Such is the plight of Manchester United these days that when the straws are available, you ought to clutch onto them with as tight a grip as you can muster. Therefore whilst ordinarily a 1-3 victory away at Championship side Derby County would be given the odd indifferent shrug, treated with an air of expectation, United have been afforded a watershed weekend by the media.
There is even talk among the ladies and gentlemen of the press about how Louis van Gaal might have had his Mark Robins moment with that victory on Friday night at the iPro stadium. Indeed, United were much more professional about the job this week. The passing and movement was a bit sharper than we've come to expect lately. It's nice and all arguing that this was merely against second tier opposition but having seen the impotent display against Sheffield United at home, this was supposed to be a much tougher test.
In the end, it turned out to be the most anticipated shock of the round that never materialised. Perhaps the shock was in the fact that United actually scored three goals--(a not so common tally these days). Or that Daley Blind scored from open play despite starting in a centre back position. Certainly, Friday was a much better occasion than last week at home to Southampton.
It is becoming a common theme that United are increasingly looking more comfortable away from home than at Old Trafford. Louis van Gaal has lost the fans and Old Trafford quite easily gets onto the backs of the players and the manager these days as soon as twenty minutes go by without a goal. When compared to the ever brilliant away support that cheered van Gaal off at Stoke City on Boxing Day, you get the feeling that United's decent away results lately are largely down to an easier atmosphere away from home. Little wonder then that many fans are hoping for an away draw in the Cup for the fifth round!
Wayne Rooney came out and confirmed that the manager has relaxed his straight jacket methodology and hence allowed the players to express themselves more. Fans would have to see three or four consecutive performances in that spirit to believe a word of it. For too long this season, they've been under the false impression that United have turned a corner only to appear to return to the old methods as soon the next fixture comes along.
If indeed we get to see more shots at goal from hereon, perhaps the tide will start to turn in our favour. Quite how van Gaal envisages it the other way round is baffling. At one shot on target per match, United are effectively vulnerable going into every game.....because even if that one shot resulted in a goal, we're only one goal up. That is an extremely sorry strategy to carry through a season. It leaves the team exposed to the most minute of challenges/periods of adversity.
Speaking of challenges, Stoke City, visit Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, five weeks since playing United off the park at the Britannia stadium. With Spurs edging five points ahead of us in the race for the Champions League, the pressure couldn't be greater on van Gaal to register a victory that would at least keep his side in with a shout of making the top four.
Victory over Derby in the Cup was but a necessary watershed moment. The real response to going down at Southampton at home will be getting the win at home on Tuesday. More important will be to see a side that tries its luck more often infront of goal. In this league, the odds favour the brave. It's why a certain Scotsman usually reaped much more than he appeared to sow.