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.
Having decided to give Edinburgh Fringe a miss this year due to it going to be an absolute Covidfest, it would have taken something quite spectacular to change my mind and make me go.
Linfield playing Hearts in the UEFA Cup would count as something spectacular enough for me to go and navigate my way around Americans standing about in Pleasance trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster.
Unfortunately, a 2-0 home defeat to FC Zurich meant that dream died quicker than an Alex Salmond Chat Show in Assembly.
The frustrating thing was, Linfield could have been going to Switzerland level if they had taken their chances. A harsh lessons in fine margins at the highest level.
This was always going to be a step up for Linfield from Bodo/Glimt, who incidentally beat Zalgiris Vilnius 5-0 at home the night before.
FC Zurich had an Italian international in their starting line-up. An actual current one, not one in his 40s like La Fiorita in 2017.
They also lost their manager to Hoffenheim, and are beginning to adapt to life under former Austria manager Franco Foda.
During his time as Austria manager, Foda visited Windsor Park twice, winning in both 2018 and 2020.
He was hoping to secure a third successive biennial win in South Belfast, and then start making plans for 2024.
Foda would spend the opening minutes of the game worrying about halting Linfield’s momentum as the hosts made a bright start.
It looked like Linfield were going to get a dream start when Matthew Clarke primed to head home, only to be denied by a Zurich defender getting a touch to divert the ball away from him.
That would have been nice early birthday present for David Healy, the day before his 43rd birthday.
Kirk Millar was a few days away from turning 30, but would be watching this match from the stands after his red card against Bodo.
Within a few minutes, Linfield’s good start was undone when Zurich took the lead when Aiyegun Tosin was played through and made no mistake.
It was one of those, you just know he’s going to score as soon as he starts bearing down on goal.
Having just lost 8-0 to Bodo, you did fear that Linfield could still be scarred by that result. This had the potential to be a long evening.
Especially when they couldn’t get the ball for the next ten minutes. Thankfully, there were no clear opportunities for Zurich, but it looked like they were biding their time, waiting for that opportunity to come.
Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out, and then found their feet in the game, the crowd reacted to it, giving the players a much needed energy boost.
It was as simple as winning a free-kick in Zurich’s half. They were able to kill the game for a few seconds, and have some territorial possession in the opposition half.
They almost made the most of it.
A free-kick fell perfectly to Robbie McDaid a few yards out, but Zurich’s keeper was able to make himself big.
I’m not sure McDaid realised how good a chance it was, he probably thought he had to hit it first time, expecting Zurich defenders to be swarming around him.
Sam Roscoe then headed across the six yard box but nobody in a blue shirt was able to get there first.
Another agonising moment of frustration for Linfield.
Eetu Vertainen then had a cross come shot that forced Zurich’s keeper into a save.
Zurich replied with a long range shot that went over the bar.
1-0 to Zurich at half-time, but a half in which Linfield held their own despite the early setback.
The teams left the pitch to the sound of Running Up That Hill on the tannoy, which is what it felt like Linfield were doing at times.
They were needing to reach some Wuthering Heights in the second-half to get something to take to Swtizerland.
A 1-0 home defeat wouldn’t have been terminal for Linfield, but you felt that they had to go to Switzerland at least level.
Getting a one goal win there could be doable if a lot of things fall into place, but a two goal win would be too much to ask for.
Linfield made a bright start to the second-half, with Eetu Vertainen having a low shot saved, but it was Zurich who almost scored on the counter, too many touches allowing Linfield to eventually clear the danger.
An injury to Robbie McDaid saw Joel Cooper introduced as a substitute, earlier than expected after being stretchered off against TNS three weeks previously.
David Healy wasn’t expecting him to be involved, stating so in his programme notes.
He was very much involved in all of Linfield’s attacks, getting in behind Zurich, making things happen for Linfield.
As soon as a Linfield player got the ball, they had sure they got the ball to him as quickly as possible.
Just as in the first-half, Linfield were left to rue not making the most of it when they had the ball, when Wilfried Gnonto got in behind Linfield’s defence and made no mistake to make it 2-0.
Similarity to the first goal, you just knew what the outcome would be as he headed towards goal.
He’ll be hoping that this goal will be enough for a place in the squad for Italy’s next match, a sentence you don’t normally write when describing a goal in a Linfield match.
That goal secured the match, and probably the tie, as the goal deflated Linfield.
They almost issued a response when a pull back found Stephen Fallon but he fired over.
At the time, I thought it was a shocking miss.
Looking back at the TV replays, i’m probably being too harsh, as he had a Zurich defender bearing down on him to try and block the shot.
If only it had went in, we might have had a grandstand finish.
We didn’t, and Zurich went home with a 2-0 win, their players heading to the North Stand to celebrate with a relatively sizeable (eight days notice of the match and nor direct flights) and very noisy away support, some of whom came home from Belfast with souvenir match worn shirts, thrown upwards by players who headed into the Bottom Deck of the North Stand.
It was always likely to be the case that Linfield’s best chance of Group Stage football would be the Euro Conference.
And so it proved, winning the second leg 3-0.
That means Linfield will face RFS of Latvia for group stage football in the Euro Conference.
We go back to the end of the 1960s this week, to Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, which is set to preview the last FA Cup Final of the decade.
There is a four page feature on Leeds United, who are described as “Champions elect”, which turned out to be an accurate description.
There is also an article on the organisation of the FA Cup Final. Manchester City were in the final, having defeated the previous season’s finalists Everton in the Semi-Final.
They would meet either Leicester City or holders West Bromwich Albion. Leicester won that match, meaning both the previous season’s finalists lost in the Semi-Final.
There is a double page feature on British teams in Europe, with Manchester United (European Cup) and Newcastle United and Rangers (UEFA Cup) advancing to the Semi-Finals, but there were Quarter-Final exits for Celtic (European Cup) and Leeds United (UEFA Cup)
Elsewhere, there is a photo special on Benfica’s exit to Ajax in the Quarter-Finals.
Celebrating silverware was Swindon Town, and their win over Arsenal in the League Cup Final gets a double page profile.
Dunfermline Athletic get a feature, dubbed “THE PROUD PROVINCIALS” after winning the Scottish Cup and then reachign the Semi-Finals of the European Cup Winners Cup, and have ambitions to go even higher.
Dunfermline’s replacement as Scottish Cup winners will be Rangers or Celtic, who meet in the final, which gets previewed.
Hungarian referee Istvan Zsolt gets interviewed, where he reveals that he is a fan of British football.
There are adverts in this magazine for other publications such as Goal and Melody Maker.
Simone and Pippo Inzaghi are the cover stars of this edition of Football Italia, a spin-off magazine of Channel 4’s coverage of Italian football.
In news, Juventus will have a new manager in the summer, with Carlo Ancelotti being picked to succeed Marcello Lippi.
Italy beat a Rest Of The World XI 6-2 in a friendly to mark the 100th anniversary of the FIGC.
There are reviews of the draws for the Quarter-Finals of the three European competitions, the highlight being Inter Milan’s European Cup tie against Manchester United, while the UEFA Cup draw presents the opportunity for an all Italian final.
There is a report on the first leg of the Coppa Italia Quarter-Finals, with Juventus on the brink of elimination after a 2-1 home defeat to Bologna.
The two Inzaghi brothers get a six page profile, which also features some of the famous brothers to have played in Serie A.
Parma are the subject of a club profile, including a two page profile of Hernan Crespo.
Sampdoria also get a profile, under new manager David Platt and new signing Lee Sharpe.
There is also reviews of recent matches and previews of upcoming matches.
The magazine ends with a preview of the next edition, which will feature Lazio, as they aim to win their first title since the 1970s.
Alan Shearer is the cover star of Football Europe as Europe’s three main competitions are set to return from Winter hibernation.
Fabrizio Ravanelli gets a four page profile as he aims to get into Italy’s World Cup squad.
The Quarter-Finals of the three main European competitions get previewed, with England being represented by a team in each competition.
The preview for Aston Villa’s tie against Atletico Madrid billed it as Brian Little’s toughest test in Europe as Villa manager. By the time of the first leg, he had resigned as Villa manager and was replaced by John Gregory.
Hoping to win the UEFA Cup, Lazio get a three page profile as they hope their big spending will be rewarded with trophies.
Off the pitch, figures at UEFA are fearful that Joao Havelange is planning to hold onto power at FIFA, despite announcing his retirement.
In Scotland, Alex McLeish has been appointed manager of struggling Hibernian, while Barcelona manager Louis Van Gaal has hit back at critics who say he is trying to turn Barcelona into Ajax.
Another Dutch manager outside his homeland will be Dick Advocaat, who has announced he will be leaving PSV Eindhoen to join Rangers next season.
As the countdown to the World Cup continues, Ciro Ferrera (Italy) and Juninho (Brazil) are facing a race against the clock to be fit for France.
Roberto Baggio is the cover star of Football Italia this month, having made a return to the Italy team in a recent World Cup Qualifier.
There is a report of the Serie A title race, where Juventus won the title, but lost the European Cup Final.
In Rome, Zdenek Zeman has been appointed the manager of Roma, just months after being sacked by Roma, while Jurgen Klinsmann is returning to Serie A after five years away by signing for Sampdoria.
There are reviews of the European and UEFA Cup Finals, which saw defeats for Juventus and Inter Milan.
Domestically, there is a review of the Coppa Italia Final, where Vicenza beat Napoli 3-1 on aggregate.
Parma get a four page profile, mainly focusing on their young stars Gianluigi Buffon and Hernan Crespo.
Atalanta also get a club profile, with one of their youngsters who went on to bigger things, Filippo Inzaghi.
Italy have a busy month coming up, taking part in Le Tournoi in France, a warm-up tournament in France for the following year’s World Cup featuring England, France and Brazil, while their recent World Cup Qualifier against Poland gets reviewed, a match which saw a goal for Roberto Baggio.
There is a review of the FA Cup Final, while saw Roberto Di Matteo score in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Middlebrough, led by Fabrizio Ravanelli.
Sven Goran Eriksson gets interviewed as he leaves Sampdoria for Lazio, and broken a promise to Blackburn Rovers to take their job.
The magazine ends with a look at Genoa’s bid to win promotion back to Serie A.
“Let’s all move to Manchester” says Theo Walcott on this cover, poking fun at the number of Arsenal players who have signed for Manchester City in recent years. Ironically, the next Arsenal star bound for Manchester would be the Old Trafford bound Robin Van Persie the following summer.
There is a look at the alcohol ban at football grounds, with drink being available at other sports grounds.
This month’s Photo Feature focuses on Dundee’s two clubs on successive Saturdays, United v Dunfermline then Dundee v Morton the following Saturday.
There were recently riots at major cities in England, including London. One of the worst areas is Tottenham, and one writer asks if Tottenham Hotspur could do more to help in their local community.
Joey Barton has taken to Twitter to speak to fans during his move from Newcastle United to QPR, with one writer not being convinced, believing it to be a PR stunt.
There is a look at this year’s FA Cup, with Qualifying Round games being broadcast live on Facebook.
There is also a look at what happened to The Dell when it closed down in 2001.
This month’s Match Of The Month saw Sheffield Wednesday take on Notts County at Hillsbrough, with the hosts looking to get promoted back to The Championship at the second attempt.
There is a profile of Shamrock Rovers, who have recently become the first Irish side to reach the group stages of a European competition, having reached the group stages of the UEFA Cup, having overcome some difficult times in recent years.
There is a look back at a forgotten tournament, the Mundialito Tournament in Uruguay in December 1980, to celebrate 50 years of the World Cup, featuring all the former winners. England decline the opportunity to compete and were replaced by Holland.
Over for a United match, I was able to take in a Salford City match while I was there. The first thing you see as you walk towards the ground is the floodlights in the shape of the club badge. I managed to capture it in all it’s glory.
Well, that was my favourite photos of 2019-2020, feel free to vote for your favourite, even though i’ve canvassed for what I think you should vote for.
Hopefully, it won’t be too long until i’m back in a football stadium taking photos so I can have a similar poll for 2020-2021.