I was at Old Trafford on Saturday to watch Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, and it’s fair to say the home fans weren’t too happy with their side’s display.
Everything seemed to be going to plan early on as United launched a number of promising attacks, with everyone around me beginning to feel as though it was a matter of when United would break the deadlock rather than if they would do so.
However, things soon took a turn for the worse as United struggled to break Villa down, with the negativity from the crowd creating a hostile environment that clearly started to have an impact on the players.
Villa were evidently looking to wind up the crowd – and it was working – with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez the protagonist in their ploy, while referee Mike Dean inadvertently joined the supporting cast.
Now, it’s not uncommon for a side to visit Old Trafford and adopt a ‘hold what we have’ mentality, but to do so from the 15th minute onwards is pretty extreme.
Every single opportunity the visitors got, whether it be a free kick, goal kick or even a throw-in, they would look to antagonise the home crowd by time wasting for as long as possible.
Martinez was definitely the ring leader, and in the second half when guarding the goal at the Stretford End he actually seemed to thrive off the crowd’s negativity.
Every goal kick took more than 30-40 seconds to take. He would fake taking the kick or move the ball to a different position after it had already been placed just to eat up a few extra seconds.
And, of course, when Bruno Fernandes missed his penalty in the dying minutes of the game, Martinez danced in front of the United fans who had berated him so much throughout the match, just to rub salt into the wound.
Referee Dean was quite aware of what was happening, even adding five minutes on at the end of the game, but not once did he show a card for time wasting or even kicking the ball away – something a number of Villa players were guilty of doing throughout the match.
The negative atmosphere that this created in the ground made the game feel like it was going on for an age and I believe this started to impact the mentality of the players on the field.
There have been many times in the past where we’ve spoken about how the fans can drive the team forward and act as the 12th man on the pitch, but I don’t think enough is said about the flip side of the coin. When the fans begin to feel the game isn’t going their way, it can’t fill the players with confidence.
As the match went on, players looked down and dejected. There was an obvious lack of movement and energy from even some of United’s more dynamic players, with Scott McTominay being the most obvious example.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been told that he was right to stick to his guns for Manchester United’s penalties.
In the dying embers of a 1-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa, prolific spot-kick taker Bruno Fernandes blazed over the crossbar to compound a dismal afternoon for United at Old Trafford.
At the same time as neighbours Manchester City sent a statement to other Premier League title contenders with a confident win over Chelsea, United suffered their first reverse of the campaign.
That injury-time miss was only the fourth time that Fernandes has passed up from the spot during his career.
Indeed, the Portuguese sensation had converted 93 per cent of his attempts prior to kick-off and maintains a strong record of 38 goals from 42 penalties taken.
Solskjaer has, meanwhile, received criticism for not allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to take on spot-kick responsibility.
However, according to Sky Sports pundits Jamie Carragher and Thierry Henry, that backlash has been unfair on the United manager – especially given that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo has compiled an inferior record [80 per cent] to his compatriot from 12 yards.
Ronaldo has missed 28 of his 139 penalties for United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
Carragher told Sky Sports: “Do you think it’s right that he took the penalty over Ronaldo? I do personally. Because Ronaldo’s such a big name, there’s talk he’ll take the next one, do you think he should take the next one or do you think it’s fair considering his record?”
Henry said: “I cross that line being a manager, so whatever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said is right.
“More often than not it’s not right. Whatever the manager says goes. Ronaldo or not. I don’t know if he’s going to be on the next one, but whatever the manager says goes. How many times have you seen Bruno Fernandes keeping his calm and putting it in the back of the net?
“So for me it’ll be a debate that Bruno Fernandes takes it. The manager [at France] was always the guy saying: ‘Yeah, he takes it’ and then he will decide if you take it if you’re second or not.
“Fernandes took it because he was the guy who took [penalties]. For me, whatever a manager says goes.”