By Joe Behan
The much-anticipated clash of the Uniteds was not accompanied by the entire league playing due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. It was quite a surprise to see any games, for that matter, being played. The rampant outbreak is now said to be a serious threat to Ireland on the whole, while mainland Europe are burning thousands upon thousands of livestock. The expected buzz to hit United fans, both Manchester and Leeds, was somewhat destroyed. Games and sporting events were canceled on both sides of the water, including horse racing, rugby, and, of course, the Eircom league.
Indeed it was quite unbelievable that the English Premier ignored the absolute importance of unconditional cancellation. Governments are now pleading for people to avoid traveling to farm country. Dare it be said that the show must go on, so it must be assumed that authorities know exactly what they are doing. Nonetheless, the games were played and its effects were put into perspective by Manchester United fan Nigel Purdy.
"Looking at the game, it looked like both teams had foot-and-mouth disease rampant throughout the first half," he said. "It was pretty boring in comparison to previous games, in particular last week’s 6-1 drilling of Arsenal. I don’t like Liverpool and was delighted to see them beaten 2-nil by a non-existent team like Leicester."
Harsh words from the Dublin native, which reflected his lack of interest in a poor United performance that resulted in a 1-all draw. A Manchester United supporter who, by his comments, one can see the resurgence of the once mighty Liverpool is now a concern of the dominance of Old Trafford. Purdy has been a Manchester United fan all his life, and while he is disappointed with the performance and result, he recognizes the need for more top quality players to be at Old Trafford.
"Obviously, Roy Keane would have made a big difference with his engine in tracking Lee Boyer’s runs besides missing one of the best midfielders in the world," he said. "Cole was definitely missing in the attack, as he can hold the ball up better and longer than Teddy Sheringham. Ryan Giggs is out with a hamstring injury and Utd.’s width was not as dangerous. His runs and crosses are such an important addition to the attack, he was sorely missed. Dwight
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Yorke should have been on from the start after his outstanding hat trick the week before. Any player who scores three should never be dropped the next game."
Purdy points out that this is where United’s problems arise. "The rotating system at United is not as great as believed. It is only effective against weaker opposition and, contrary to United’s league standing, there are not that many weak teams in the Premiership."
Alex Ferguson should not be underestimated with respect to his attempts to get his team to peak into the final stages of the Champions League. He has held off players, in particular Yorke, whose hat trick being the perfect example of peaking.
I’ll be perfectly honest here, I think Manchester United will qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League and will only go on further if they meet Leeds or Arsenal. I think Ferguson is right to retire. Like any great team, it has to come to an end some time. I’m not saying they will fall apart, but they’ll have to rebuild. They do not have enough quality players coming through for them to sustain the glory they achieved. But put it this way, they won’t take as long as Liverpool did because Utd. buy the right players.
The game against Leeds showed the lack of players power they have in the side.
From the start of the game Leeds dominated until the break. Bathez was unbelievably erratic. There was a bad back pass from Stam to the French international while Robbie Keane put some pressure on the ball. Barthez tried control to outfox the Irish Intenational. Keane was too wise for Barthez and intercepted the play. Bathez, in typical fashion, made a brilliant tackle to stop from Keane scoring. From that point Leeds took the upper hand and Manchester looked like a reserve team.
Toward the end of the first half, Barthez was up to his old tricks again and this time he and Utd. were punished with a penalty awarded to Leeds.
The ball was swung in and yet another Irish international invaded Barthez’s box. Harte rose with the keeper and when the ball was cleared, Harte nicked Barthez, taking the Leeds dead-ball specialist down.
The week before, Harte stuck a peno away against Spurs, putting the ball to his right. But for some reason he changed sides without disguising the strike and Barthez read the shape of things to come, resulting in a brilliant save. A penalty save that redeemed his antics and kept the Red Devils in the game.
In the second half, the game started off more positive than the first. Luke Chadwick is indeed a bit similar to Ryan Giggs as his run into the box following Ole Gunnar’s resulted in a tap in to make it 1-nill for Utd. Dennis Irwin let Leeds defender Danny Mills get by him far too easily and its Irwin lack of recovery that indicates the need for new blood. Mills crossed with great quality, Boyer flicked it on, and Viduka nodded a spectacular finish.
There has to be a concern for the lack of marking in the box as the Aussie was completely free. Leeds fully deserved the equalizer and Dave O’Leary threw his arms around Brian Kidd instead of Eddie Gray, as he does most weeks.
O’Leary is closing the gap on the United dynasty. United played terribly and on the day Leeds should have done better.
There’s talk of Cantonna taking over at Old Trafford, but in my opinion he simply does not have the experience. United have to look deeper than the French hero. I have no idea who they should look for, but who they should let go is an easier task. For starters, the Neville brothers are muck and they have got away with it far too long. Buying quality defenders would see their departure from the Red Devils. They are the only bad call at United as they make too many mistakes. Roy Keane has a few more years in his contract and his departure would be a huge loss. Now is the right time to look for a new leader and perhaps Paul Scoles will be the successor.
Sylvan Wiltord scored a hat trick in Arsenal’s convincing defeat of West Ham, increasing the Gunnners’ chances of a Champions League spot. The Hammers, on the other hand, may have seen European competition league-wise gone but may prove more determined now in the FA cup to reach EUFA.
Derby beat Spurs 2-1 lifting the Rams further out of relegation. Spurs are inconsistent and, like the Hammers, Tottenham are relying on the FA cup for Euro competition. One of the London club’s seasons may end prematurely as they clash in a London derby in the FA.
There have been no major changes in the league standings. Not even the threat of foot-and-mouth disease can stop league fixtures. It is just as frightening that the FA in England went ahead with the games than the outbreak of the disease itself.
Neil Lennon didn’t take long to get over the boos he received from Northern Ireland support when they were beaten 4-0 by Norway. Every time he received the ball a contingent of bigots bad-mouthed the Irish international.
Lennon hit back with his first goal for Celtic in the Hoops’ impressive 3-0 win over Dunfermline at Eastend Park. Henrick
Larsson hit his 32nd goal of the season. He is now closer to Brian McClair’s 1986 record of 35 goals.
Ipswich Town went third in the Premiership by beating Bradford 3-1. Bradford now look like they will be relegated. Chelsea were unable to beat second-from-the-bottom Coventry, the clash of the blues tied 0-0.
Everton and Newcastle battled out a 1-1 draw. Southampton continued their great run up the table by beating Manchester City 1-0, while Middlesbrough tied with Charlton 0-0.
Aston Villa are turning out to be the most disappointing team in the Premiership. They are only 7 points from the relegation zone.