Now I know how the City fans feel

Andy Mitten, editor of the fanzine United We Stand, says Alex Ferguson will prove his doubters wrong once again
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The Independent Online
Life as a Manchester United fan has taken on a strange dimension in the last 10 days. It's as if somebody has implanted a slow-release, mind-bending narcotic in me, the effects of which have caused a reversal of normality whilst watching my red-shirted heroes.

Istanbul was like a dream. Assertive, patient and obdurate are not adjectives you usually associate with a Manchester United performance in Europe. But, in the surreal surroundings of the Fenerbahce stadium, United's performance was worthy of such compliment. Things took a turn for the worse when I opened my mail on arriving home from Turkey. There were two letters from Manchester United: one thanked me for travelling on the club trip to Istanbul; the other informing me that I'd been unsuccessful in my application for one of their 1,300 Southampton tickets allocated to visiting fans.

Tickets always seem to filter down to the same people though, and I struck lucky: a friend had a spare. As it transpired, my pounds 17 seat afforded me an unobstructed view of a 12-inch thick iron girder that supports the archaic East Stand at the Dell.

I didn't need to explain my predicament to the steward placed strategically as a buffer between me, the girder and the genial Southampton supporters to my left. He could see that I couldn't and took the time to inform me that it was a usual cause of complaint from the occupants of my seat, as if I was supposed to say: "Well, that's OK then. I'll just sit here and stare at a piece of metal."

I kicked up a fuss and the senior steward was still on the job, offering to relocate me should any empty seats come available. They didn't. That was to be a blessing in disguise. I'd almost felt sorry for Southampton before the game. Writing off the Newcastle result as a freak occurrence, the Saints, I reckoned, were about to be the recipients of a United performance that would systematically tear them apart and assure the rest of the country that we were champions for a reason. How wrong could I have been?

This wasn't the United side that I'd become accustomed to. Gone was the efficient and professional thread of consistency that runs through the side. Gone too was the watertight defence that had leaked just one Premiership away goal prior to the St James' Park massacre.

With United 3-1 down at the break, rumours abounded that Eric The King had been sent off in the tunnel, that United were to change kits again. Later, with the score at 4-2 and unable to bear anymore, I left for home. By the time I reached the car and switched on the radio, the toll had risen to 6-3, a result which sealed the most perplexing 10 days in United's recent history.

Travelling back to Manchester, theories were raised and questions asked to try and shed light on the reasons for our uncharacteristic form. Was Steve Bruce sold a year too soon? Is Eric Cantona playing too far forward to be effective as captain? Is the manager's obsessive desire to succeed in Europe proving to be to the detriment of our league form?

But, as our driver said in a relenting tone: "What can you expect from a team that plays without its two central midfielders for an hour?" Alex Ferguson needn't worry. He's proved his doubters wrong far too many times in the past and he'll do it again in the future.

Schadenfreuden countrywide may unite, tabloids will use words like crisis and plight in relation to United's current predicament, but it's a problem that doesn't even register on the United fans' equivalent of the Richter scale.

Besides, watching my team concede 11 goals in two league games has not been an entirely fruitless waste of my resources. For once, I can empathise with friends who support Manchester City.

Manchester United have lost two league games in succession on only nine occasions in the 1990s

1989-90

13 Jan Derby Co (h) 1-2

21 Jan Norwich (a) 0-2

18 March Liverpool (h) 1-2

21 March Sheffield Wed (a) 0-1

United's final position: 13th

1990-91

29 Sept Nottingham Forest (h) 0-1

20 Oct Arsenal (h) 0-1

26 Feb Sheffield United (a) 1-2

2 March Everton (h) 0-2

9 March Chelsea (a) 2-3

6 May Arsenal (a) 1-3

11 May Cystal Palace (a) 0-3

United's final position: 6th

1991-92

20 April Nottingham Forest (h) 1-2

22 April West Ham (a) 0-1

26 April Liverpool (a) 0-2

United's final position: 2nd

1992-93

15 Aug Sheffield United (a)1-2

19 Aug Everton (h) 0-3

31 Oct Wimbledon (h) 0-1

7 Nov Aston Villa (a) 0-1

United's final position: 1st

1993-94

United's final position: 1st

1994-95

United's final position: 2nd

1995-96

17 Dec Liverpool (a) 0-2

24 Dec Leeds (a) 1-3

United's final position: 1st

1996-97

20 Oct Newcastle (a) 0-5

26 Oct Southampton (a) 3-6

Lessons of history offer United consolation

Manchester United will be hoping history repeats itself as they attempt to reverse their slump in form over the last week.

Saturday's 6-3 defeat at the Dell, which followed the previous weekend's 5-0 reverse at Newcastle, was the first time United had conceded as many goals in one match since March 1980, when they lost 6-0 to Ipswich.

However, Alex Ferguson's team can take some comfort from the events which followed United's previous 6-3 league defeat. That came at West Bromwich Albion on 29 April 1968 in the Matt Busby era - and only a month later United became the first English club to be crowned European champions.

Indeed, in United's next league game after being crushed at the Hawthorns, Busby's men dished out a 6-0 drubbing themselves at Old Trafford - to Newcastle.

United's last two league results have been their worst in succession since December 1963. On that occasion a 4-0 loss at Everton was followed by a 6-1 defeat by Burnley at Turf Moor on Boxing Day. However, United bounced back in the return match against Burnley only 48 hours later by winning 5-1, with George Best making his league debut.

end jw

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