As is the mandatory fashion of the day, football scorelines need to be engorged into humiliating punch-lines. Unfortunately, “I’d 3-0 to be an Aldershot fan”, doesn’t quite muster the required wit to fire off a hundred facebook groups. United’s victory was, however, pleasingly mundane. Aldershot were a credit to the fixture with their combative energy and work rate, but the difference in class shone through, with three casually taken goals and a performance that felt almost half-started and routine.
In recent years, United have slipped up against so-called ‘lesser’ opposition in the FA and Carling cups but the team put out at Aldershot were far from lazy and complacent. Made up of the so-called ‘fringe’ players that were, only 6 months ago first team regulars, seemed focussed to the point of joylessness at times. Berbatov was a cool head up-front and seemed to lead the side through the 90 minutes. Whilst Owen was somehow awarded the man of the match plaudits, Berbatov would have been a more deserving recipient.
The Bulgarian was deployed almost like a creative target man up front, fusing his guile and skill with a physicality ill-fitting of his stereotype as the aloof artiste; chasing down lost causes, outmuscling defenders and running out wide. He pulled out similar performances last season when taking up the slack of an out-of-form, and potentially out-of-Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney. As with most creative frontmen, he of course benefits greatly from being make the focal point figurehead of the team, a role that, when on form, he performs exceptionally well. With a goal, an assist and a well-polished, all round display of technical wizardry and determined hunger, Berbatov should hopefully begin to find more regular chances in larger competitions.
After the weekend’s result, a Carling Cup thrash-about against a League 2 side was a fantastically welcome, coincidental luxury. Whilst it gave a chance to regroup, rotate and give playing time to the currently under used, it was also the perfect opportunity to blood a few youngsters in the first team and give Tom Cleverley some game-time to get back up to speed. Zeki Fryers, making his second start after a solid display against Leeds in the competition’s last round, put in another impressive performance, showing a level of maturity and restraint to his game that saw him face-off incoming attacks without breaking his team’s shape. Michael Keane and Paul Pogba were both given run-outs in the latter stages of the game, but it was Ravel Morrison who impressed most out of the subs.
Morrison was all over the place on the left wing; beating his man, cutting inside, laying off passes and sprinting back to cover his full-back. It was an all-action appearance, almost capped by a goal. Some may view his free role, hyperactivity as arrogant or indisciplined, but the young Mancunian was constantly on the look out for link-ups and team mates. Every ball lost was chased down with tackles thrown in to win back possession. This wasn’t a replay of the foal-legged trickster dribbling of Ronaldo’s debut but a hard-running, gut-busting effort for the team by a player with the potential to imbue his work ethic with glamour and goals.
With the derby day defeat still ringing in the ears of United supporters, such a glimpse into a possible future is more than comforting. Manchester United will always be a club moving forward in some way or another and Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Zeki Fryers and Ravel Morrison will be just some of the players to carry on the legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson long after his mighty reign comes to an end. Even before that day comes, these are exciting times to be a United fan.