Having seen Linfield eliminated from the UEFA Cup by Skoda Xanthi, I looked set to witness a double dose of Greek heartbreak as Olympiacos arrived at Old Trafford on Wednesday night defending a 2-0 lead. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out that way.
It was my second trip to Old Trafford this season, and obviously, my second game seeing Moyes United. I have a suspicion that, despite this result, there’ll be a different manager in charge of my next visit, next season.
I like Moyes, and want him to succeed, but he doesn’t help himself. He’s had some very harsh on the job learning this season, getting caught out in press conferences, his uninspiring demeanour, down to the point of seeing him slouched down on the bench when United are behind, instead of standing on the touchline, trying to inspire his team.
I have a feeling he’ll be replaced the day after the final game of the season at Southampton. Though, we’re all hoping the final game of the season will come in Lisbon.
It was obvious that United were going to need an early goal if they were to turn this tie around, and had some situations. The most frustrating was when a Wayne Rooney header hit the post, only for an Olympiacos defender to get to the ball first.
In any other season, it would have went in off the keeper’s head when it hit the post. In any other season, someone would have put the rebound in.
I was sat in the corner of the Stretford End and the South Stand, having a perfect view of the game. I also had a perfect view of where it wasn’t going right for United.
The main one, was indecisiveness in attack. Too many attacks were ended by the wrong pass, too short a pass or too late a pass, much to the frustration of the crowd.
On 22 minutes, United got the chance to take the lead, when Robin Van Persie was fouled in the box. It was a clear penalty, but the ref waited a while to give it. For Robin Van Persie to take the penalty, he had to wait even longer.
It added to the tension and nervousness in the stadium. When he took it, he scored.
As United looked for that 2nd goal, Olympiacos looked vulnerable in defence. They looked like a team who could be “Got at”
However, it was Olympiacos who had the net chance. A free header from a cross was saved by De Gea, but it looked like they would score from the rebound, but De Gea stood firm and saved it. It was celebrated like a goal, such was the importance of it.
The first-half seemed to meander, but there was one last twist. As the 4th official indicated there was 1 minute remaining, United upped the pace. Giggs passed to Rooney, who could only do one thing – whip in a cross into the 6 yard area.
That he did, and found Robin Van Persie. 2-0.
It was a goal that changed the mood and the momentum of the tie.
Instead of being part of the way towards achieving their goal, United had now achieved Stage 1 – Getting level on aggregate.
United could now start the second-half looking to win the tie, instead of getting level. They weren’t slow on the uptake. On 52 minutes, Danny Welbeck won a free-kick on the edge of the box.
From where I was sat, as Rooney and Van Persie sat around the ball, it looked perfectly set up for a Van Persie strike. You just had a feeling you’d be celebrating a Van Persie goal within seconds.
And so, it happened. A hat-trick for Van Persie.
Unfortunately, the 3-0 lead brought about the worst in United, sitting back and inviting Olympiacos forward, instead of trying to make it 4-0 or 5-0, which would have made the final minutes more relaxed.
So defensive, there were times when Ashley Young was getting possession, having nobody to pass it to, and losing it.
I got nervous everytime Olympiacos went over the half-way line. It could just be my natural pessimism, but recent history backed it up, with late goals proving so costly against Southampton, Cardiff and Fulham this season.
In truth, Olympiacos never looked like getting the away goal that would have sent them through, as United saw the game out.
At least it gives something to play for in the final stages of what has been a pitiful season so far.
It’ll be tough against Bayern Munich in the Quarter-Final, but, if you’re not in, you can’t win.