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Sunday, July 19, 2009

AFC Flyde 1 MUFC 2 Match Report

Thanks to Red News forumite Thornton Red for this match report

Billed as The Champions v The Champions, AFC having won the Vodkat Premier Division title last season, anticipation in the area for the visit of Manchester United, whoever wore the shirts, had been high for weeks and the club even managed to arrange for a marquee to be set up outside the local pub, The Birley Arms, to provide hospitality for 120 guests.

Rain had poured down during the previous night and all day on the Fylde Coast. So much so that as kick-off time approached there was a serious doubt as to whether the game would still go ahead. However, with the club having invested in the laying of a new pitch and drainage system in the close season at an outlay approaching £30,000 the game went ahead in front of a record crowd at Kellamergh Park of 1,390.

AFC fielded one player who used to be on United’s books in Michael Barnes and another, Matt Walwyn, who is the son of Keith Walwyn formerly of Blackpool.

The game was well contested with both teams giving their all in diabolical conditions, United hitting the post early on. AFC were as inspired as you might expect playing a United XI but after the first ten minutes the class of United youth, who, by the way, wore the new kit for the first time, became evident as their opponents struggled to gain possession of the ball.

In those first ten minutes Tom Heaton was as busy as he was going to get in the match, making the first of only five touches he would get of the ball during the first 45 minutes, as AFC built a lovely move only for Pete Sommerfield’s shot to miss the target. Heaton’s first touch therefore was picking the ball up for a goalkick! Five minutes later there was some strong defending required from United’s back line to keep AFC at bay as their early confidence soared.

On 25 minutes United were forced into making their first substitution of the night as James Chester limped off after being on the wrong end of a strong challenge. He was replaced by Oliver Gill who made an immediate impact with a well timed interception to put paid to another early attack from AFC.

Two minutes later United produced a lovely sweeping move which ended with Febien Brandy shooting just over the bar from outside the penalty area. On 39 minutes though, United took the lead. Moving out of defence, Corry Evans played the ball out to Magnus Eikram on the right wing, he moved the ball onto Cameron Stewart who made a typical fast paced and mazy run down the right flank evading all challenges sweetly before playing a nice one-two with Brandy then putting in a superbly accurate cross which Tom Cleverley smartly tucked away from ten yards out.

During the first half AFC’s tannoy announcer had been making regular pronouncements from the police that cars parked on the surrounding roads were, a) going to be issued with parking tickets and, b) some of the worst offenders were going to be removed by the police. During the half time interval he announced the winner of three prize tickets; 1st prize a signed United shirt. 2nd prize a signed AFC shirt. 3rd prize was to be payment of all parking fines!

The second half began with United making two more changes to the starting line up; Oliver Norwood came on for Evans and Ron Robert Zieler replaced Heaton in goal. Zieler must have already been shattered as United’s goalkeeping coach had put him through an exhausting exercise routine before the game and again at half time.

Fifteen minutes into the second half Zieler was called upon to make his first contribution to the night when making a fine save at the feet of an AFC Fylde substitute, Paul Fildes. Two minutes later Stewart was replaced by Josh King and then, after 75 minutes another sweeping United move resulted in a corner.

Ollie Norwood had played a long ball over the defence for Brandy and his ball into the area for Ajose resulted in the striker getting in a shot on the turn that was unknowingly deflected off the post for a corner by an AFC defender. Cleverley took the corner and the resultant goal was somewhat reminiscent of Paul Scholes as the ball reached the feet of Sam Hewson who drove a bullet like shot, first time, high into the AFC goal.

Three minutes later Hewson again made the keeper work well as he had to make a fantastic save to keep out another shot from the United midfielder.

With about ten minutes to go the game was rudely interrupted when a streaker ran onto the pitch and bared his nether regions. He was politely asked to leave the scene by the tannoy guy and as he realised that security were now on the pitch and closing in he made a break for freedom. Running Ed Moses like towards the advertising hoardings surrounding the pitch he attempted to hurdle them but as the ground now resembled a cows field he couldn’t make it and smashed into them chest high.

He did manage to regain his feet and escape his would be captors and, in pouring rain and a very cold wind, he then ran around the pitch in just his boxers as a Keystone Cops type chase took place. He was caught eventually and marched out of the ground in want looked to be a very strong hold by two guards. One wonders if he will now be banned from every ground in the country for his bravado.

Back to the football then and in the 82nd minute AFC finally got what the majority of the crowd had really come for – a goal, as Michael Clark scored a consolation goal direct from a corner with the assistance of the afore-mentioned wind which completely deceived Zieler.

This gave the home side some extra impetus and as they threw everything at United looking for an unlikely equaliser it only required a superb last ditch tackle by Joe Dudgeon on Fildes to keep them out in the final frenetic moments.

Interviewed afterwards Ole Gunner Solskjaer said: “Fylde gave us a good game. We worked hard throughout and towards the end l have to say l wasn’t so sure that we were going to win the game or not. “Fylde had some decent players and they worked hard, but it was our first game and l was just glad we won in the end.”

Of all the players Ole Gunner chose to play though special mention has to be made or Ritchie De Laet who didn’t put a foot wrong all night. He read the game well and made many important challenges breaking up some good attacks from the reds opponents. Craig Cathcart’s presence on the pitch also impressed the locals. Strong, athletic and composed both on and off the ball he had a big impact on the game too and dwarfed AFC’s strikers.

Finally, on a personal level, it was good to see Sam Hewson back in a United shirt. He scored one great goal and could have had another and one can only hope that his loan spell at Hereford wasn’t wasted and he makes the most of another opportunity with the reds.

AFC Fylde: Summerfield, Lawlor, Shaw, Doughty, Hennessy, Horsfall, Penswick, Palmer, Barnes, Walwyn, Downey. Subs: Worrell, Jackson, Moffatt, Mahoney, Porter, Nay, Fildes, Clark, Railston, Allen.

Malaysia Match Report from RN Reader Rosso

United arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the first leg of their 2009 Asia Tour. This is United's 4th visit to Malaysia (that I know of). The last time was in 2001 when they beat another Malaysian select 6-0. Prior to that, a United team in 1995, sans Cantona, Kanchelskis, Hughes and Ince arrived with a group of then unknown young players such as Beckham, the Neville brothers, Butt and Scholes played the countries most successful team, Selangor FC twice, beating them 4-1 and 2-0.

To be honest, although the Asian tours are always a good opportunity (and for most, the only opportunity) for United supporters in Asia to see the boys play, I'm always wary of them. Being someone who frequently travels between the UK and Malaysia, I know how tiring these trips half way across the world can be, and the jet lag certainly doesn't help. Add in the tight schedule and the promotional work the players have to do, I can't imagine how this can be good pre-season preparation.

Anyways, this time around, the United team arrived to a huge fan fare on Friday, 17th July 2009. With the arrival time being kept secret, the United fans camped at the airport since early morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of the players. After touching down, the United players certainly wasted no time in heading straight to promotional events. The team headed to a lunch reception and autograph signing sessions (for a selected few) at the Mandarin Oriental. After that, I think Rio, Gibson, Nani and Fletcher were at some promotional 5 aside game and Scholesy was at some other charity event. Again, this worries me a little as I dont know how much rest the players actually got after such a long trip. However, you probably get good sleep on the plane if you're flying first class.

On the day of arrival, United had an open public training session at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, watched by 30,000 supporters, which lasted about an hour. Having promised my first born to someone I know who works in AIG, I managed to obtain both tickets for the training session and match. I attended a similiar public training session when United were last here in 2001. Back then, it was obvious who was the most natural footballer in the squad. During the keep-the-ball sessions, the volleying practices, long and short passing, it was obvious at all these come most naturally to Paul Scholes. In the current training session, that hasn't changed. Scholsey is still by far the most techically gifted footballer in the team! It's worrying that he's one of the older players and will probably be playing in his last season with United.

On match day itself, I attented the AIG Pre-match luncheon (came with my match tickets) at the Palace of the Golden Horses. Nothing noteworthy about it except that it was obvious those tickets was reserved for high paying AIG premium holders who are not necessarily United supporters, or football fans for that matter! (''Who wears No.3 for United? Errr..Gary Neville?''.''Who was United's manager before Sir Alex? Err..Matt Busby? ''.'' mean they have an AWAY jersey ??''). Was hoping to catch somebody from United at the luncheon but sadly none was there. Headed straight for the stadium from the hotel.

The stadium itself is easily the biggest I've ever been to, with a 100,000 capacity. Getting into it however, was an absolute nightmare. 100,000 football fans trying to get into the stadium via 4 main gates, you can imagine the crowd and the queues. The beating afternoon sun doesn't help as well! The stadium is rarely filled so I guess the officials don't have much experience with dealing with such a large crowd. Getting into OT during matchday is so ridiculously simple by comparison.

There was a carnival like atmosphere around the stadium pre-match, with stalls selling food and football memoribilias set up especially just for the event. A sporting event this size is rare in Kuala Lumpur and for most of the United supporters there, especially the younger ones, it would be the first time they see their heroes up close for real. In the stadium itself, you'd be forgiven to think that United were the home team. The majority was wearing United jerseys and only a rare few Malaysian kits were seen! Even the loudest cheer during warm up was reserved for the United players. For most, if not all the supporters in the stadium, the United players were easily recognised compared to the home team, whom very few other that most hard-core Malaysian football fans would know of. Strangely, Van Der Sar appeared for the warm up wearing the long sleeved jersey and long pants, despite the temperature in the stadium almost touching 34 degrees C! Played the match in long sleeves as well!

The game started at 1730 local time. United started VDS in goal, with a rather predictable back four. Rio and Evans at center-back, JOS at right back and Evra on the left. Scholes and Anderson started in midfield with Nani at left wing and Gibson on the right. Rooney started the match up front (long may it continue!), partnering Berbatov. United scored early on with a real goal poachers effort, tapping in after the Malaysian goal keeper parried Berbatov's effort. Then Rooney turned creator, laying off a pass for Nani to slot in a second. After that, United took their foot off the pedal and the match became sort of a practice session for the players. However, it was obvious that this is United's first proper match of the pre-season and there were signs of rustiness. The passing was, in my opinion, wasteful. Although there were some spectacular 40-50 yard crossfield passes, they were giving the ball away far too often, with Nani and Scholes being the chief culprits. Nani showed the typical dribbling and quick feet that we've come to known, but his decision making and final balls still left a lot to be desired. I seriously wonder if he's the right man to lessen the blow of Ronaldo's departure. Gibson too had a lot of space on the right wing but wasted too many crosses, but he's not playing his natural position. The Malaysians then managed to pull a goal back through their No.17, M. Amri Yahya. Evra failed to deal with a simple long ball up front when he mistimed his jump, allowing Yayha to receive the ball, and seeing VDS off his line,lobbed the United keeper from 30 yards. Half time came shortly and the fans were beginning to clamour for....Michael Owen. One thing I noticed among the local United supporters is that there are loads of Owen No.7 shirts around. Even when the names of the players were announced, Owen, along with Rooney and Giggs, got the loudest cheer. While there are still a lot of rivalry between United and Liverpool supporters over here in Asia, the hatred for them is probably not as intense as it is in the UK, and Owen is still very high regarded over here (like ummm....Richard Clayderman and Vanessa Mae)

The second half started with Foster coming on for VDS, and his first significant contribution was a howler allowing the Malaysians to get a shock equaliser. Failing to control a simple back pass, he allowed Yayha to score his second goal of the match. The equaliser however, failed to inject a sense of urgency to the United players. The practice match mood prevailed and we saw a host of substitutions, with Tosic (he's tiny!), Fabio, Macheda (he's very tall!) , Brown, Owen and eventually Giggs, to a standing ovation, coming on. With the match locked at 2-2 with 10 minutes to go, United decided to turn on the screw and went of the winner. They were rewarded when Owen manage to slot home the winner with 6 minutes ago. Ruud Van Nilsterooy scored on his first appearance in the red shirt against Malaysia the last time they were over here and here's to hoping that Owen will score as many as Ruud did.

The match finished 3-2 to United and overall it was a good workout for the lads. They werent at their sharpest but this is to be expected, being their first match of the pre-season.! Will look forward to the rematch on Monday. Am moving to Australia for good by the time the new season starts and will surely miss going to OT to see them play. Anyway, heading to the KL Twin Towers to see if I can catch a glimpse of any United players doing a bit of shopping!

With regards from Kuala Lumpur, Rosso

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