Opinion: Old Trafford stayed united on Saturday
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wrote in his notes for Saturday's match programme that everybody at Manchester United needed to pull in the right direction.
It struck a chord as he stated: “We are at the start of a journey for this club. We have a plan, we know where we want to go and, while there will be highs and lows along the way, there will be more highs than lows and we’ll get there together.”
If there were any concerns, he need not have worried. There was a moment during the second half of the vital 1-0 victory over Leicester City when the crowd upped the volume and sustained it, providing the backing that was required to see the team over the line.
Usually, a specific incident on the pitch sparks such support and, while Harry Maguire’s excellent piece of defending to rob Demarai Gray was well appreciated, this felt like a spontaneous act, from the Stretford End in particular, to appreciate the situation facing the side and launch a concerted attempt to make the difference.
The away end had been taunting their counterparts for a lack of noise during the second half, even if a cynic could argue most of the visiting fans' energy appeared to be channelled into booing former favourite Maguire, rather than getting behind the Foxes.
This was not United in full flow and it was a tough test against respected opposition. The way the results were going elsewhere, with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea already winning comfortably before the half-time whistle had sounded, you could sense the pressure building. So the fans had every right to be nervy and edgy.
After all, the naysayers before the game were predicting a gloomy outcome as United took on an accomplished side with an ever-growing injury list, following the international break.
The Foxes may have won the Premier League as recently as 2016 but their fine start to the campaign has been used in some quarters as another stick to beat the Reds with, in so much as they are being talked up as better bets for a top-four finish.
An early penalty, for a rash challenge by Caglar Soyuncu on Marcus Rashford, and duly converted by the England forward, was just what the doctor ordered but, as Ole acknowledged, we were unable to build on this advantage and, when Rashford hit the bar from a free-kick, it felt like a piece of bad luck that could prove crucial.
As time wore on, though, the manager's substitutions worked. Andreas Pereira moved into a central role and Tahith Chong showed glimpses of his exciting talent on the left. Meanwhile, Scott McTominay continued to give his all and his charge downfield deep into stoppage time helped ensure the job was completed, even if it did spark a bit of a melee.
Had Leicester found an equaliser, it would have been open season on United for our start to the campaign. Instead, Ole’s men lie in fourth place in the Premier League table. As some have been quick to point out, champions Manchester City are only two points better off after their shock defeat to Norwich City.
Of course, the manager was right to put things in perspective after the victory and he keeps stressing this is the start of what will probably be a rebuilding process. Up next is Thursday’s opening Europa League clash with Astana at Old Trafford, which should hopefully be an enjoyable experience, particularly if some of the younger players get their chance to stake a claim.
On Sunday, a trip to West Ham United will be far from easy against a team that has begun 2019/20 well and, no doubt, there will be loads more questions for the Reds to answer. In truth, this is the pressure that comes with competing in the Premier League.
However, it was encouraging to hear Old Trafford get behind the players at a time when it felt required. We all know that, away from home, the support is always non-stop and unequivocal, and that is bound to be the case at the London Stadium next weekend.
It’s no real surprise, to be honest. United have always had to grind out results, even in Sir Alex Ferguson’s day, and those who often sacrifice so much to be there in person to cheer their team fully understand and appreciate this. The ability to feel you're having a positive impact can also not be underestimated and it did just that.
Yet, judging by the mood on social media at times, it is something that should never be taken for granted. The Reds’ best hope of getting back to the top is by being united and, at Old Trafford again on Saturday, that certainly seemed to be the prevailing sentiment as we held out for three welcome points.
Long may it continue – weekends are far better with a United victory.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
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