Dimitar Berbatov was in the mood for Manchester United to help them past spirited Aldershot
Manchester United are in crisis.
Manchester United are in CRISIS.
MANCHESTER UNITED ARE IN CRISIS.
MANCHESTER UNITED ARE IN CRISIS!!!
Ok, maybe not. While United are still licking their wounds after the shocking, unprecedented shenanigans at Old Trafford on Sunday, in reality this is the perfect game for them to soothe the pain. For most clubs, a trip to a lower league side in the cup after a humiliation at home to their closest rivals would be treated with some trepidation, but United have tended to deal with these ties with consummate ease in recent years: indeed in the last round, away to Leeds, they were able to play
Michael Owen up front Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick in central defence and still sleepwalk their way to a 3-0 victory. There will be plenty of changes from the defeat to Manchester City, with a few youthful faces thrown in for good measure, but Aldershot may just have to enjoy the occasion for what it is and forget about any notions of an upset.
Of course, United's Carling Cup games gives us a chance to see Owen, a player made as welcome by the club's fans as The Funkman in a Palestinian chicken restaurant, in his element. In the league, Owen is about as useful as Ricky Gervais confronted by a mugger on the subway in New York [that's enough Curb references for now - MBM Ed), but he thrives in this competition, filling his boots against the likes of Leeds, Scunthorpe, Barnsley and Aston Villa. Another fine performance tonight should do his hopes of wheedling his way into Fabio Capello's Euro 2012 squad no harm at all.
That, my friends, was a biting bit of satire. Watch, learn, marvel.
More enticingly than the prospect of Owen's pals bigging him up is the presence of Berbatov, who's been left out in the cold this season but is so serenely brilliant when he wants to be. Still he was nowhere to be seen on Sunday, so he can't be associated with that mess. You can't blame Berbatov for that, try though Ferguson might. There are NASA scientists still trying to work out why Owen was on the bench instead of him in the Champions League final in May.
Aldershot don't plan on making it easy tonight however. "Hopefully it is raining, it is cold and the floodlights are on the blink," said their captain Ben Herd. "Our fans will give them a hostile environment - we will have to see how they react to it." Note to Aldershot: if the floodlights don't work, the game will not go ahead. And the likelihood is that United won't be bothered in the slightest by a hostile environment because they've seen it all before. Still Aldershot did cause an upset by winning 2-1 at West Ham in August and they are the only team from outside the top two divisions left in the competition. Fifteenth in League Two, they did a Manchester City on Saturday, winning 5-2 away at Dagenham & Redbridge. Their manager, Dean Holdsworth, insists they won't be scared of United. It might be a bit premature for that kind of talk.
Tonight's teams. United will do well to lose with that lot out. On their bench, the prodigiously gifted but troubled Ravel Morrison is given a place. There are also high hopes for the languid Paul Pogba, and Will Keane is meant to be pretty nifty as well.
Aldershot: Worner; Herd, Jones, Morris, Straker; McGlashan, Vincenti, Guttridge, Rodman; Hylton, Rankine. Subs: Young, Aaron Brown, Collins, Bubb, Pulis, Smith, Panther.
Manchester United: Amos; Jones, Vidic, Fryers, Fabio; Valencia, Cleverley, Park, Diouf; Berbatov, Owen. Subs: De Gea, Vermijl, M Keane, Pogba, W Keane, Morrison, Cole.
Referee: Peter Walton.
Email alert. "Interesting that ManU have put some of their senior representatives in training bras," parps Philippa Booth. "Suppose underwiring could be dangerous in a sporting environment. Looking forward to a cold, dark and rainy evening."
Dean Holdsworth has been interviewed on Sky, but I'm not interested in that. Who remembers this fabulous miss?
The teams are out to a raucous reception. The football teams.
1 min: They're off, though not before Aldershot, in their white kit, have a huddle. Never trust a huddle. United are in their normal red kit and kick off, attacking from left to right. The ground is bouncing. Heaven knows what it will be like if Aldershot score. They make a positive start as well, McGlashan charging up the right flank, but the pacey winger can't beat Fryers.
2 min: Fryers has started on the left by the way, with Fabio on the right and Jones and Vidic in the middle.
3 min: Valencia, yet go get going this season, is found by Cleverley on the right. His cross is well blocked by Straker though. This has the makings of a good game, though not if United get an early goal.
4 min: Hylton's a livewire for Aldershot. He catches Park in possession in midfield, and Vidic has to come across swiftly to stop him breaking through on goal. Aldershot aren't overwhelmed by the occasion in the slightest.
6 min: "(I believe) the Berbatov situation is very simple - he missed two sitters in the FA Cup semi-final against City, and he's never going to play again in a meaningful fixture for United," says Patrick Cullen. "That might seem tough and vindictive, maybe even spiteful, but to Fergusons thinking it's a simple case of cause and effect - he can't trust Berbatov to do what he's supposed to..." Yes, but would you trust Owen to get a kick of the ball in a meaningful fixture?
7 min: Patient build-up play outside the Aldershot area from United leads to the first half-chance. Thirty yards out, Cleverley clips a lofted pass to the left for Diouf, who wins the header, nodding it down for Berbatov. He can't turn in the area, but between themselves, he and Diouf manage to tee up Cleverley, who leans back and wallops high over the bar from 18 yards out.
9 min: Vidic, who was sent off against Otelul Galati last week of course, is the first player to go into the book. The United captain was caught woefully short here as Hylton and Rankine managed to bustle their way through on the left. The ball broke to Rodman and he got there ahead of Vidic, who desperately brought the flying winger down with a late scythe. Dear me, he looked so slow there - he must have been having Torres flashbacks. Rodman gets up to take the free-kick but his dangerous delivery is headed away.
12 min: Fabio is getting forward at will on the right. His cross towards Diouf is headed behind at the far post for United's first corner. Cleverley sends it high to the far post where Diouf tries to knock it back into the danger area. It's cleared. "Thank you for the Curb clips," says Terry Land. "It really was genius of the production team to have the nerdy trombone break between scenes, otherwise how would anybody know it was comedy?" Is trombone music a hallmark of comedy?
14 min: Owen forces another corner, this time on the right. Cleverley takes, it's headed away. "Patrick Cullen should then go on to explain Fergie's obsession with his young Northern Irish centre back," says Joseph Heil. "I can't bring myself to say his name without foaming at the mouth." Jonny Evans is the new Macbeth, it would appear.
GOAL! Aldershot 0-1 Manchester United (Berbatov, 15 min): And that's the end of that. This is a fine goal indeed, United's movement and one-touch football far too slick for Aldershot to counter. Park started it, dashing in from the left, before exchanging passes with Cleverley, ever the pivot, and breaking into the area. Park could have gone for goal himself, but with so much time and space he was able to play one more pass and find Berbatov eight yards from goal. The Berb took one touch to set himself and then rammed the ball into the bottom-right corner. "We're going to win 6-1," chant the Aldershot fans, who don't really care too much that they're a goal down.
17 min: After a spell out with injury, Cleverley has returned in stonking form, it would appear, though he should have put Berbatov in again just now, only to mess up his final pass.
19 min: United are rampant now. Park very nearly slides Diouf in but Worner is quick off his line to smother the danger. Moments later, Aldershot were extremely lucky not to concede a penalty as Berbatov ambled forward, weaving left and right and tying the Aldershot defence in knots. Just as Berbatov seemed poised to shoot, Guttridge clattered into the back of him, bringing the Bulgarian down. Astonishingly Walton deems it to be a fair challenge. Berbatov is too good for this stage.
21 min: Aldershot are very unlucky United lost 6-1 on Sunday; they're in no mood for another humiliation tonight and could be two or three up already. On the right, Owen plays a clever reverse pass inside to Fabio, who hares into the area and then sees his low shot deflected just past the left post. From the resulting corner, the ball soars all the way to the far post, where Berbatov nods it back into the six-yard box. Worner is nowhere to be seen, but the ball is hacked clear before it can be bundled in. Shortly after Cleverley goes down in the area, but looked like he was outmuscled rather than fouled.
24 min: "Even after scoring a goal, Berbatov has the look of Miles Davis asked to play trumpet for a wedding mariachi band," says Nick Pettigrew. Poor Berb.
25 min: Valencia's cross is deflected behind for United's umpteenth corner. The corner's a steaming disgrace. "Continuing my psychological profiling of Ferguson, Michael Owen's not there to play games, he's there as a role model for younger players, an intelligent and positive individual with a wealth of experience they can learn from being around on the training ground," says Patrick Cullen again. "And he gets a game every once in a while, 'cause he's a good lad..." Isn't he there to organise board game nights?
27 min: Now this is more encouraging from Aldershot, who have to get the ball out to the speedy McGlashan whenever they can. He drives forward here, goes inside, then out and then crashes a fierce effort just over the bar from the right corner of the area.
28 min: On the counter, Aldershot look like they could pose problems for United. Rankine takes on Fryers and wins a corner, Aldershot's first. The crowd celebrate like they've scored.
29 min: Rodman's corner's headed out, but United can't get out just yet, as the ball is shuffled out to Rodman again. He crosses to the far post, but Rankine can't get up high enough. "Berbatov is the only player at United that would get in the Barcelona team," says Mark Judd. "Discuss." Ok. He wouldn't.
31 min: Aldershot haven't disgraced themselves. Aside from the Fabio chance after Berbatov's goal, United haven't been able to create too much. Michael Owen has touched the ball around three times.
33 min: United can't be contained down the right flank. Park scampers away from Straker, who could really do with some help from his team-mates, and fires a cross to the far post, where Berbatov puts a firm header over. "Although the Berb seems to have fallen down the forwards pecking order this season, he's now more likely to get a game than either Ferdinand or Evans at centre back after Sunday's mishap," says Ian Burch. "A return to Spurs or the Bundesliga surely beckons."
34 min: Vincenti pings one a few yards wide of the left post from 25 yards out.
35 min: Valencia teases Straker again on the right, before digging out a cross to the far post, where Diouf - what is the point of him exactly? - gets up above Herd and puts his header high and wide.
36 min: Aldershot won't lie down. Not as long as there's only one goal in it. The lively Rodman has a pop from the edge of the area, but it's deflected over by the intervening Fryers. Another corner to Aldershot, though there's a delay before it can be taken as Rodman is feeling his shoulder after Fryers' challenge. He's gone off for treatment.
38 min: After the delay, Guttridge trots across to the left to take the corner. He sends it to the back of the area where Rankine, in a criminal amount of space, is allowed a free header. It's too far out to try and score, and ultimately his header is blocked by Berbatov. Aldershot cry for handball, but it looked like it hit his stomach. Aldershot keep up the pressure and when a shot is deflected into the area, Vidic tripped an Aldershot player - but the flag was up for offside! What an escape.
GOAL! Aldershot 0-2 Manchester United (Owen, 41 min): Call him up, Fabio. Encouraged by their brief flurry of dominance, Aldershot pressed forward again, and Hylton found a smidgen of space in the area. With his back to goal, he tried to swivel and shoot but from an angle his effort went straight at Amos. From there, United broke instantly, a ball over the top from Owen finding Berbatov on the right. He bided his time patiently, waiting for support to pour into the box, but when it did, he produced a moment of class. Rather than putting it into the six-yard box, he spotted Owen's late run from deep and timed his pass with the outside of his boot superbly into his strike partner's path. Completely unmarked, Owen's finish from 12 yards wasn't great, but slipped underneath Worner and high into the net. Game over.
44 min: Now it's United's fans who can be heard loud and clear. "The last time I followed a game on the guardian website I was on a trail motorbike in Laos," says Alun. "I am now waiting for a train in a wet Bristol. An uneven contest; 6-1 even."
45 min+1: There will be two minutes of stoppage time. In the first of those, Fabio drifts another cross in to the far post, but Diouf's header is weak and bounces off the unwitting Morris in the six-yard box and back to Worner.
Peep! Peep! There's the half time whistle. Crisis over.
Half time: Aldershot 0-2 Manchester United.
The other Carling Cup scores are here:
Arsenal 0-0 Bolton
Cardiff 1-0 Burnley
Crystal Palace 0-0 Southampton
It's all kicking off.
46 min: Rodman hasn't come back out for the second half after his shoulder injury. Bradley Bubb replaces him. This could be a long 45 minutes if United stop playing.
47 min: In fact, can we have Pogba and Morrison on now?
GOAL! Aldershot 0-3 Manchester United (Valencia, 48 min): This time the Aldershot fans can only applaud, because this is brilliant from Antonio Valencia. United stroked the ball around effortlessly in front of the Aldershot area, before it found its way to Valencia, 25 yards from goal. With no one bothering to close him down, he took one touch to set himself up, and then absolutely screamed a ferocious shot past Worner and into the top-right corner.
49 min: Oh dear. Fabrice Muamba has made it Arsenal 0-1 Bolton.
52 min: Hylton races back to try to stop another Fabio burst, but can only bring him down outside the area on the right. The subsequent free-kick isn't worth typing about.
54 min: Berbatov is appealing for a penalty again after flicking the ball up, trying to get away from Morris. The ball brushes against the defender's arm, but it was unintentional. "Seeing as how he has such a good eye for a pass and doesn't like running about much, couldn't Fergie find a place for that nice Mr Berbatov in midfield somewhere?" says John. "I mean it'd give him something to do at least, and I'd wager he'd not give the ball away as much as Anderson does." He has a future in central defence. Never forget the Leeds game.
56 min: Andrey Arshavin has equalised for Arsenal against Bolton, who didn't keep their lead long. Back to matters here, the persistent Hylton wins a free-kick off Valencia on the left, deep in United territory. Guttridge's ball in is cleared.
57 min: This would have been absolutely brilliant. After the free-kick was cleared, Berbatov charged strongly up the left in his own half, holding off a succession of challenges from Aldershot players, before finding Park. Berbatov kept running though, managing to stay on his feet despite Herd's best efforts to cynically bring him down, and Park just had to knock the ball up the line for the Bulgarian. With Aldershot's defence caught horribly short after the free-kick, Berbatov had a huge gap to stroll through in the middle. However because he was off-balance, two Aldershot defenders got back to confront him. So Berbatov just nonchalantly wrong-footed them both with a lazy dragback, putting the ball on to his left foot, only to mess it all up with the finish which was pulled disappointingly wide of the far post from the edge of the area. What is Berbatov doing on this pitch? It's like Stephen Fry being a judge on the X Factor.
60 min: Paul Pogba, who is decidedly not the new Patrick Vieira, replaces Tom Cleverley. Park Chu-yong has given Arsenal the lead by the way.
63 min: Ravel Morrison please!
64 min: Peter Walton could probably blow up now. "Given his reputation as a footballing Wilt Chamberlain, I was expecting something quite different from the 'Dean Holdsworth's Miss Wembley' video," says Michael West.
67 min: "I'm impressed that Pogba playing one half against Leeds has made him decidedly anything, let alone the next Vieira," toots Conal Huetter. Are you familiar with the concept of reserve games?
68 min: Berbatov wakes up suddenly, rolls his foot disdainfully back and forward over the ball and then slips it inside the area to Owen, who tries to spin and fire home his second. Morris does well to block it.
69 min: Park scampers forward again, but his poked ball through for Owen carries through to Worner.
70 min: Pogba tries a careful placed shot from the edge of the area. Not enough care on it. The ball wafts harmlessly over. The stoppage in play allows United to bring on Michael Keane on for Fryers and Ravel Morrison on for Diouf. Now then, now then. A Keane in a United shirt again and a chance to see what Morrison has got in his locker.
73 min: Jamie Collins replaces Vincenti for Aldershot.
74 min: Michael Owen takes a corner. He pretends he's David Beckham and tries to set Park up for a volley from the edge of the area, but the South Korean has to take it down under pressure and then pulls a poor shot wide. Michael Owen just took a corner.
77 min: Aldershot's fans are still making a racket.
78 min: Here's the first glimpse of what Morrison can do. A one-two with Berbatov on the edge of the area, featuring a gloriously cocky backheel from Morrison, gets the youngster through on goal, but he's denied by a last-ditch tackle. That was pretty, pretty good.
80 min: A wonderful, meandering run from Park is brought to an end by McGlashan on the edge of the area, and though the ball breaks to Berbatov to put into an empty net, Walton had already blown for the foul. The free-kick is right on the edge of the area, and calls for power rather than subtlety. Berbatov hammers it through the wall, but Worner, who would have seen it late, beats it away.
82 min: Aldershot make a final change. Adam Smith replaces Rankine.
84 min: Is Phil Brown in the crowd? The Aldershot fans are singing his song.
86 min: What a chance for Aldershot to grab a consolation. At long last, they give United something to think about in their own area, and Vidic has to step in to knock Hylton off the ball. Hylton wants a penalty but it was a fair challenge by Vidic. Guttridge storms on to the loose ball on the edge of the area, only for his rasping drive to fizz just wide of the right post.
88 min: Aldershot have played pretty well in areas tonight. They've been painfully short of any quality in the final third, but that's to be expected, especially as Vidic is playing for United.
89 min: Guttridge goes even closer. He whips a free-kick from 25 yards around the wall, but the under-worked Amos flies to his right to parry the ball wide. Great shot, great save.
90 min: There will be three more minutes.
90 min+1: With Aldershot over-committed, United break forward at speed, suddenly finding themselves with a three-on-one. Owen's pass - he had both Valencia and Berbatov free - is utterly useless but Valencia just about manages to make something out of the mess, only to shank his volley high and wide when clean through.
Peep! Peep! Peep! The final whistle is met by appreciative applause from the Aldershot fans, who are rightly proud of their team's efforts - not just tonight but in the entire competition. United were always going to be too good, especially with Dimitar Berbatov in the mood, and so it proved. It won't make up for Sunday, but it will do for now. Thanks for reading. Night.