Things Could Only Get Better...

...and they did. David Moyes can afford to smile a little after his United side got noticeably stronger over 90 minutes. That's not happened enough times this season...

Last Updated: 10/12/13 at 22:20 Post Comment

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Had they failed to score, it would have been the first time they had drawn three consecutive blanks since 2007. Had they failed to win, it would have been the first time they had done so in four consecutive games since 2008. Had they lost, it would have been the first time they had been defeated in three consecutive Old Trafford games since 1962. As it was, they turned a half-time draw into a full-time win for the first time since September.

It's a milestone that's nowhere near as eye-catching - it won't appear on too many back pages - but it should give some much-needed comfort to United fans who can barely glance at the Premier League table without feeling nauseous. For the first time in longer than many can cope with contemplating, United visibly improved as the match against Shakhtar Donetsk wore on.

"He's got to earn his keep," said Roy Keane of David Moyes at half-time as we all nodded and agreed that United had to improve. They had started ponderously, seemingly playing at half-pace in a misguided attempt to make the match last half as long. It was all too painfully slow, and Wayne Rooney's eight touches in the opening 25 minutes illustrated all too well that United were not using their superior possession for anything remotely constructive.

As well as being ponderous in attack, they were ponderous going backwards, allowing Donetsk to stride through the midfield with minimal pressure. You can understand why a lack of confidence would stymie the imagination but there was simply no excuse for a lackadaisical attitude when out of possession. It looked desperate.

Moyes may be a long way from earning his keep in the context of the whole season but whatever he said at half-time at Old Trafford worked as a new, improved United emerged for the second half. Even Ashley Young did something impressive - a reverse pass into the path of Rooney - before he was withdrawn in an inevitable double substitution. Moyes took off the right players (the wasteful Young and the sloppy/slow Ryan Giggs) and brought on the energy of Tom Cleverley and the inspiration of Robin van Persie.

It matters not whether the Dutchman directly contributes to a goal for United; it is enough that he is on the pitch. United - and particularly Rooney - immediately look visibly more confident when the partnership is complete. United have won six and drawn two of the eight games they have started together this season, while five games have been lost when one or the other is missing.

Yes, they are over-reliant on the pair and it's worrying that their central midfield have produced neither goal nor assist in the Premier League this season, but that over-relied-upon pair - if they stay fit - could be enough to take them through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and a finish in the top four of the Premier League. Right now, that would have to go down as a roaring success.

Sarah Winterburn

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