There was a split-second on Saturday evening, as Murphy took the ball on in the Stretford End box, when the season looked poised to crumble, and time itself stood still. Had the Toon buried that for 2-0, do we really think that United would have recovered, Pogba’s lively presence notwithstanding?
Instead, he missed the post by inches and, with one bound, we were free.
By half-time, the game was turned around. By the hour, we were in full-on ‘Arrogant Man U Mode’, as one of my City-supporting correspondents bitterly describes it. Pogba, the man-of-the-match and, frankly, saviour of the autumn season, certainly embodies that. His self-basting dancing around, look-at-me haircuts, staggering self-belief, and general in-yer-face Parisian prancery must make the nauseous ABU brigades heave.
To be honest, I’m not that keen on all that guff either, but Pogba was marvellous, and fully justified all our excuse-mongering of the past few weeks, whereby we Reds have exonerated sub-par displays by shruggingly chanting the mantra “no Pogba”, as though it were our ‘get out of jail free’ card in any footballing argument.
Pogba does not have a monopoly of the weekend laurels; may we also nod towards Lindelof, who overcame a nightmare start to turn in something approaching a decent performance — befitting a young man who destroyed Italy last week — and towards Lukaku, who buried his chance to bury a developing hoodoo.
Just for a moment, as he initially dummy-shot to make the goalie commit, I fancy we all had nightmarish flashing visions of the follow-up strike ballooning into the Strettie.
Home it flew, though, struck just a couple of yards away from where Murphy had missed an hour earlier. On that tiny patch of turf many fates have turned.
Off we now head for our match in Switzerland, where black market tickets are still fetching well over €150, despite the fact United’s knockout-stage qualification is basically assured.
Never underestimate the desire of the United fan to find any excuse to get out of the house, and the country. Last time we were in Basel, it produced a Euro-nightmare fit to rank amongst United’s best/worst; nothing of that ilk is at stake this week.
We ought to be able to remain at this stand-easy mode next weekend for the arrival of Brighton, about whose happy supporters we have all now learned not to crack off-colour gags about visiting Canal Street. (One for the connoisseurs of Manchester’s nightlife, there.) This is actually no joking matter, either; ejections, fines and bans are on the cards these days for anyone tempted into the slightest insinuation of limp-wristed quiche-eating by the visitors. Such is progress, apparently.
You may think efforts might be more profitably expended on making it easier for professional gay footballers to come out, which would involve some proper work by the FA, PL, PFA and the clubs.
After all, it is not the possible crowd reaction that gay players fear most; it is the reaction in the dressing and boardrooms.
And I suspect they’re right; I’d hope that the first top gay player to emerge would be cheered to the rafters of any PL stadium after the announcement.
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