Smith on Utd

Monday 21 October 2002

I wish I could be at every match, but living 400 miles away and with many other demands on my time, it just isn't possible. So I had the first half on Saturday live with Paul and Jim on the Internet, but then had to go and pick up my mother-in-law (a sprightly 82), who was coming over for a meal with us.

On the way back, I had Radio 5 on. Their commentary match was Sunderland v West Ham (very boring), with the usual snippets from other games. Ten minutes into the second half, they went to Newmarket for a delayed horse race (even more boring). When they came back, Solskjaer had equalised, and I thought then that United might go on to win as they so often do.

However, I kept listening while trying to make conversation at the same time (helps if you can divide your brain function, which I'm not very good at). The next flash was 'penalty at Fulham!' (they never say who it's for). I was then faced with negotiating a series of roundabouts while listening to Barthez' antics and finally the disappointment of him saving Steed's effort. I tell you, it's a whole lot easier actually being at the match.

Two of my main hopes this season were to beat Chelsea and get a point from United. One target now achieved: the other may prove more difficult. I thought we would probably get something from this game as, leaving aside our own improved consistency, the entire Sky Sports punditry panel tipped United to win. I can just about take this from Tony Cottee, Frank McLintock and Charlie Nicholas - but Mullers, where was your loyalty? Shame on you!

And as we were playing a 'real team' (in ITV's view), at least we got a decent length of highlights in The Premiership. It looked as if the intriguingly revised format worked pretty well, and from what I saw, Steve Finnan revelled in the space he got, while he, Abdes and Sylvain kept the Sylvestre/Giggs menace well bottled up.

Paul and Jim, on the web commentary, made the interesting point that our bench was far superior to United's, and I must say that after the penalty save, I might have been tempted to throw Boa on to really go for it.

United have been on a great run in the league and in Europe, and that we came so close to beating them speaks volumes for the progress we have made. Comparing our games so far with the equivalent last season (excluding WBA), we have 15 points this time against 6 from the same 8 fixtures a year ago.



It would be great to keep that progression going with a win on Wednesday, which would lift us to the dizzy heights of 4th place, entirely on merit. West Ham are starting to pick up, as I always thought they would, but we have an unbeaten home record to defend and I can see us getting all 3 points.

It seems, in fact, that the last side to win against either QPR or Fulham at Loftus Road was Tranmere, a year ago. There is an intimidating aspect to the ground with the pitch being so close to the crowd, and with anything like a full house, it's easier to create a 'wall of sound' than at a more open stadium. I hope the Chairman's plea will be heeded and we get packed stands at every game from now on. If he could just treat these as away games for me, and give me travel every time for £10, I'd be there...

As it is, I might sneak down for the Zagreb game, though it's my elder daughter's birthday that day. However, she is footie mad too so she'd probably forgive me. After that it will be Blackburn away.

On Sunday I watched parts of Hearts v Celtic and Charlton v Middlesbrough. Celtic were 4-0 up at half-time and in that first period they were awesome. Given that Blackburn hit 5 past Newcastle on Saturday, the Uefa Cup clash between the two (and their high-profile managers) is a mouth-watering prospect.

Charlton's hard-earned win means that Man City sink into the bottom 3. This is not what was forecast for KK's team at the start of the season, but it seems that if you can shackle Mr Anelka you can exploit a somewhat frail defence. Charlton had a ghost player on Sunday.

The forecast line-up in The Observer gave their full backs as Rufus (correct) - and Brevett. Perhaps the person typing out the teams was a Fulham fan and put our lad's name in automatically! If it was our Rufus he looked remarkably like Chris Powell and played just as well as he had on Saturday.

There was a curious link between the two games I watched, one perhaps only spotted by soccer anoraks like me. Both winning sides featured a player who also turned out for Bulgaria in their two Euro 2004 wins last week - Petrov of Celtic (now the Bulgarian captain, at just 22) and Kisishev of Charlton.

The Observer generously included international goals in their Premiership top scorers table, which puts Steve Marlet in 4th place with 8, behind only Henry, Wiltord and van Nistelrooy. It's time he did a double for us, and Wednesday evening would be the perfect occasion. I look forward to hearing Jim and Paul go mental as Fulham clinch another great victory!

Roger is always pleased to hear from other fans. You can contact him on roger@smithwalk.demon.co.uk