So United’s string of failures in big one-off (or two-off) games continues. Dating back to 1988, they have lost seven play-off competitions (Bristol City, Palace, Sunderland, Wolves, Burnley, Huddersfield, Yeovil) and six cup semi-finals (Wednesday, Newcastle, Liverpool, Arsenal, Hull, Spurs).
Those failures have ranged from glorious (Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal) to dismal (all four play-off finals) and somewhere in between (the rest), but they’re all failures nonetheless.
However, it’s hard sometimes to class losing as failure, even though it is. In the first half against Spurs it looked as though it might end up four or five. Half time came none too soon. Then gradually United got going. Jose Baxter got more of the ball and Jamie Murphy began to turn it on. I doubt Kyle Walker has been given a harder time in the Premier League this season.
I sort of predicted how it would work out last week when I said I reckoned it would start rather boring and get more exciting towards the end. That certainly happened. There’s now the prospect of a similar sort of game in the FA Cup, providing we can beat Preston.
The game at Deepdale highlighted United’s adaptability (to change formation mid-half) and strength in depth, strength that has been added to with the Beard, Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman. It will be interesting to see how Cloughie juggles his men for Swindon and the replay. How he does might give us a clue about his priorities.
Incidentally, since Cloughie came to the Lane whichever team knocked United out of the three cups reached the final – Hull, Walsall and Spurs. I wonder if Man United will continue that trend – or even Preston!