Losing unbeaten streak could help United


Manchester United failed to eclipse a club record of going 30 games without defeat after surrendering their unbeaten record to bottom of the table Wolves at Molineux. With Arsenal capitulating earlier on in the day after going 4-0 up against Newcastle only to draw 4-4 and with Chelsea losing to Liverpool yesterday, it was the perfect opportunity for Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges to gallop into the distance and leave the chasing pack eating dust. But it wasn’t to be.

However, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Red Devils as they chase that coveted record-breaking 19th league title.

With United now no longer worrying about protecting an unbeaten record, they will be going to win the away games that they seem to approach rather tentatively which has resulted in just three wins on the road all season.

That the bottom club, Wolves, should be the ones to break United’s run highlights the idea that the league leaders have been riding their luck for a while, trying to avoid losing and extending their advantage at the top while not playing particularly well. Remember, they were given a torrid time by Blackpool only 11 days earlier.

This eyebrow-raising result has done two things. It has opened up a title race that was in danger of developing into a procession and it has also freed United of the shackles that have limited them to such a poor record away from home. Wolves may have turned up in sheep’s clothing for four successive defeats in the league but their tooth-and-claw performance here was well worth maximum points.

As good as Wolves were, Manchester United finally came unstuck having spent most of the season getting results without playing well. This time they forgot the first part.

The signs were there: only an injury-time winner from Park Ji-Sung separated Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and Wolves at Old Trafford in November.

More recently, another late comeback saved United from defeat at Blackpool, where Ryan Giggs helped turn their fortunes around, and a similar scenario was repeated in the FA Cup tie at Southampton where they came from behind to win 2-1.

Even before then at Tottenham in January, it was a vintage performance by centre-backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand that were the most outstanding aspects in a display in which the forwards and midfield failed to fire.

In all of this, the reliance on veterans Giggs and Scholes may be the most worrying aspect for United fans.

While others have scored goals, they have provided more zest and energy to the centre of midfield, where the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson have failed to do so.

Driving runs by Giggs on the ball have been matched by Scholes’ never-ending capacity to gamble on getting into the box. This was emphasised when he replaced Carrick on Saturday and was more involved in advanced and wider positions.

With Ferguson not dipping into the transfer market in Januray, supposingly saving his kitty for replacing the impending exits of Edwin van der sar and the hurried retirement of Gary Neville, he could be tempted to bolster his options in midfield as his stalwarts continue to excel while their subordinates fail to deliver at the crucial points in a game.

Either way, with a difficult run-in to come, Manchester United will now have the freedom to attack teams without the subconscious fear of surrendering their unbeaten streak. This could lead to a very interesting close to the season, starting with a home game against title race gatecrashers and ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City.

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