GILES SMITH: SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE
While limbering up to climb the stairs to once again to his Matthew Harding Stand seat, Giles Smith also found the time to write this week's column…
'You have to say Cech's save from Chicharito was unbelievable.'
Those were the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, speaking after our FA Cup quarter-final victory on Monday, and how nice it was to find oneself, for once, in complete and unqualified agreement with the irascible old stick.
You do, indeed, have to say that Cech's save from Hernandez (we'll stay formally with the surname, if that's all right) was unbelievable. It was a piece of gymnastics so deft that it automatically pulled people out of their seats (me included) as far away as the other end of the ground.
So, no dispute with the United manager here: unbelieveable.
Hang on, though: what's this?
'You need a bit of luck in the cup,' Ferguson immediately added. 'That was disappointing for us in terms of getting a little break.'
A bit of luck? Disappointing? A little break? Now, what's the inference here? That when Cech twisted up and back to tip that header away, it was an example of poor old United failing to get the rub of the green? That Cech's save was somehow an example of bad luck? But what part did luck play in that save, at any level at all?
Now, if Cech had been standing with his back to the action, chatting with someone in row four of the Shed, and the ball had hit him on the head and bounced over - then we might have been able to agree that the outcome was 'disappointing' for United 'in terms of getting a little break'. (Although we might also have been wondering, in those circumstances, why Hernandez didn't manage to find the net, so, again, our sympathy would probably have been limited.)
But that's not what happened. Instead, handed the split-second task of stopping a point-blank header, our goalkeeper pulled off a feat of minding so great that even the opposition's manager, surely, might have stopped, magnanimously, at calling it unbelievable.
But no. The verdict seems to be that United were somehow unlucky to have that chance saved - that, indeed, the save was further evidence of the widening global conspiracy against Manchester United, which already includes members of FA disciplinary panels and referees who fail to award penalties and fourth officials who fail to calculate insufficient amounts of added time, and now seemingly also includes pesky goalkeepers doing brilliant things on opposing sides.
All in favour of the siege mentality, of course: it can get a football club quite a long way and, as an approach to life, has undoubtedly served Ferguson well for nigh on half a century. But when it's causing you to dismiss probably the greatest piece of acrobatics by a goalkeeper since Gordon Banks flung himself to his right in Mexico in 1970, it has surely gone too far.
Incidentally, I have never understood why Hernandez has clearance to have his nickname emblazoned across the back of his shirt when everybody else has to run around the pitch labelled formally with his surname.
It's always been 'Lampard', for instance, and never 'Lamps'. It's always been 'Terry', and not 'JT'. Which seems right, one has to add. Decorous and proper. I don't think any of us really want to see players running around marked 'Wazza', 'Dipstick' and 'Deggsy Boy', do we? I mean, it's fine in the stands. But not, surely, on the pitch.
Still, given that Hernandez clearly does have this dispensation, one wonders whether it also might be extended to our own Cesar Azpilicueta, whose name continues, even now, to prove a formidable stumbling block for commentators (not least Paul Merson who has almost swallowed his tongue on at least three separate occasions this season trying to get his mouth around the pronunciation for Gillette Soccer Saturday) and who also, coincidentally, has the best nickname ever given by to a footballer: Dave.
We'd find it perfectly acceptable, wouldn't we, to have our right-back take the field with 'Dave' on his shoulders? Even if fans wouldn't have so many letters for their money when it came to shirt-printing costs over at the Megastore.
Tonight sees our second quarter-final in four days, our third match in six days, and the reaching of the three-quarters mark in our current, unprecedented four-in-nine stint.
It's a ridiculous state of affairs, in many ways, and it's relentless and taxing and potentially even physically ruinous, to the point where the authorities should probably have intervened. Nevertheless, it's where we are. And by taking on plenty of fluids and stretching, and also resting when and where appropriate, I'm fairly confident I'll come through.