The two Easter matches were pretty similar in both performance and outcome, and mirrored many of United’s games since November: Create loads of chances, score only one, then concede to one of the opposition’s few efforts on goal.
The only consolation was that Brentford’s goal didn’t come in the last couple of minutes.
We’ve seen that happen three times at home in the last few months. Against Bristol City United were dominant (“relentless quality” said City’s manager Lee Johnson), hit the woodwork four times, saw Bristol score a wonder goal with their first shot and then get the winner with a sucker punch in injury time. United were all over Aston Villa but couldn’t score, and Robert Snodgrass hit a wonder goal as 90 minutes ticked over.
Now Cardiff City. Okay, they had went close twice from Aron Gunnarson and Kenneth Zohore, but these were nothing compared with the two shots from John Lundstram, Richard Stearman’s header cleared off the line, Lee Evans taking a touch too many allowing the goalkeeper to smother him, Clayton Donaldson hitting the post and Evans’ solid penalty shout. Anthony Pilkington’s equaliser was as much out of the blue as Aiden Flint’s winner for Bristol.
So three home games United should have won delivered just one point. Those extra eight points would have put United fourth, above Villa. Then there’s the wrongly disallowed goal at Middlesbrough that would have given us one more point and them two fewer.
Of course other teams would make similar claims of misfortune, and United haven’t played well all the time, but you can also make the case that United have only been comfortably defeated by a much better side at Cardiff in August, and more recently at Wolves and Fulham. These just happen to be the top three teams in the division.
On the other hand, I can’t remember a single game in which United have been lucky to sneak a win or a draw. A couple of times we’ve gone ahead and clung on somewhat (Reading and QPR at home), but at no time has fortune smiled on us the way it did on Bristol, Villa and Cardiff.
If you look at the season overall, United have done far better than most would have expected, but it could have been quite a bit better with more composure and diligence in front of both goals. But that’s what you get when League One players step up a level. On the whole they’ve done brilliantly, but the next step up is the hardest.