Date: 20th February 2011 at 11:30am
Written by:

Preamble

A brief look at Crawley’s journey towards this encounter told us pretty much all we needed to know with regards to expectations for today’s game.. a tight-knit unit prepared to stick at it for 90 minutes and a side not prepared to leave Old Trafford as mere tourists, content to just be passive participants.

On the 7 December 2010, Crawley pulled off a giant killing feat by beating Football League One side Swindon Town 3-2 in the FA Cup 2nd round replay match at Swindon’s County Ground, taking them into the third round of the competition for the second time in their history.This was followed by an exciting home tie against Championship side Derby County which was played on the 10th January 2011. Goals from Craig McAllister in the first half and Sergio Torres in injury time guided Crawley to a 2-1 win, to set up a 4th round tie with Torquay United. On 29 Jan 2011 Crawley beat Torquay 1-0 to reach the last sixteen of the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Their only goal of the match happened to be scored by Matt Tubbs after 39 minutes, and thankfully despite going on to miss two second half penalties and having a player sent off they held on for a memorable win. This also happened to be the first time that a non-league side had reached the fifth round since Kidderminster Harriers F.C. in the 1993–94 competition.

So a fantastic run and they were pretty close to extending it tonight. Anyway on we go to the 5 Things I Noticed during tonights game…

1. Blundering Bebe

  • 4 – Bebé completed just four passes in the opening 45 minutes of this match, attempting just eight overall (excluding crosses).

Must admit, one simply couldn’t fathom why on earth we brought this non-league player from Portugal for the money we’ve supposedly paid in order to acquire his services. Not to mention the fact that apparently Sir Alex hadn’t even attempted to watch the player in action, a practice nearly unheard of in all his lengthy managerial career at United. So despite being a guy who is always excited about us signing new unheard of talent and watching them grow with our club, the fact he was so unproven, and the fee we paid for him… made me unsure of whether this deal was going to be a success rather than another botched deal Manucho Stylee.

Anyway as to his first few games as a Red Devil, what became apparent was that whilst this lad is quite a physical package in terms of Pace and Power, the rest of his game was incredibly raw and in need of serious fine-tuning. So we waited for a while to see if there were any immediate signs of progression, and there were.. an immense goal in the reserves against Wigan, one which provided hope to supporters who had retained faith in the mantra Fergie ‘Cannae do nay Wrong’ and that this lad was a diamond of extreme promise, waiting to be refined. Since that goal, the detractors had largely been silenced, biding their time, waiting for the latest glimpse of Bebe for the first XI to assess whether or not.. they had been quick to judge and that once again Sir Alex had dumbfounded his critics, like he so often does and then today’s game happened…

Hard to know where to begin when assessing his performance, well I’ll attempt to begin with his delivery from wide positions, which arguably had progressed from his last performance for the seniors, where he wildly over hit his crosses on numerous occasions. Today whilst he wasn’t too occupied with locating a team mate, he at least seemed to understand the value of the penalty box and landing the ball within the confines of the white lines. A sign of genuine progress, though when you take a moment to reflect and realise we’re discussing the ability of professional footballers at a World Class club here, it hits you.. just how much we’re clutching at straws. Another attribute of Bebe’s which impresses me ever so slightly is his vision when running with the ball. I know it sounds laughable, but whilst his execution is not there and may never be there depending on how quickly he can progress, you get the sense when watching him he can spot the runs of players, but he just doesn’t have the tools to find them.

Now on to the negatives of which there are quite a few… firstly, I’ve read a lot of rubbish with regards to fans citing the likes of Ronaldo/Nani as players who struggled to mature when first breaking through at United, can I just say categorically that Ronaldo’s début was the most electrifying non-scoring Man.Utd. début I’ve ever seen, we all knew we were in the presence of a serious talent and whilst it took a while for everyone to get to grip with Nani, what was clear to see for the ones in the know, was that Nani possessed arguably even more natural technique on the ball than his predecessor, not to mention physically both were extremely fit (run all day, extremely supple, pacey). What the coaching staff had to do with these kids was rein in their talent, mould it into a way in which it remains entertaining but effective in terms of winning matches. Furthermore, especially in the case of Nani, they had to instil basic football fundamentals of pass and move, knowing when to run at players and when to release to a team mate when put in an uncompromising position. With regards to Bebe.. it is like there isn’t no outstanding natural talent to hone, his footwork on his admittedly limited showings thus far has been rather average, his agility is decent but nothing spectacular and his ball striking technique isn’t good enough to compensate for those shortcomings. Another feature of his performance which caught the eye for the wrong reasons was his lack of effort off the ball a result of his lack of stamina. You can forgive a player for poor fitness when that lad is evidently talented, but if you’re not really providing the fans with flair, the least you can do to compensate is run yourself into the ground and make up for your lack of penetration going forward in other ways.

2. Ober & Ober Again

I’ve been a staunch supporter of Obertan, praying this lad converts that blessed combination of pace and trickery into something more substantial, adding elements to his game and becoming a complete wide player, one capable of breaking through into the first team. Before we go into tonight’s performance, can I just say from a tactical viewpoint… I don’t think this lad can play on the left, his best performances for me have come down the right where he looks more comfortable and dangerous when taking on players, taking advantage of his pace and running his fullback down the line, rather than having to cut in where he comes across rather predictable and is knocked off the ball. Today’s performance was a re-run of what I was subjected to when I watched him down at the Hawthorns, where he enjoyed a miserable first half on the left, making no impact and unable to take a player on let alone deliver a decent ball to his strikers.

If we are to get the best out of Obertan its going to be in an attacking midfield role, utilising his ability to get past players with pace, rather than isolating him on the wing, where he just doesn’t have the wits and strength about him, to constantly get past a man. In the middle he is a lot less predictable and instead of being subjected to the sight of him attempting to cross a ball, we could have a look at whether his through balls are better and if it is the position to best unlock this kid’s undoubted talent.

At the moment, he looks haunted. Out of his depth, running into blind alleys and losing possession at an alarming rate. He seems to have regressed during his time here and there are still zero signs of him having worked on his ball-striking technique, a fundamental flaw in his game. I’m fast losing faith…

3. Contrasting Fortunes Off The Bench

I was happy to see Wayne being introduced at half time, not so much when I found out it was for Anderson (one of our stronger performers in the first half). Nonetheless after that ‘Goal That Shalt Be Named At Every Given Opportunity’ last weekend, one was hoping that this would a second half cameo reminiscent of his strolls against Portsmouth in the FA Cup, or his terrorising of Middlesborough all those years ago – basically a demonstration of why he’s one of the worlds elite and how much these non-league footballers still have to do to merit being on the pitch with such illustrious opponents. Sadly this wasn’t to be and Rooney if anything added to the slight malaise which was evident in the first half. Instead of bring Hernandez into the game and servicing his team mate, Rooney’s utter inability to bring the ball down neatly and his lack of execution when delivering killer passes meant that Hernandez was driven to roaming on the wings in order to seek possession and make something out of nothing, the story of his game tonight.

Whilst Rooney faltered, one man who entered the fray and immediately went about his game like an effortless virtuoso was Chris Smalling. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how much I hope this kid does well (good vibe about him), and he didnt disappoint again today, adding to his growing catalogue of composed displays in heated atmospheres, most recently the small matter of the Manchester Derby. He just didn’t seem fazed, put himself about, outmuscled the Crawley players on a number of occasions and even had the time to make powerful surges going forwards in an effort to provide some spark to the malfunctioning forward line.

Click here for part 2