They have also been dubbed the Man City of the Non-League, which will give our players more reasons to win emphatically when facing them at Old Trafford in late February.
Hopefully, Man Utd will do a much better (and a less nail-biting) job than the last 2 times we’ve faced non-league opposition in the FA Cup:
8 Jan 2005: Exeter City
Man United were FA Cup holders for the first time in 5 years after beating Millwall in the final in the previous season (incidentally, Ronaldo’s first season at OT, he also scored in the final). So a home draw against non-league Exeter City looked like a bye into the next round and an opportunity to give the youngsters some minutes on the pitch.
But it turned out to be a frustrating tie for the Red Devils. Exeter City, plagued by financial problems, displayed the kind of dogged spirit that you normally see lower divisions sides exhibit in the Cup when facing more illustrious opponents. They comfortably held Man Utd to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford and had they converted some very good chances, they could have inflicted even more humiliation on United. Thankfully, Man United brought out the big guns for the replay and won 2-0.
Team at OT: Howard, Phil Neville, Brown, Pique, Spector,Eagles (Ronaldo 63), Djemba-Djemba, Jones, Miller (Scholes 63),Bellion (Smith 76), Richardson.
Subs Not Used: Heinze, Ricardo.
Team at St James Park: Howard, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, O’Shea, Fortune, Giggs (Saha 70), Miller (Fletcher 66), Scholes, Djemba-Djemba (Silvestre 80), Ronaldo, Rooney.
Subs Not Used: Ricardo, Bellion.
Goals: Ronaldo 9, Rooney 87.
8 Jan 2006: Burton Albion
Fast forward one year and you would have thought Man United had learnt their lesson.
Within 14 minutes of the match at the Pirelli Stadium, Utd’s Phil Bardsley had to make a goal-line clearance after a Burton corner. The non-league side, managed by the legendary Brian Clough’s son, Nigel Clough, forced another goal-line clearance from Bardsley later in the first half as they successfully kept United at bay.
In the second half, Utd piled on the pressure, but ended up drawing, despite going very close late in the game. This time, Fergie broadly kept faith with the same team (apart from one change) and United thrashed Burton 5-0 in the replay at Old Trafford.
Team at the Pirelli Stadium: Howard, Brown, Pique, Silvestre, Bardsley, O’Shea, Jones, Richardson, Solskjaer (Ronaldo 59), Saha, Rossi (Rooney 58).
Subs Not Used: Steele, Eckersley, Campbell.
Team at OT: Howard, Bardsley, Pique, Brown (Neville 62), Silvestre, Solskjaer, Fletcher (Giggs 62), O’Shea (Ferdinand 62), Richardson, Rossi, Saha.
Subs Not Used: Van der Sar, van Nistelrooy.
Goals: Saha 7, Rossi 23, Richardson 52, Giggs 68, Rossi 90.
Man United don’t have to fear any team nor do they have to be too nice if they are facing a team from lower divisions. There are teams we would rather not draw, but at the end of the day, anyone can beat anyone.
Let’s hope Fergie finds the right balance between youth and experience (and between respecting the opponent and being ruthless) in the next round because we don’t want to come close to being humiliated again and we could also do with a stress-free win!