WEDNESDAY’S Champions League top match failed to live up to its “Battle of Britain” tag as Manchester United grinded out a narrow 1-0 over Rangers at Ibrox Park in Glasgow.
While the match itself was engrossing, it always looked like a single goal would separate both teams. Defeat in the previous match to Stuttgart and Rangers unbeaten four-year home record meant that United took the cautious route in the game.
Alex McLeish’s men gave it their best shot but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Tim Howard ensured that the Red Devils went back to Manchester knowing that a mere four points from their remaining three matches would secure qualification into the knock-out stage.
United’s goal came from the unlikeliest of sources as Phil Neville’s first ever Champions League strike shocked Ibrox in the fifth minute. From then on the men in red were contented with sporadic attempts on goal while never really looking comfortable. The younger Neville was deservedly man-of-the match, but Rio Ferdinand and Howard were not far behind as United relied on a strong rearguard action to see off the Gers.
For Rangers, Peter Lovenkrands, Paolo Vanoli and Fernando Ricksen stood out. The Dane Lovenkrands especially, while missing three opportunities, caused a lot of problems to the United defence with his pace. Striker Michael Mols was a disappointment though, as the normally reliable Dutchman hardly had a shot on target all night.
While the much hyped-up match failed to live up to it’s billing, the Battle of Britain isn’t over just yet. Pencil in Nov 4 as a stay-up night, when Glasgow Rangers travel to Manchester when the Champions League resumes.
For United it will be a chance to kill off one of their rivals once and for all as well as take a giant step towards qualification (in fact if Panathinaikos beat Stuttgart in the other group match, they will be through). Rangers though, have to get at least a point out of the match to keep their faint hopes alive.
European nights are special occasions at Old Trafford and the prospect of tens of thousands of Scots streaming across the border will be giving the Manchester police sleepless nights. Security aside, if the atmosphere at Old Trafford is half as good as it was at Ibrox when 52,000 Scots created a crescendo of noise that threatened to bring the stadium down, then we’re in for a treat.
Champions League survival aside, with a history of animosity between England and Scotland, the winner of Nov 4’s encounter will have bragging rights for a long time to come.
Strange then that there was only one Scotsman (Maurice Ross came on for the last five minutes for Rangers) and four Englishmen out of the 22 players on the pitch in Ibrox.
Its seems certain is that Sir Alex Ferguson will take a more adventurous approach at Old Trafford. Phil Neville should play, but the other holding midfield position may be ditched in favour of Christiano Ronaldo or Darren Fletcher.
Much has been made out of Ferguson’s chequered past with Rangers and despite his protestations to the contrary, the proud Scot would have enjoyed going back to his hometown and putting one over his countryman. Nothing would give him greater satisfaction than finishing the job in his backyard.