Saturday, 10 March 2007

Paying the Penalty

So near....

....yet so bastard far

A crushing sense of disappointment envelopes Teesside tonight. Despite the fact that Manchester United outplayed Boro for most of tonight’s FA Cup quarter final, there is a sense that Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty killed our best hope of making the last four.

I can only hope that the BBC cameras managed to miss my truly pitiful attempts at waving a big blue-and-black flag by the touchline before kick off. I’m still not sure why I was picked on for this task. My only defence is that I was (and still am, if I’m being honest) quite drunk and it was very windy. I thought I was doing quite well till it flew off the end of the pole. The ball boy looked at me with a real sense of pity.

While the news that Julio Arca and Lee Cattermole had shaken off injuries picked up at the Geordie morgue last week was a boost, we were far too tentative in the first half. Given the number of humiliations we have dished out to Ferguson’s lot in recent seasons it was a surprise and a let down how we stood off the visitors in the opening 45 minutes. When Woodgate missed an interception and Wayne Rooney collected the ball, evaded defenders and expertly placed the ball in Schwarzer’s bottom corner it was no surprise nor less than United deserved. Yakubu threatened to redress the balance when he controlled Viduka’s flick, rolled his marker and thumped a left foot shot which Kusczak did well to stop. The Polish understudy fared less well just before half time when he clawed at a cross unconvincingly. Julio Arca’s placed header was taken on the chest by Lee Cattermole, who finished with a panache and poise that did not fit the 43 minutes that had preceded it.

The second half began rather better than the first. I was still climbing my way up to row 37 having downed the regulation pint of swill when George Boateng evaded any marking and powered a header past Kusczak. The Riverside was finally jumping. The scent of blood was in the air. We were ready to wreak a glorious vengeance for Ronaldo’s play-acting. The army of plastic Mancs were silenced at last. Whoever put up that Hartlepool flag in the away end ought to be ashamed of themselves. Danny Wilson has built a team to proud of – these trophy-hunting cretins deserve no respect.

Just as Boro finally seemed to be controlling the game, United were awarded a penalty. George Boateng was perhaps foolish to have his arms raised but it credits him with better reactions than he has displayed for most of this season to suggest it was deliberate. Given that the cretinous Rob Styles had been handed the whistle, there was little chance of a spot kick not being awarded – we should consider ourselves grateful to finish with 11 men. It was galling to see our semi-final dreams dashed by a proven cheat. That Ronaldo paused his run up only proves that he still has the capacity to break the rules even when taking a set piece. The game fizzled out to a draw. The replay suits neither a crestfallen Boro or a big pot-chasing United. We can only hope that they are lethargic in the replay – sadly, it seems our best chance has gone now.

Man of the Match: Julio Arca – showed superb technique and composure again. Bonus marks for megging Ronaldo.

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