Ole’s still at the wheel, but this journey has been a bit bumpy.
It’s one of those journeys with piss breaks every five minutes. And then, somebody nips out for a quick smoke, meaning you’ve been parked for twenty minutes. Then you stop off to a Service Station for a quick toilet break, and half the bus rushes to Burger King and you spend half an hour there.
This is why I usually make my own way to football matches.
A case of two steps forward, and one back, perfectly summed up by recent events, with three wins in a row followed up by a defeat to Bournemouth, just as the Top 6 was within reach.
This was my first trip of the season to Old Trafford, my third with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United Manager. United had yet to win in the previous two games I had been to.
Things were going so well for Solskjaer, winning his first eight games in charge, and then I turned up against Burnley.
United went into this game knowing that a win would send them through with two games to spare. The last time they were in the Group Stage of the UEFA Cup, they didn’t secure qualification until the last game, and didn’t even win the group.
Going to this game meant that I would be able to tick Partizan Belgrade off my 102 Club list, although, I rather they weren’t on it.
They are on the list as they reached the 1966 European Cup Final, beating United 2-1 on aggregate in the Semi-Final.
Having already won 1-0 in Belgrade, a win tonight wouldn’t represent revenge for a defeat 53 years earlier, United were looking to secure European football for February 2020.
One good thing about being in the UEFA Cup is that Thursday night games are a lot more convenient to travel to. In 2016, I made a long weekend of it by seeing a match against Feyenood on the Thursday and the match against West Ham on the Sunday.
United had home games scheduled for the Sunday after Matchday 4 and 5, so there was the potential for a repeat.
Unfortunately, I had to wait until the draw was made. When I looked at booking a double header, unfortunately, the prices were too much to do Partizan and Brighton, I had to make do with Partizan.
Hypothetically speaking, if I was making a long weekend of it, I would have went to a game on the Saturday.
Possible options included Burnley v West Ham or Wigan v Brentford.
There was also cup games at Accrington Stanley (took in a game there in 2014. Turned out their FA Cup game was delayed by an hour due to officials getting injured), or Salford City, Stockport County at home in the National League or FC United at home in the FA Trophy (I planned to do this in my long weekend in 2016, but a frozen pitch denied me)
Of course, when I went to the Burnley match in January, I took in a day trip to Sheffield. I could have done that and taken in Sheffield Wednesday v Swansea City. However, that would be dependent on Northern Rail running a Boat Replacement Service.
Barnsley is just over an hour away from Manchester, though I couldn’t think of a reason why their match against Stoke City would be appealing.
It would only be Partizan I would be seeing, a match where Ashley Young would be starting due to his suspension against Brighton, necessitating that Brandon Williams not be risked.
Based on his appearances so far, I see no reason why Williams shouldn’t be United’s first choice left back, regardless of wether Ashley Young is suspended or not.
As kick-off approached, the rain continued to lash down.
This game saw two early goals, though both of them were disallowed.
Partizan’s goal that was disallowed was one of those horrible efforts that looped up and in after their striker was tackled by a United player. If it did count, it would have just summed up United’s season.
United missed a few opportunities early on, a couple of Marcus Rashford volleys going well wide, while Anthony Martial had a shot smothered by Partizan’s keeper, who was wearing a headband that made him look like Rab C Nesbitt.
Eventually, United got the breakthrough when Mason Greenwood fired home low after being found in space.
Despite not having many attempts on goal, Partizan still offered enough of an attacking threat to keep United worried. They needed a second goal to relax.
That came when a Partizan clearance was charged down and fell perfectly to Martial, who danced past a couple of defenders and poked the ball home.
It was a key goal as it gave United breathing space and deflated Partizan.
In the early minutes of the second-half, Marcus Rashford finished after a tee-up from Ashley Young, and that was the three points and qualification secured.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the match was a non event, as United got the three points and qualified. Now all they need is four points from their last two games to win the group, which will be hand when the Last 32 draw comes around.
Elsewhere, the football news has been dominated by two Michael, with Michael O’Connor being on trial at Hibs and Michael O’Neill joining Stoke City.
But not quite leaving Northern Ireland, he’ll leave when the Euro 2020 campaign ends. So that’ll be 12th July 2020 then.
Stoke doesn’t look that appealing, but he’s obviously seen the impact that The Cowleys have had at Huddersfield and believes he can do likewise.
My next United match will be Burnley in mid January, a match that won’t be rearranged now that the League Cup Quarter-Final dates have been confirmed.
Hopefully, by then, United will be progressing in the two domestic cup competitions and climbing up the table.