Sir Alex Ferguson may have been sitting comfortably in the stands at Fratton Park following his two match touchline ban but it was only until the second half when the Scot could sit back and enjoy his side’s performance. Portsmouth, buoyed by the arrival of new manager Avram Grant, took the game to United in the early stages and forced United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak into two fantastic saves – first from Aruna Dindane and then from Jamie O’Hara. The Polish stopper was first class all afternoon and did his claim for the regular No.1 spot no harm at all.
In truth Portsmouth should have opened the scoring following their lively start but their good approach play was let down on numerous occasions by wayward finishing – particularly from Dindane. It was a slow start by United which may have been down to the change in formation with Wayne Rooney as a lone striker supported on either flank by Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs. At the back Wes Brown partnered Nemanja Vidic and in truth neither had a comfortable afternoon. Two fantastic defenders in their own right seem to lack the requisite communication when playing together. Both an ideal partner for the Rolls Royce defender – that is a fit and in-form Rio Ferdinand – often struggle to form a partnership together and were lucky not to have been punished.
Rooney was quiet and unable to get into the game prior to his first half penalty and it was often Valencia who carried the best attacking threat in the first half. The Ecuadorian elected to carry the ball from his own half running directly at the Pompey back four and causing all manner of problems and it was from such a run with brought about the penalty for Rooney. The winger was lively all afternoon and seems to be growing well into his new club and proving an excellent signing.
The second half was much more accomplished from United and that was down to one man – Ryan Giggs. The Welshman came in off the left flank much more often to link up with Rooney with some great one touch passing on the edge of the Portsmouth box. The two were clearly on the same wavelength with their speed of thought effortlessly quicker than the Pompey back four. Giggs played in Rooney for his second, was fouled for United’s second penalty and stroked in a fourth claiming his 100th Premier League goal, outlining his impact on the second 45 of the encounter. This attacking performance will have pleased Sir Alex as it has illustrated that this United side can play with only one striker. At times this season it is a formation which has been tried, but it has not been affective at creating chances – as in the recent Stamford Bridge encounter. With Valencia growing in confidence and the continued influence of Giggs, United showed a versatility which may well come in useful again come the end of the season.
Following Saturday’s match the focus has shifted briefly from the challenge at the top of the Premier League to the domestic cup competitions with the FA Cup Third Round draw taking place this weekend and the visit of Tottenham in the League Cup on Tuesday evening. A mirror of last year’s Carling Cup final, the Spurs match is likely to provide some of the more fledgling members of United’s squad with an opportunity to pick themselves up after last week’s Champions League defeat and possibly enable Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov to reunite a successful pre-season partnership up front. An in-form Spurs side are likely to be a real test for United with many first team changes expected. Harry Redknapp will be keen to add some silverware to a consistently improved Spurs side and will be relishing the challenge of knocking out the holders and taking his own team one step further.
The FA Cup draw will not prove as a difficult test with a home fixture against either Kettering Town or Leeds United, but the prospect of playing the Elland Road side is something that all United fans will not want to miss out on. There is certainly no love lost between these two sides and without an Old Trafford encounter since Leeds’ Premier League relegation in 2004 this one will certainly be a date for the diary for all United fans. Never before has a fixture between Kettering and Leeds been the focus of the red half of Manchester like this one is certain to be. If the Yorkshire side do in fact make the trip over the Pennines it will again likely to be an under strength United side facing them but surely with the backing of the full strength United support.