A record-crowd of 52,897, made up of largely Manchester United supporters, witnessed the Red Devils edge Inter Milan 1-0 at the National Stadium in the International Champions Cup last Saturday night.
While the sea of red that engulfed the stands and the noise levels that emanated throughout the stadium were worth marvelling at, the boos directed at Man Utd captain Ashley Young were certainly not.
Young, 34, was one of 10 substitutes brought on by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 63rd minute, but his introduction was met with an appalling chorus of boos when his name was read out by the stadium announcer.
The boos continued to ring out every time the left-back touched the ball.
Ironically, it was the Englishman’s free-kick that led to teenager Mason Greenwood scoring the winner in the 76th minute.
Speaking at the post-match conference, Solskjaer expressed his desire for fans to stand behind the players, rather than castigating them.
“We want our fans to support our players, and Ash has been a very loyal servant to this club for many years,” explained the Norwegian. “He will keep on performing when he plays.”
“I think Ashley is a top professional. He always gives absolutely everything and his delivery today ended up with a goal.”
Solskjaer added, “I’ve not spoken to him (about the boos), but I’ll have a chat with him (after this)”.
Young, who has been regularly criticised by supporters for his indifferent displays in the Man Utd jersey over the past two seasons, cut a gloomy figure as he stormed straight past reporters waiting in the mixed zone for interviews and into the team bus.
Over on Twitter, British journalists Samuel Luckhurst and Rob Dawson, who are Man Utd correspondents and were present at the National Stadium, stated their displeasure over the resentment shown towards Young.
More alarmingly, there was also footage uploaded of a fan calling Young a “n***er”, just before Man Utd scored their goal.
While one English full-back was pelleted with hate, another was showered with love and affection.
Right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who signed from Crystal Palace in late June, received the loudest cheer of the night when his name was announced in the starting 11.
The 21-year-old was the stand-out star of the opening 45 minutes as he put in a series of robust and determined tackles to thwart the marauding runs of the Inter wingbacks and attackers.
This was first evident in the fifth minute when Wan-Bissaka nicked the ball off Dalbert Henrique with a well-timed tackle challenge near the corner flag, drawing a deafening roar from the crowd.
The crowd were so thrilled with his display that they broke out in renditions of “Bissaka! Bissaka! Bissaka!” whenever he conjured up something impressive, both on and off the ball.
“I thought Aaron was growing and growing in confidence and is getting used to his team-mates. His performance was a good one, as were so many of his team-mates’ performances,” said Solskjaer.
With the exception of a long-range effort by defender Luke Shaw that flew narrowly past the right-hand post, and a powerful attempt on goal by winger Anthony Martial, the opening 45 minutes were rather lacklustre and lacked clear-cut goal-scoring chances.
Key players such as Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Martial were unable to breach the rock-solid defence of the Italians, whose manager Antonio Conte deployed a conservative 3-5-2 formation.
However, buoyed on by their boisterous supporters, Man Utd started the second-half with renewed vigour.
In the 48th minute, Lingard’s first-time effort from Martial’s lay-off was hacked off the line by Inter defender Danilo D’Ambrosio. Less than a minute later, Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic thundered a header from Rashford’s corner against the post.
The flurry of attacks by the English side culminated when Pogba mesmerically skilled his way past two Inter players, before unleashing a powerful shot that was palmed away by custodian Samir Handanovic.
In a rare attack from the Italian giants, star attacker Ivan Persic, who entered the fray at the break, nodded Antonio Candreva’s cross from the right-flank inches away from goal.
The crowd, which was the largest at the National Stadium since 52,107 watched the 2015 Barclays Asia Trophy match between English giants Arsenal and Everton, were rewarded 14 minutes from time when Greenwood unleashed a stunning effort into the top-left hand corner after Young’s free-kick was tipped away by Handanovic.
Solskjaer praised his side for grinding out the win in “tough” conditions.
“I think we got what we (the coaches) asked for,” he explained. “The conditions were tough but I thought it was excellent with some pressing, and in the first half, I thought we pressed really well and won the ball – it was just that final little bit was missing.”
“I was just thinking I like this, and think the boys were enjoying it, enjoying their football, and what we are trying to do. I think we showed what we are about”.
The 46-year-old was also full of praise for the atmosphere at the National Stadium, comparing it to Man Utd’s historic home ground Old Trafford.
“Today was Old Trafford, for sure. It felt like we were at home. The supporters were amazing in training yesterday and today the atmosphere was unbelievable.”
Meanwhile, Inter manager Conte urged his team to improve ahead of the new season, which begins in late August.
“We knew it would be difficult today and we got a difficult season ahead,” claimed the Italian. “But, the team showed a good spirit in and fighting for the result today, though we didn’t get it.”
“We have got a lot to improve in the moving and possession of the ball and pressing especially.”
“We spent the past few days working really hard and we can’t only play friendly, we have to keep the training levels up and get ready for the new season”.
Italian giants Juventus will take on English side Tottenham Hotspur in the second match of the 2019 International Champions Cup in Singapore on Sunday evening at the National Stadium.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Tuanzebe, Shaw, Matic (C), James, Pogba, Lingard, Martial, Rashford
Inter Milan: Handanovic (C), D’Ambrosio, De Vrij, Skriniar, Candreva, Gagliardini, Brozovic, Sensi, Dalbert, Esposito, Longo
Photos by Nigel Noah Chan of the DANAMIC team.