Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

From his vantage point in the Matthew Harding End, season ticket holder Giles Smith picks out some moments that caught his eye from last night and forms a conclusion about Group C…


Six goals, two of them world class, countless chances, a rampant visiting side with highly vocal supporters, a lead lost, a point taken… This was, you realised one of those matches which you frequently see described as ‘highly entertaining for the neutral.’ Thanks to Eden Hazard’s headed (of all things) equaliser, it wasn’t too bad for the partial, either, at the end, although there had been a few periods along the way – particularly as 2-0 up became, somehow inevitably, 3-2 down – when it had been tempting to ask yourself what the neutrals had done to deserve so much fun.

Or to put the question another way: what have the neutrals ever done for us?

Still, some things can only be admired, over and above the state of your allegiance. The names of the scorers last night (Kolarov, Dzeko) had the more paranoid among us suspecting some kind of Mancunian conspiracy, but it doesn’t really matter who you used to play for, that equalising goal of Roma’s – the crunching volley off the lofted cross-field pass – was something special. There is, as they say, no legislating for that kind of thing, and there was certainly no saving it. All you can do in the circumstances is swallow hard, allow yourself a mild dip of the head in appreciation, and hope your team scores again (which it did).

It was almost as special, indeed, as the David Luiz goal in the first half, a bending shot from 23 yards coming off a run that would eventually end with him flat on his back over by the West Stand, and which might well have continued as far as Putney High Street if there hadn’t been buildings in the way. Another one for the David Luiz Bumper Book of Golden Strikes, then. Much as one struggles to form anything approaching a list of headed goals by Eden Hazard, so it is hard to get your mind around the concept of a scruffy David Luiz finish. He doesn’t appear to have such a thing in his locker, preferring in the main to score goals that have Batman-style bubbles coming off them, saying things like ‘Pow!’ and ‘Zap!’ And I don’t suppose anyone minds, neutral or otherwise.

David Luiz’s frustration at having to come off so early to protect an injury was easy to share and it seemed to be understandably compounded by the incident directly preceding the substitution - another defence-cleaving run through the centre that would have produced a goal if a couple of his team-mates had been a bit smarter about where they were standing at the crucial moment. Ah well.

I somehow missed the blow-to-the-face incident that left Gary Cahill needing medical triage mid-match – but, suddenly, there he was, wrapped from chin to crown in the kind of bandage rarely seen these days outside of outbreaks of toothache in vintage comic-books. Okay, in order to be a perfect replica, it probably needed a big knot with floppy ends at the top, but you can’t have everything. In the age of the custom-fitted, Swiss-built cheek-protector – available in your player’s choice of Zorro black, Phantom of the Opera white or jellyfish grey – this throwback to the days when the Beano truly ruled will have been much enjoyed by the more nostalgic members of the night’s crowd. It seems we can’t have terraces any more, but we can at least have dodgy bandaging.

A few things to savour, then, over and above the irritation of seeing a two-goal lead slip and another performance in which the team fell short of the gleaming standard it set itself in Madrid a fortnight ago. And one resounding conclusion to be taken from the draw: that it’s a tough group, and that we’re on top of it.