My first visit to see Ten Hag’s United was always going to be a European game.
One good thing about playing in the UEFA Cup (probably the only good thing) is that Thursday night games are a convenient short break.
This season’s scheduling being all over the place due to the World Cup meant that all the groups had to be wrapped up by early November, which meant the bargains on hotels and flights due to long lead times between draw and fixtures might not be there.
Although, I had to choose what match I wanted to go to.
My first choice was Omonia Nicosia, but I wanted to do a trip from Wednesday to Friday instead of Thursday (the day of the match) to Friday.
The problem with that, was that I was going to a Paul Weller concert the night before the Omonia Nicosia game, so Sheriff Tiraspol it was.
United were as good as through before the match, one point would have sealed the deal, but it was three that they really needed.
A restructuring of the competition gives teams more motivation to win their group, as group winners go straight into the Last 16, while runners-up face a Play-Off against a team that has dropped down from the European Cup.
With United trailing Real Sociedad by three points, they simply couldn’t afford to drop any points if they wanted to avoid that Play-Off Round.
Not that they would be putting their feet up on those two free midweeks, which will probably be used to play the postponed League games against Crystal Palace and Leeds United.
It turned out to be a mostly full strength United line-up.
The only name who might not have been overly familiar was Alejandro Garnacho. By the end of the game, he certainly was.
A highly rated youngster, he was given his first start after a handful of substitute appearances.
He’ll certainly be getting more starts soon on the basis of this performance, making things happen when he got the ball, skinning players for fun and an end product.
There wasn’t long to wait for that prediction, scoring a futile winner away to Real Sociedad.
Unsurprisingly, the early minutes of the game was all United pressure.
Bruno Fernandes had United’s first attempt on goal, curling an effort just wide.
Ronaldo was denied from close range by Sheriff’s keeper making himself big, before later getting down to save a shot from Christian Eriksen.
Of course, if you don’t take your chances, there’s always a risk you can get caught out at the opposite end.
That was what almost happened when a cross came in from the left, perfect for a striker to get on the end of it, but thankfully there was no striker on the end of it.
Just when it looked like being a frustrating half for United, they finally made the breakthrough in the final minute, when Diogo Dalot headed home from a corner.
At the goal I was sitting behind, which was a relief.
The early minutes of the second-half were all about Ronaldo.
Cutting inside and creating a shooting opportunity for himself just like in the old days. Just as you expected to put the ball in the back of the net, the ball went wide.
Soon after, he put the ball in the back of the net, but was denied by an offside flag.
It was Marcus Rashford, on as a half-time sub who wrapped the game up with a header. That was the three points secured, even if the lead wasn;t conclusive, there was no way Sheriff were going to score two. Even one was looking too much.
Ronaldo finally got his goal, only after his header was saved, he was quickest to the rebound to make it 3-0.
Scott McTominay was denied in injury time with a header saved at point blank by the keeper.
Three goals was enough for the three points, now attention turned to the group decider against Real Sociedad.
So, what to make of Erik Ten Hag so far?
Apart from the false start, it’s been good.
United actually playing with some balls and standing up to their detractors.
Let’s just pretend that City game never happened.
The way this season is structured has favoured.
In a normal season, there would have been an International Break after the win at Southampton, then the wins against Leicester City and Arsenal would have been postponed due to The Queen dying.
Game after game allows them to develop, and getting Europe out of the way very quickly has been helpful, although the two extra games in February less so.
Hopefully, they’ll be able to hit the ground running after the World Cup. They’ll have to.
Friendlies in mid December will be helpful to ease themselves back in.
My next scheduled trip to Old Trafford is for the Wolves match in May 2023, all being well.
Old Trafford wasn’t the only ground I visited during my time in the North-West of England.
On my flight in, I saw Edgley Park, University Of Bolton Stadium and Boundary Park from the Sky.
At ground level, I took a day trip to Altrincham and took a nosey to Moss Lane as I wasn’t far from it, and I saw Seel Park, home of Mossley when I walked up Hartshead Pike.
You can read about that walk on the next blog.
As you will have read on my previous blog, I went on a Canal Walk that led me to the City Of Manchester Stadium.
I was hoping to try and take in a game on the free Wednesday night I was there.
Annoyingly, Altrincham were playing Oldham on the Tuesday night I was there.
Sheffield Wednesday were at home. It was doable, but an early flight, checking in, it would have been only a brief visit to Sheffield, and Sheffield is a city that deserves a full day visit.
It’s easy to forget, I was there to see United.
Let’s hope things will continue to be going upwards when I hopefully visit to see them play Wolves in May.