Jack Pitt-Brooke: Just when it needed to run the ball into the corner, Five scores an own goal
View From The Sofa: Man United v Athletic Bilbao, Five
Monday 12 March 2012
For all the carping, all the snide jokes, the Europa League has become a rather better product than many expected this year. As well as England's two best sides, there are also excellent teams from Spain. And, on Thursday night, we were treated to one of the best games of the season at Old Trafford.
The Five team certainly tried to give the game the dressing that it deserved. There was nothing but respect for the occasion, the competition and the opposition. No banalities here: the scholarly Pat Nevin was elevated from the studio into Five's insight chamber.
Ever since Simon Hughes' The Analyst segments on Channel 4 cricket, producers have felt that sitting in front of Nasa-style computer banks and walls of screens conveys futuristic scientific expertise, as if mere proximity was enough to transmit and distil all that relevant data. For Hughes, it worked, but the trick rather lost its magic with Andy Townsend's Tactics Truck.
But Nevin was perfect for Five's attempted new seriousness. So were the clothes: Stan Collymore's funeral ensemble was so sombre that Jim Rosenthal was allowed to take the dashing lead, seeing Gordon Strachan's pink shirt on ITV 4 beforehand and raising it a violet tie. It all looked and felt like an audition for the right to host the Champions League. Those games might not stay on ITV for ever and Five must hope one day to upgrade itself from Thursday nights to Tuesday and Wednesday.
Show this game the right respect, the right attitude, they must have thought, and you might one day be entrusted with those definitive Tuesday and Wednesday nights. And they got what they wanted: Athletic Bilbao provided one of the great performances by a visiting team in England.
It was Tuesday night quality football on a Thursday, and the team were delighted. Collymore and Rosenthal made all the right noises, and Nevin, from the insight chamber, told us that Athletic passed and moved well.
A thrilling second half – remember when foreign teams used to come to England and attack? – ended with two goals. A 3-2 away win set the tie up perfectly. All Five had to do was what Athletic could not and see it out, holding on to their gains, preserving those advances in credibility, hoping that it could be a marker to better things.
But they blew it. Like Rafael da Silva standing still while Iker Muniain tore past him to score the third, an error of judgement cost them at the climax. Sir Alex Ferguson was offering his take on the evening's events, and, just as he was describing the third goal, was cut off.
Ferguson was told that Five had no more time for him. The interview finished; everyone wondered which world event had caused the interruption. It was, as if it could have been anything else, a Steven Segal film, Mercenary for Justice.
You are either serious about European football or you are not, and, for all the best efforts, Five could not hide where its priorities still lie.
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