By Richard Redman
Denis Irwin insists Jonny Evans is not to blame for Manchester United’s poor defensive start to the season.
Former United and Oldham Athletic left-back Irwin believes that the young centre-back dealt well with the daunting task of replacing Rio Ferdinand during his injury.
“I honestly think Jonny’s done unbelievably well,” said Irwin, 44. “To make the breakthrough from the academy then the reserves and get into the first team is very hard at United – but he’s done that, and I think he’s superb.”
Evans, 22, has come under fire from some supporters for his performances this season, including his positioning for Bolton’s Zat Knight’s goal at the Reebok.
“Yes, they’ve conceded goals but I wouldn’t put that down to Evans. I think he’s done fantastically well,” he said.
Treble-winner Irwin could not explain why so many goals have been leaked by a United defence compiled mostly of players that went 1,311 consecutive minutes without conceding less than two years ago.
“I don’t know why it’s happened. Normally United have always had one of the best defensive records in the league – it’s surprising,” he said. “Particularly at Everton where they conceded two late on; it’s not a trait we often see in United.”
However, the United legend believes that the reunion of Vidic and Ferdinand will be important in the search for more clean sheets – like the one kept in the 1-0 away defeat of Valencia. Ferdinand returned to replace Evans in that game.
“At Valencia we saw a very good defensive performance; it was good to have Rio back – a good bit of experience there.
“Ferdinand and Vidic know each other’s game so well – you could see them gelling straight away.”
Irwin also warned against underestimating Chelsea, who many believe to have had a relatively easy start to the season – they scored a total of 21 goals against West Brom, Wigan, Stoke, West Ham and Blackpool – until losing 1-0 against Manchester City at the City of Manchester Stadium.
“They got off to a flyer, but West Ham away is never an easy game,” he said. “You still have to beat the teams that are put in front of you and they did that very well.
“There’s Chelsea, United and Arsenal. City have done very well, though they might be just short. I think it’s between the other three.”