In the pub on a Friday night we often discuss what United’s line-up will be the following day.
Last week we were all of the opinion that both Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy would play, and we got the eleven spot on. Was it significant that apart from Lee Evans in for Paul Coutts, it was the same selection that did so well in the autumn?
Sharp might not agree, but he seems to have benefited from his rest period. He played well in the two FA Cup games and last Saturday produced his best performance since November.
It didn’t take him long to make his make his mark. Watch his first goal again and you will see he was moving away from goal towards the penalty spot before Duffy’s cross was deflected by the head of a Leeds defender, already anticipating where it would drop.
He still had to bring off a difficult volley, but his movement was as impressive as the execution of the shot. Probably only Sharp in the United squad possess that sort of instinct.
A few more observations from the Leeds game. For Lasogga’s goal there was an unusual breakdown of United’s defensive line when Jack O’Connell thought it necessary to come across to the right to cut out a pass. That would have been okay had he not lost control of the ball, but when he did so nobody except John Fleck dropped in to cover him. Fleck saw what was happening and did his utmost, but had no chance in the air against the big German.
Fleck was also involved in the pivotal moment of the match; the penalty. It looked dubious at the time, but replays showed there was contact, if only minimal, and any professional footballer will tell you that if there is contact, you have a “right” to go down. Nevertheless, it still appeared that Fleck was exercising his “right” a fraction before contact was made.
But then there was the challenge on Leon Clarke in the last couple of minutes when contact was definitely made by the Leeds defender, but not with the ball, and the referee gave a corner. That was more a penalty than Fleck’s, but we’re not complaining as fortune has not fallen our way in the last couple of months. United have several times this season played better and lost.
Finally, Fleck might have deliberately get booked in the last minute so as to make the cup game one of the two of his suspension, although I’d never accuse anybody of doing that, not even Michael Brown in 2003 so he’d get his ban out of the way before the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal.