Manchester United 2 – 0 Wigan Athletic: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #2

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There are very few photos in existence that show the new chairman of The Football Association, Greg Dyke, looking this happy.

 

These big showpiece FA events are about as much fun as watching a ‘classic’ (e.g. a repeat) edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and generally about as memorable as the last thing Justin Bieber tweeted (incidentally his last tweet was this: “WE ON A BREAK!! #restandrelaxation – #unlessIhitthestudio” – I’m sure historians everywhere will be scrabbling to note that down for posterity). 

Today’s Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium wasn’t much of an exception. A few old guys (who on this occasion looked a bit like the Chuckle Brothers) shuffle past the players offering weak handshakes, presumably just before being ushered to a euthanasia booth somewhere. Then the national anthem (that po-faced hymnal to our pointless monarchy) is sung, not by the fans, but by some opera singer who thinks she’s at the Super Bowl. If you happen to be on Twitter when one of these things starts brace yourself for the only actual legacy of the Olympics: a barrage of somnolent “jokes” about when Emeli Sandé will turn up to belt out that bloody Professor Green song

The actual match was decided by two goals from Robin Van Persie, underlining just how important he will be to ‘Man Yoo’ as they get ready for a post-Rooney future. The first, a languid header sent past Scott Carson just inside the right-hand post, was a typical example of his superb technical ability and his ghostly accuracy. The second which came just before the hour, was a scrappier affair. After some neat build-up play from United, Van Persie received the ball on the edge of the Wigan area, dropped a shoulder and shrugged the ball past Carson with the help of a deflection off James Perch. 

Looking at the starting teams I had a masochists excitement when I saw that Phil Jones and Grant Holt would be having what can be described as a fugly-off with each other. Such a clash would not be out of place on a mud-sodden battlefield during the Wars of The Roses, given the mutual, lumbering Englishness of their styles. Alas the promised confrontation never really arrived, principally because Wigan (unlike Holt’s former team Norwich) have not yet adjusted their game to get the best out of the big lad. 

New look Wigan are a very different prospect from the silkily doomed side managed by Roberto Martinez last term. Owen Coyle is building a side as British as getting savagely glassed on a freezing August evening in Leeds City Centre after a big night of binge drinking. His approach is typified by summer signings like Holt, Crainey, Perch, Carson and Barnett. Pick of the bunch is young James McClean, freshly arrived from Sunderland,  an Irish pugilist who specializes in running in straight lines and pushing people, qualities which ought to lead to great success for him in English football’s second tier. 

In fact, Wigan’s best chance of the game was created by McClean, who fired the ball dangerously across the six yard box after Smalling misjudged a long pass from Crainey. The cross/shot couldn’t be met by Holt, when only a touch would have plundered a cheap goal for the Latics. Set-pieces, long balls and looping crosses, nothing too fancy for Coyle and Wigan. 

United’s win was merely whelming. 39-year-old Ryan Giggs started here, still astonishingly pert and wiry, still urbane in his passing and movement, still inevitably amongst the best players on the pitch almost every time he plays. Ostensibly this is good for United, but it is also symptomatic of their weaknesses in midfield that their best player in that area (beige pass-o-meter Michael Carrick aside) will be 40 in November. It is actually difficult to imagine United not having a crap midfield, and even more difficult to imagine a player as accomplished as Cesc Fabregas taking touchline orders from new assistant coach Phil Neville. 

These pronounced weaknesses in midfield are a gnawing problem that David Moyes will have thought about long before the short period on either side of half-time when Wigan’s tinpot midfield was on top of United’s.

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David Moyes and Malcolm Tucker (above) have never been pictured together. Coincidence?

 

 

With the amount of opprobrium and obloquy that surely lies in wait for Moyes this season I almost expected his shirt to be blood red, prepared for all the knives and arrows that will be aimed at him, waiting for the first inevitable slip-up. As soon as that first fuck up comes I fully expect some clichéd American army guy (played by Stephan Lang) to appear at any moment just to fatuously utter in Moyes’ ear: “Davey, you ain’t in Kansas anymore.”  

Right now he is the mini-Ferg, the diet-Ferg – same stripey tie, same gum but will there be the same results, the same relentless ability to win that characterized real-Ferg? A look of distinct discomfort was briefly visible on Moyes’ face as he lifted his first trophy, before he returned to looking like a slightly healthier Malcolm Tucker. 

 

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QPR 2 – 1 Sheffield Wednesday: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #1

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Is it possible to make a triumphant return to the Championship? Surely such wordplay is an oxymoron, particularly given the circumstances in which QPR sunk to English football’s second tier last season. This quibble about words is nothing more than a thought experiment anyway, as QPR’s win yesterday was not particularly triumphal. A performance marked by some promise and a little awkwardness is unlikely to have the likes of Wigan and Watford running scared just yet.

In a packed and surprisingly jovial Loftus Road there was initially little sign of the trepidation that might be expected given that on the last two opening days Rangers managed to concede an impressive 9 goals without reply. The faithful even managed to loudly cheer the odious Joey Barton’s name from the outset. Nobody even having the temerity to abuse Joey for the rather Tevez-ish alice band he was sporting (clearly he feels entitled to such a dismal accessory after spending some time as a ‘continental’). They were rewarded with a reserved sort of sub-Beckham display from his position tucked in on the right wing, where he delivered a succession of ruminative passes and crosses until he was substituted in the second half. There was even the bizarre sight of Barton and the man he once described as a ‘pub player’, new signing Karl Henry, chatting happily with each other during a break in play. A forgiving mood was indeed abroad.

A mood punctured when Wednesday’s large and menacing striker Atdhe Nuhiu opened the scoring in the 19th minute. I feel a great deal of responsibility for the goal itself, due to a perverse, reverse curse of the casual commentator. As Nuhiu picked up the ball on the edge of the box I noted what an impressive start to the game he had made, he then of course spiralled the ball past Rob Green’s paw. Oh dear Will. There followed a pregnant twenty minutes that seemed to promise the rebirth of all the ugly feeling that had festered at QPR in previous months. As Barton and Alejandro Faurlin sent overly lavish passes into the stands one could sense the pressure of the previous season on all involved at QPR. ‘Arry Redknapp’s face was the colour of a slowly setting Hawaiian sunset and this condition was not just down to the heat of such a fine summer’s day.

Thankfully Rangers picked up and scored two quick goals to take the lead, first was Nedum Onuoha’s tap-in, celebrated with all the panache of a man wandering to the fridge to see if there is any milk left, and followed by a neat strike from the lesser-spotted Andy Johnson. The latter looked sharp throughout the match giving his best impression of an angry gnome chasing confused mammalian intruders from his favourite garden patch. Johnson, with his tendency to make Louis Saha look like the patron saint of physical fitness, will be an important asset to QPR if he manages to stay on the pitch and out of the physio’s room.

I’m required in the interests of fairness to say something about Sheffield Wednesday. Their wonderfully priggish and priapic away support was certainly refreshing after two seasons of mostly crap fans from The Best League In The World™ – good effort gentlemen. What was less refreshing was the return of the lamentable former Cardiff boss Dave Jones to Loftus Road. Jones, his fat face now resembling a cross between the owl that adorns Wednesday’s crest and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, used his post match comments to make dubious remarks concerning two “penalties” he felt should have been awarded to his side during the game.

“It’s an embarrassment for the officials to miss two clear-cut penalties” blathered Jones. “We’ve been told by the League Managers Association and the Referee’s Society not to talk about it but something has to be done. How does he miss it?”

It’s safe to say Jones is one of those perennial Championship annoyances that I have not missed. A decent if unspectacular start for QPR though, although far better teams than Jones’ tinpot outfit lie in wait.

Star Man: Chris Kirkland really stood out. I read before the game that Wednesday’s keeper had almost single handedly kept them in the division last season and on the basis of this display it was easy to see why. Junior Hoilett impressed for QPR, looking particularly spritely in the first half.