DERBY A THORNE IN UNITED’S SIDE
FOR 20 helter-skelter minutes, Derby believed. For 20 minutes, they were the better side. The upset was on, the hammer poised above the final nail in Louis van Gaal’s coffin.
Behind to Wayne Rooney’s screamer, the Rams crafted a glorious leveller for George Thorne and, as United rocked, Derby rolled.
Chances were created. Chances were missed. Thirty thousand people advised the beleaguered Dutchman to seek alternative employment. Ultimately, though, class won out. With Derby tiring and Anthony Martial firing, goals from Daley Blind and Juan Mata killed the romance like a Chas & Dave record, leaving Van Gaal to fight another day and Derby boss Paul Clement to praise more clinical opponents.
“For a team supposedly in disarray and lacking confidence, they’re not bad,” Clement said. “They controlled the game. They were clinical in their finishing. Overall, they deserved it.
“But it wasn’t all one way traffic. We scored a really good goal, played well. I just would have liked it to stay at 1-1 for a little while longer, to let the belief grow and maybe take it into the last 15 minutes. It wasn’t to be but I saw enough here to believe that a positive result is not far away.
“I wanted to go through of course. I’d have liked to take them back to Old Trafford and have another crack at playing a team of that level.
“In that sense, it’s disappointing. But I’m proud of the effort. They worked from the first minute to the last.”
Clement’s men didn’t start like a side on the back of a five-game winless run. Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield covered acres and snapped into tackles, Cyrus Christie bombed forward and scared David De Gea with a rasping shot. Even Tom Ince tracked back.
Rooney’s goal, a beautiful looping strike from just inside the box, was actually against the run of play, a frustration exacerbated by the England skipper being marginally offside.
Yet Derby heads didn’t drop and, ten minutes before the break, a flowing passing move saw Chris Martin pick out the onrushing Thorne who controlled with one foot, tucked away with the other and, for the remainder of the half, United were hanging on.
“Did half-time come too soon?” added Clement. “Maybe, because the goal had given us a lot of belief. But I’ve got no regrets.”
Had Butterfield realised a fraction earlier that he was through on goal, the start of the second hald might have matched the climax of the first. But the midfielder dallied, United recovered and, from that point on, dominated almost completely.
Morgan Schneiderlin finally stopped passing to Derby players. Juan Mata found space between the lines. Blind, searing forward from centre-half, surprised everyone by getting on the end of Jesse Lingard’s centre to stab home a deflating second.
Best of all, though, was Martial, whose gliding runs down the left had the pace and menace of a fighter jet.The Frenchman teased and tortured Christie for most of the 90 minutes and, five minutes from time, picked out Mata. The Spaniard swept home to kill the game.
“For the first 20 minutes, Martial was very bad,” said Van Gaal.
“After that, he was fantastic. I hear everybody saying he was man of the match but a man of the match needs to play 90 minutes.
“I am always saying that we have to move the ball more quickly. But it is always dependent on your opponent. In previous games, we couldn’t do it. Here we were good. It was a good performance and that was important at the moment.”
MATA OF TIME: Juan Mata celebrates after scoring the third goal for Manchester United and, inset, George Thorne scores for Derby