Cristiano Ronaldo saves Manchester United again as fans make their feelings clear to Paul Pogba – Samuel Luckhurst

The protesting Manchester United supporters had warned the players they were also in their cross-hairs. Against Norwich, they targeted them explicitly: “You’re not fit to wear the shirt.” But Cristiano Ronaldo is.

So often regarded as the source of United’s problems, Ronaldo is usually the solution. His second hat-trick of the season detoxified one of the most poisonous atmospheres Old Trafford has hosted in living memory.

No sooner had some ceased telling Paul Pogba to ‘f–k off’ that they were jumping for joy at Ronaldo’s free-kick that clutched victory from the jaws of defeat. In a campaign where he has turned 37, Ronaldo has plundered 21 goals and two hat-tricks in his first season back in England for 12 years.

Read more: United player ratings vs Norwich as Ronaldo brilliant

Some joyless pseudo-intellectuals will continue to depict Ronaldo as the villain of the piece. All of a sudden, he may be the hero. Surreally, United are three points off the final Champions League qualifying place in the Premier League.

Few will be sidetracked by a needlessly gritty win against the league’s basement club. At 2-2, Norwich were the dominant side and an apocalyptic evening at Anfield is possible on Tuesday and then it is Arsenal away for United on Saturday.

For thousands of United fans, the end-goal is not Champions League football but removing the owners. As far as the team is concerned, “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” marks a watershed moment. Bruno Fernandes has got worse since his unnecessary salary hike yet remains untouchable.

That chant has not been aired at Old Trafford towards the United players in a lifetime. Some railed against it with the loyal ‘we’ll support you ever more’ and then Pogba’s number was up in the 73rd minute. First, there were cheers and then boos. “F–k off Pogba,” chanted the Stretford Enders.

Pogba has not wanted to be at United for close to four years and many who have watched him can no longer stomach his lethargy. Some United fans only have a maximum of six more games to tolerate Pogba.

In stark contrast, another departing midfielder had a game-changing impact as Nemanja Matic brought balance to a midfield that barely existed. Matic announced he would be leaving United on Friday night but received a warm ovation from the hardcore supporters, who serenaded him with the ‘He comes from Serbia’ ditty.

Despite the toxicity on United’s premises, the only time Joel Glazer would have sifted uncomfortably in his palatial Tampa residence would have been when Teemu Pukki equalized. A couple of thousand dissenters are not going to unnerve the Glazer family when more than 70,000 still click through the turnstiles of a stadium United are purposely planning to expand.

The way to unsettle the Glazers is to hit them where it hurts: their wallets. And with Champions League football still unlikely to be on the calendar for United next season the club’s precious revenue is likely to dwindle.

Yet United are breathing down Tottenham’s necks. Spurs lost at home to Brighton and shortly after Pukki evaded the United defence’s boomerang-shaped line to extinguish their lead, Arsenal went behind at Southampton. They lost.

The early evidence was the United players fed off the protesting supporters inside and outside the stadium. Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles whipped up the crowd. Alas, the latter was guilty for both of Norwich’s goals and Dalot, weak in halting the first, engaged in some verbal jousting with Harry Maguire over Pukki’s goal.

Telles, substituted simultaneously with Pogba, had the gall to demand more noise from the matchgoers yet was almost always jogging, so bad that Rangnick moved Dalot to left-back and the game Anthony Elanga to right-back.

Doomed Norwich appeared to be the worst possible visitors for a protest, for even United had to beat them convincingly. It did not work out that way and the threat of a Norwich triumph was palpable at 2-2, only ended by Ronaldo’s saveable free-kick. The militant United fans still chorused to ‘Love United, hate Glazers’ as the players disappeared down the tunnel at full-time, pausing to boo Pogba again. Pogba cupped his right ear from him.

Before kick-off, they aired their sinister song about Joel Glazer and his late father Malcolm in the Munich tunnel, as well as the timeless ‘we want Glazers out’. What appeared a meagre march as they strolled down Sir Matt Busby Way quickly grew into a protest of thousands, many doubtless ticketless.

The shutters came down on the directors’ box and the Megastore, with some supporters locked inside the latter, as well as the media entrance. True to the supporters’ word, it passed peacefully, despite the hi-vis presence from stewards and police matching the green and gold regalia.

‘Love United, stay outside’ was the rallying cry in the Munich tunnel as kick-off loomed. Thousands were outside but some eventually headed inside, where there were tens of thousands already in their seats, the stadium barely blemished by vacant seats and the sunshine saturating the resplendent shirts. A conspicuous number did not enter after 17 minutes.

The protesting continued inside, with ‘Stand up if you hate Glazers’ bringing the mild-mannered south stand denizens to their feet. Those in the south-west corner, the most atmospheric section of the ground, went through their repertoire of anti-Glazer chants. Joel Glazer has not been in attendance to hear them for three years.

Old Trafford does not host another game for more than two weeks, so any momentum built may not sustain as the final month of the season approaches. United have two more home matches against Brentford and Chelsea.

With the midfield depleted by injury and Matic rested ahead of Liverpool, Rangnick picked just one – Pogba, positioned at the base of a midfield triangle in a gung-ho attack that featured five forwards. Marcus Rashford was curiously back on the bench while Jesse Lingard was recalled for his second Premier League start for United in as many years.

Underused by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and often unused by Rangnick, Lingard was energetic and a goal threat as an attacking midfielder in a triumvirate, a role he should have occupied more often for United. His farewell tour could involve more playing time than he initially expected yet he was substituted early.

Pukki could have put Norwich ahead before Ronaldo finished Elanga’s square pass in the seventh minute. Elanga mimicked Ronaldo’s signature ‘siiiiu’ celebration, while Maguire and Lindelof thanked De Gea for his pivotal denial of Pukki minutes earlier. What should have been a comfortable afternoon ended uncomfortably, with the players’ commitment questioned.

Apart from Ronaldo’s.

Related Posts

George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *