Careless Manchester United once again win in the most minor way possible

Dave Tickner
Bruno Fernandes celebrates after scoring in a 4-2 Manchester United win against Sheffield United
Bruno Fernandes FC see off Sheffield United at Old Trafford

Manchester United actually weren’t *that* bad, but still made maddeningly hard work of beating a doomed Sheffield United team that was broken long, long ago…

 

You do have to wonder whether any team has ever had a more conspicuously successful yet utterly mortifying week than Manchester United.

We put it to you, dear reader, that nobody else could make reaching an FA Cup final and a 4-2 league win look as bad as this.

If one were inclined to mischief, one would have looked at this fixture on the back of the weekend’s antics and consider pre-writing a piece about United’s unconvincing, dignity-free victory and how Bruno might be a petulant prick at times but was once again the matchwinner who dragged his inadequate team-mates over the line.

We now regret not doing so. We could have published that six hours ago and given ourselves the night off.

It’s such a familiar tale for United now, an existence where the dropped points are terrible and the wins generally aren’t much better. Part of that is the burden of this being Manchester United Football Club We’re Talking About but there’s more to it than that. They really are frequently far more rotten even than their results, which this season have been pretty ropey anyway.

This was, in truth, not quite the classic unconvincing Man United performance we’ve come to recognise this season. Bad United this season have generally been a baffling concoction of soporific attacking play combined winningly with a lackadaisical approach to defending that appears not so much to permit the opponents to have as many shots as they like but to actively encourage it.

Tonight’s problems were less systemic than that, but the general vibe was the same. Without Bruno, United would have been sunk. We’ve heard plenty of talk about Cole Palmer FC over the last couple of days, but Bruno Fernandes FC really aren’t far behind. At what point does he need to think about leaving and joining a more serious football club more deserving of his prodigious talents?

At the back, United did not this time allow Sheffield United to have a million attempts on goal; instead they just dropped a couple of dirty great b*llocks to allow the division’s bottom team and lowest scorers to pick up a couple of goals from no more than half-a-dozen attempts.

Andre Onana’s blind pass across his penalty area proved an abysmal misjudgement as Jayden Bogle stole in to accept the gift.

Big Harry Maguire stepped up with another Big Harry Maguire goal to level matters before half-time, only for a more collective defensive catastrof*ck from United early in the second allowed an unmarked Ben Brereton Diaz to pounce on a cutback and restore the visitors’ lead.

Cue Bruno. An equaliser from the penalty spot was followed by a long-range thunderbastard before Rasmus Hojlund provided the gloss. It might not have been as wholly unconvincing as United have been at times this season or as we’ve made it sound, but it still required two late goals for them to drag themselves past the worst team in the division at home.

On the back of what went down at the weekend this was a night when United could have produced a statement victory of some kind rather than opting instead for some more crack-papering from Bruno, who might never have played better for United than he has over the last few weeks.

The wonderful thing is that this messy performance in a messy season for United ended up being part of a pretty perfect evening for them. They are back up to sixth thanks to Newcastle coming unstuck at a resurgent Crystal Palace, while the news emanating from Goodison was greeted with audible delight around the terraces here.

But that scenario in itself is revealing of how far United have fallen. Climbing back up to sixth. Celebrating the demise of another team’s title bid in a season they themselves have barely mustered a fight for the Champions League places. It isn’t meant to be like this here.

As for Sheffield United, it’s almost done now. The long-inevitable relegation could be rubber-stamped this weekend.

The point they lost in the last two minutes here is neither here nor there to their chances, really, but the two late goals they conceded do have implications for their hopes of avoiding conceding a century of goals. In short, they probably aren’t going to avoid conceding a century of goals.

That’s now 92 conceded with four games to play. Their next game is against a Newcastle side who’ve already put eight past them this season. The maths is mathsing.

Even if we imagine United avoid that particular grisly fate this time around, it would be a major surprise if Nottingham Forest, Everton and Tottenham don’t complete the task over the last few weeks of what may well be the Blades’ last Premier League campaign for a while.