United may have to wait late against Pompey
After seeing his youthful foot soldiers cut down in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Everton, punters can reliably expect Sir Alex Ferguson to bugle in his gleaming first cavalry as he seeks to maintain the Red Devils’ tilt at an 11th Premier League title.
With dreams of the quintuple ended (and some lumpy five-timer bookmaking liabilities too) United point their sabres at Portsmouth who unlike most have some positive recent Old Trafford "previous".
Sulley Muntari’s 78th minute penalty surprisingly felled United in the sixth round of last year’s FA Cup.
But that was in the days of Ferguson’s occasional managerial bete noir, Harry Redknapp, and an FA Cup winning season that would eventually yield a fine eighth placed Premier League finish.
Thirteen months on with Paul Hart at the helm it’s an inferior side that arrives at Old Trafford yet one that has remained unbeaten on the road since the end of January.
With Saturday’s narrow 1-0 home win over abrasive Bolton the Hampshire outfit will feel relieved that they have almost reached the end of the Premier League tightrope. Their current haul of 37 points with six games remaining should have the Pompey heart rate monitors back to a more comfortable level.
A more comfortable level you might argue than Ferguson’s is right now.
The Scot has cut the figure of an agitated man of late. Take the bizarre Rafael Benitez accusations of “contempt” towards Sam Allardyce and his discontent over the state of the Wembley pitch.
He’s a man that likes to indulge this time of the year with talk of "squeeky bum time" among his peers and it could be that the Govan Guvnor, this titan of Premiership supremacy over the past two decades, is starting to feel just a little extra windy himself.
With inhibitive quotes of 1/5 for a United win (2/9 with William Hill) it’s clear how the bookies feel Wednesday night’s game will finish up. But that price suggests the Portsmouth goal area will resemble a remake of the Alamo.
Bear in mind that it’s a while since United dished out an Old Trafford thumping. The last one was when they were on the receiving end of a 1-4 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool.
Old Trafford has been anything but a graveyard for away sides in recent weeks. United were second best to visitors Porto a fortnight ago, drawing 2-2. And prior to that they were heading for defeat against Aston Villa until late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Macheda saved odds-on backers.
Only once since November have United won a Premier League fixture by more than a single goal margin at Old Trafford, a 3-0 win against Fulham in mid February.
With the above in mind it would come as no surprise to see Pompey making life tough for the title chasers before eventually succumbing to Ferguson’s cavalry in the latter stages of the game.
Verdict: Hills’ half-time/full-time market, Draw/United at 10/3