Yes – a 1980’s Jeffrey Archer novel, and No – I haven’t gone completely [say no more].
Sometimes, as a team in competition or battle, you offer much in enterprise, in courage, in faith and yet you’re rewarded with little in return.
Sometimes the opposition go after you from the ‘b’ of the ‘bang’, yet despite having to ride the storm of a dozen half-chances, you do just enough to give your team’s ‘keeper just enough protection to stop ANY of those twelve half-chances going into the damn net. There’s an art to keeping the ball OUT of the goal, as there is getting it IN.
Yesterday’s stale-mate at Old Trafford was neither of the above.
Okay, the opposition enjoyed three-quarters of possession, meaning too many of our players remain less than 100% physically comfortable and agile enough to both use the ball and know where to position themselves in the best interests of team-mates.
However, unlike the 3-3 draw at the same venue on one equally-glorious February Saturday evening this year, Manchester United passed the ball majestically, but with far less end product.
This owed to many reasons, the weather being one.
But the biggest reason was almost as simple: United faced opposition who could compete in possession, as well as without it, enough to deny the home crowd to bear down as the twelfth man.
The Evertonians were outnumbered 24-to-1 in numbers.
That was as about as uneven the contest ever was – otherwise.
Many of us Toffees would have approached viewing this fixture with some concern for two glaring reasons: what happened during the last two occasions we faced teams playing in that great leveller – rain, plus the four key injuries that of all squads, our simply cannot afford to have to sustain living with for any length of time these days.
Thankfully, the general standard of recruitment over the past two Summer windows has vastly improved, when competition AND an ever-increasingly imbalanced FFP budget allowance has never made such a task more difficult for us to compete in the market for players we need. Allan, Doucoure, Godfrey, Olsen’s (competition with Pickford), Gray, Townsend, Begovic – all classy signings that were either great value or ridiculously cheap.
Note the one very obvious omission from this list.
The very player whom last season our team-mates at Goodison turned to when passing the ball finally meant to a player who wouldn’t give it away or be muscled off it. This giving our players a different option than simply 'hoofing it long' in panic, or in conservative mindset.
How on Earth were we ever going to replace James Rodriguez, however much he had taken one liberty way-too-often even for my liking? It had become quite literally a referendum issue: we lose much in sacrifice, but do we have any choice?
Well – political fanaticism very firmly aside, the big decision has been made and has to be followed through.
Yesterday’s draw proved more to the footballing world than that our 3-3 comeback in February was by no means any fluke.
Yesterday’s performance and result was an equal package in tangible quality.
Many loved Doucoure relentlessly bursting his lungs, just to provide Rondon the support a willing runner himself, if wildly out of form striker, he clearly is.
Andros Townsend’s celebration has equally as clearly given many fans our mojo back – for now, at least.
The 4-0 mauling in preseason can now be put firmly behind us, thanks largely to a more assured goalkeeping display from Jordan Pickford: when it mattered.
But clear evidence that the sale of James Rodriguez may not prove to be footballing suicide became apparent for the first time…
One player in our team – I repeat: TEAM – has now offered a dimension to his game that had previously only been evident in Allan’s ball control and passing skills. Someone else than the Brazilian, who not only makes intelligent runs for the benefit of his team, but possesses strength and imagination with the ball, in tight proximity to opposing players, at speed and with confidence.
It was very evident in tat counter-attack that led to the equalizer: Demarai Gray in possession on the left touchline, on half-way, standing 50-50 in muscle with Fred, with the patience to let Doucoure and Townsend run into the United half for long enough for the counter to develop, before placing a neear-perfectly weighted pass to the Frenchman. he and Townsend took care of the rest.
And as many of the Twitter Toffees have pointed out many times – someone else being Demarai Gray, who only cost £1.7m. A bargain, you could say.
Those United fans stubbornly-refused to offer us much praise in respect of the resistance we offered in response to their club’s endeavours in the Lancashire rain yesterday. The lack of cascading noise in the ‘Theatre Of Dreams’ was down to OUR TEAM denying those Red Devil players enough possession to build relentless pursuit of that second goal, because we did enough in possession ourselves to deny them the momentum. With the ball, not just without it.
For many, moving on from a Champions’ League winning manager has proved very, very bitter and nasty. Yet we’ve had to swallow a lot of pride many times before, and may well have to do so again.
The great news to contemplate is that we still have an owner capable of REPLACING a Champions’ League winning manager with a Champions’ League winning manager in Rafael Benitez – when many fans and ‘expert opinions’ in the world of TV punditry questioned otherwise.
Failing to build on Kirkby land remains a contentious issue for many, but by far the vast majority of Moshiri’s decisions have been proved correct, and he deserves much respect for this.
The respect many United fans didn’t offer in words, but DID offer in punctured noise when their players needed it most. Respect we’ve earned, for now at least, earned entirely on merit.
Enjoy the next international break.
"Don't you turn too - if I ever change..."
Mark Reynolds, one half of Liverpool's second-finest band ever: Red Flag.
(The band name purely a reference to the motor racing signal that stops F1/IndyCar races, not our neighbours.)