1. Payback – Such is the theatrical nature of Football in the post Murdoch-era that Sky Sports always seem to feel the need to find a theme for matches. Struggling with one for the historically uncontroversial encounter between Manchester United and Fulham, they decided the theme of “revenge” was a decent one to go with, after the team with the most unfortunate nickname in football – The Cottagers – beat off the Red Devils in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. Revenge was ever present in the build up coverage, as it had been earlier in the week whenever Sky presenters were forced to advertise their upcoming fixtures at the end of other programmes. A montage was compiled, set to James Brown’s “The Payback”, complete with lots of footage of players looking very angry in slow motion and the words “revenge” and “payback” forcefully thrust in our faces in bold, ominous looking red lettering at sporadic intervals. “They’ll want revenge won’t they Jamie?” inquired Richard Keys in the studio, helpfully reminding us how dramatic and important this clash was going to be. “Oh certainly” – Jamie Redknapp might of replied if I’d actually been listening. “Is there an element of Revenge about today?” was the first question posed by Geoff Shreeves as he interviewed Sir Alex Ferguson just before kick off, presumably hoping to lend an air of credibility to the arduous work that had gone into pretending there was in the build up. “No not really” was his reply. Oh….oh ok then.
2. Easy like a Sunday morning – United started comfortably, and ended pretty comfortably too. They also enjoyed a thoroughly comfortable middle period in what was, all in all, a very comfortable victory. Fulham somehow hung on for the first half through a combination of Dimitar Berbatov’s crippling fear of being a striker and the good old-fashioned tactic of throwing themselves in front of every attempt like demented break-dancers.
3. Under pressure – It didn’t last long however, and Fulham were undone within a minute of the second half as Wayne Rooney and Nani combined to easily side foot their way through the Fulham defence and put the Champions ahead. From then on the game was entirely played in the Fulham half as United pushed forward with all the vigor of a particularly untesting training game, and Danny Murphy did his best to seethe quietly with anger and occasionally hack down Wayne Rooney.
4. It only takes a minute…er…girl? – Presumably working from the rope a dope book of victory tactics, Fulham almost proved that old adage of one goal never being enough (except when it’s enough) when Bobby Zamora somehow found himself clean through on goal only to take too many touches and be cleanly taken out by Nemanja Vidic. Normal service was then resumed as Fulham struggled to keep the ball for longer than 3 passes and the game descended into a war of attrition between the United front 5 and the deep lying Fulham back 10.
5. Golden touch – Eventually it was the Usual suspect who dealt the deathly blow as Rooney grabbed yet another brace to add to his collection, after Berbatov had skilled his was passed two Fulham defenders to tee it up on a plate (yes I know that’s a mixed metaphor). Rooney even contrived to scuff the shot, as he had his first, but such is his form at the moment that it could’ve come off any part of his body and it would still likely have gone in. Ronaldo once scored a goal with his crotch during his infamous 42-goal season and such is the form of his former teammate now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a goal from every extremity fly in before the season’s out.
6. Dance of the plum sugar daddy fairies – A far more competitive game then took place at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, as the hosts battered Manchester City in the first half before contriving to be battered even worse themselves in the second, before they all called a truce and settled for a draw. Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights (or Montagues and Capulets) was blasted out of the PA before the game, which struck me as a ridiculously over dramatic gesture worthy of Sky Sports themselves. As it turned out however the game almost lived up to it, and both managers – but mainly Roberto Mancini – will feel more aggrieved than satisfied by the score line.
7. Bent out of shape – Kenwyne Jones put the Mackems ahead with a pure center forwards header, whilst Darren Bent spent the entire first half shooting like he was looking for a beach ball to deflect it in. Jones went off through injury but Sunderland continued to pour forward whilst simultaneously being rubbish when they got there.
8. Holding back the tide – The second half positively exploded into life and we got fights, (well the sort of really tame fights you get in football) people falling over and a goal keeper inspired as Craig Gordon single handedly kept City at bay. Bellamy, Tevez and Santa Cruz were the main culprits, with the latter in particular doing a great impression of someone who didn’t really want to score. Most efforts were struck too close to Gordon to give him too much trouble, but it was never the less a dynamic display from the Scot who it was clear it was going to take something truly special to beat.
9. The curse of the commentator – And so it was, as Andy Gray triumphantly declared “that’s it, it’s definitely gonna be one of those days” after another Gordon save, that Adam Johnson collected the ball from the resulting corner and curled in a millimeter perfect shot in the last minute to rescue a more than deserved point. Picking up the ball on the right angle of the penalty area, he placed a curling left foot shot in the only place it could possibly have gone, even beating the man on the line who, unfortunately, failed miserably at the task of being half an inch taller.
10. New(ish) kid on the block – With all the talk likely to be of Rooney being England’s savior this summer, the talk in the pundit’s cupboard afterwards was of a possible call up for Johnson. He’s looked a great talent whenever he’s played for the sky blues and with such an important and eye catching goal, will hopefully get a longer stint in the side to show his quality. He’s certainly got it. And with a place up for grabs with Beckham now likely out of the World Cup to concentrate on his scarf wearing abilities, he may just get that as well.