Manchester United picked up an important three points at the weekend against fourth place hopefuls Tottenham, and Ed Diggins was there….eventually.
This was never going to be an easy trip. Something called Eyjafjallajökull (pardon my French) meant that last Monday to Wednesday was spent trying to sort out a backup plan via road. Thankfully come lunchtime Thursday, things were looking ok….
It’s Saturday morning, 4.10 am. My travel buddy today is the faithful Pole Remi and as I turn over to enjoy a much needed power nap on his couch, he is tapping at my toes to get up. It is time to go already. A work night out has meant that I have hardly slept and I rise like a deflated beach ball. This is going to be a long day. Our quick trip to the airport is not so straight forward. Oblivious to me, but not the sharp eyed Remi, the taxi is barely moving. He is stuck in first gear and 15 minutes in, we have barely turned the first corner. A few SOS radio calls and some engine poking later, we arrive.
Aer Lingus are our chosen carrier this morning, via Birmingham at 6.30am. We board fairly sharply and I am asleep within moments. We are joined now by another regular traveler Simon and as we arrive in Birmingham airport, it is so far so good. The train is under two hours, so estimated arrival time is about 10.30 in Manchester.
As we arrive into our first stop, New Street, it becomes clear there is a problem. There are sirens going off and our train is no longer moving. A rather panicked looking train manager comes running towards the front of the train and using his crumbling voice, he ushers us to evacuate the train and the building itself. Our train has been cancelled! S*it, this aint good! A few seconds later, the entire train load is outside on the pavement and the station is closed off. Nobody tells us what is happening.
One hour later, we are still stranded and nobody knows what is happening. There has been a power cut so all boards are down, all communication is down. I have 5 tickets in my pocket for lads in Manchester. I am more worried about them missing the game now than myself. Eventually as it nears 10.30am, we depart; we should be in Manchester now though. It will be tight, really tight. As we enter Macclesfield, we are told we need to leave the train as it will terminate here. Another delay while the next train comes to collect us.
The texts are coming now form worried patrons around the ground. It is midday and we are still not in Manchester. Luckily however, this train is now bound direct for Old Trafford. This will save us some time. Much needed break.
Ticket exchanges are done without delay and as the relieved lads head off to the ground, I make my way to the Bridge Burger stall. I may not be feeling the best today, but it still is consumed. As we enter the stadium, the reserves are getting their medals for winning the reserve Premier League and then the teams arrive.
Wayne Rooney is not even on the bench, but the small silver lining is Owen Hargreaves is back. I had predicted a 3-0 win before I saw the team, I have changed it slightly now to 2-0. I am still confident as the Spurs record at Old Trafford is pretty poor to say the least. Hargreaves gives us a near heart attack as he doesn’t arrive with the rest of the bunch, prompting fears he has fallen injured in the tunnel. Eventually we see those flowing locks arrive. Good to see him back.
Kick off. The first half is uneventful to say the least. Spurs are attacking the Strettie and we see little of the action up this end. They have parked the bus down the other end too and are not budging. It is woeful stuff. United have plenty of possession and the only two chances of the half. A superb ball from Rafael sends Antonia Valencia through but his shot is smothered. Dimitar Berbatov has the best chance form inside the box but a superb block by Ledley King (I think) thwarts the Bulgarian. It is half time, 0-0 and no surprise. The United crowds are not too pleased with some of the decisions of the officials and voice their opinion as the men in black leave the pitch and go for some relaxation down the tunnel.
It is more of the same as the second half progress; Spurs perhaps have come for a point. And they are doing a good job too. Jermaine Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko are virtual spectators up top for Spurs, though it is not their fault. Luca Modric is busy as always, but having little effect. Gareth Bale, grabbing all the headlines this week, is having a quiet day on the left.
Twelve minutes in, a breakthrough. Superb stuff from Berbatov who wins wide right, cuts along the edge of the box and back heals for the incoming Patrice Evra. Milliseconds later, the left back is on his backside and the penalty is awarded. It is as clear as day. It happens directly yards in front of us and also the referee, who simply cannot get this wrong. Who will take it? My money is on Nani, but Ryan Giggs uses his seniority in the squad and grabs it. And he is vindicated too as he smashes it past Gomes in the goal. 1-0, and relief. Jimmy behind us, perhaps the maddest man I have ever sat beside in a football match, ends up having his t-shirt torn off him. He doesn’t really mind, well sort of anyway.
It is still poor fair however, and Spurs start to move a little more forward and enjoy more possession. I have a bad feeling now. Bang, 1-1. Out of nothing King has headed into the net. Rafael should have kept it out on the post. Zonal marking sucks. Not for the first time this season, we concede from a corner and proper manning of the posts would have prevented it. It is squeaky bum time now. The Spurs fans are in full voice away to our right and the momentum maybe starting to swing towards them. They have replaced Defoe and Pavlyuchenko, the freak and Eidur Gudjohnsen are on.
United have brought on Michael Carrick for the injured Valencia, John O Shea for the injured Evra and last throw of the dice is Kiko Macheda. Instant dividends with nine minutes left on the clock. His first touch plays in Nani who takes one and then tries the most audacious of chips. Time stood still, I swear it did. It took what seemed like 35 years for it to go in. Nani is peeling away in celebration before it hits the net. Either way, its in. Eight left, back in front. Pandemonium in the stands.
Just hold out now….but Nani breaks again. As he comes towards us, he hits the deck. It is another foul, another penalty. Will Nani take this one? No Giggs again. Jimmy behind me has 3-1 and 100 quid riding on it. As Giggs goes the opposite side this time, the keepers left, the t-shirt is forgotten about. He can afford a new one now. Game over, more relief.
Our route home is an easier one, via Manchester. No delays, no problems this time. One down, two to go……but we need something from Anfield on Sunday to have any realistic chance. What a day that promises to be.