deane when covering for injured team-mates.
It was a squad which needed trimmed. The departures of Sammy Clingan,Michael McLellan and Kris Bright are of no surprise to anyone.
I would have kept Josh Carson, Roas Gaynor and Sean Ward, but I can understand if the players wanted to leave in order to get first-team football.
Jonny Frazer leaving was a bit of a shock. No disrespect to Ards, but I’m glad he hasn’t joined a top half team.
Linfield’s first pre-season friendly has been announced, a mid June trip to North Wales to take on Bala Town, only 90 minutes from Holyhead.
I’m holding out for Stena or Ulsterbus to do a bus/boat package. It’s the day after The 1975 concert at Ormeau Park, so I would be functioning on little sleep if I went.
The ridiculous notion of UEFA Cup Play-Offs produced a lot of goals, which means they are probably here to stay. I’m glad natural justice prevailed when Ballymena won it.
Having spoken about possibly going to see United in Dublin, I’m going to Dublin for two days in July, hoping to do the usual touristy stuff and catch some football. Shelbourne have a home match on one of the days I’m there. St Pat’s and Bray have home matches schedule, but they are dependent on their opponents being out of Europe by then.
It hasn’t been booked yet, but I’m hoping to go to Edinburgh in August. Hopefully, it’ll be on a weekend when Edinburgh City are at home. It’ll be a pleasant change from Hibs and Hearts.
Hopefully if I go to a European group match at Old Trafford next season, it’ll be in the European Cup instead of the UEFA Cup.
Manchester United v Crystal Palace September 2013