Corey Evans, Manchester Evening News, 13th March 2025
We are a cynical bunch as journalists, accustomed to waiting for hours for a glimpse of players exiting a coach to assess a downbeat look as one stoops beneath his Beats headphones to indicate a sagging mood or a spat with the manager, or a hidden fitness issue with a tiny nuance in a player’s step that might betray a slight niggle. However last night as the Heathens arrived at New Bank Street for this well anticipated clash against the mighty PSG, heads were high and strides were confident as the players emerged from the coach very much minus their headphones, (which we later learned had been banned by FMheathen prior to the game) looking strong, confident and, in the words of one of my colleagues stood alongside me, “Proper up for it.”
By contrast, despite a 2-0 lead from their home leg, the PSG elite, who have dominated Ligue 1 now for so many a year on the back of their sand-blown riches, were the former, with heads bowed, Beats firmly glued in place and looking, well, worried. Maybe it’s because they knew after many years of trying that ultimately when it comes to the European holy grail of the Champions League, a trophy they have never lifted in their entire history, they simply don’t have what it takes when it comes to crunch time. By now, if you have just watched the game or even if you have glanced at a tv, phone or any other device in our ridiculously connected world in the last hour, you will know that they were right to be so demure in the face of this eventual destruction. As has often happened here in Clayton in the shade of the gasworks where their club began, yet again another Newton Heath 1878 side gave no quarter when it came to riding roughshod over their opponent’s broken will.
This home dominance is, of course, well documented and in that respect this scoreline should be no surprise. Last year it was the mighty Spanish twins of Real Madrid (6-0) and Barcelona (3-2) who were tamed here and now this. After all, as many Heathens fans will attest, they feel that it is now THEIR trophy, won with such dignity last year for the first time in their history on that unexpectedly humid night in Russia at the magnificent Luzhniki stadium. On that night, minus the comfort of a home dressing room but with the resounding Heathen anthems brought by 30,000 fans, their opponents Porto parked up from the first minute in an anti-football tactic that subsequently ruined their reputation in European football and deservedly led to them being beaten on penalties when only four of the Heathen’s shots were required to dispatch them back to their sunny climes, such was the ineptitude of the Porto penalty taking. In that respect, in his press conference the morning after and rocking what can only be described as a ‘Flintoff’ look, FMheathen was right to say that the Heathens “came to conquer,” had “terrified” their opponents before they had even laced their boots and had very firmly “come of age” at the final whistle. The night, and the trophy, was finally theirs.
But enough of the history lesson and on to tonight and as I say I am under no illusion that even now, just an hour afterwards you will not know the incredible, yet some would say almost predictable, result. Even before those coaches were booked on the day after the draw for this 1st knockout round the anticipation had almost reached fever pitch, with a delicious home tie for the Heathens to seal the deal where they are ALWAYS at their best in front of the Harry Stafford stand faithful. In fact, such is the power and volume of this New Bank Street crowd and their reputation to lift their heroes almost beyond the confines of their physical form in home ties, it is no wonder that the brows of their superstars Neymar, Paul Pogba and their rock of a Centre Back Dayot Upamecano had looked so furrowed. They may have had a premonition that they were about to be humbled, to be humiliated even and they were right.
Going into the game, Newton Heath 1878 had not had their best preparation with just 3 wins and a draw from their last 5 games with yet again their away form proving the sticking point. This despite a lengthy Bielsa-style tactics breakdown by FMheathen on this very blog just a few weeks ago, which worked for a while but sadly started to falter as tiredness from fixture congestion crept in to the dressing room. Yes, they had their wins, but they were unconvincing to say the least, with ground-out 1 nil away wins against Cardiff and Arsenal (in the FA Cup and League respectively) book-ending a deeply embarrassing 3-1 loss against Watford which some say has effectively ended their league challenge this year. For this read a Premier League table that now shows Newton Heath in 3rd place and a full 9pts behind joint leaders Man City and Liverpool, who both have games in hand with just 8 to play. By contrast, until this evening, PSG hadn’t lost since January and have frequently been on the thick end of 5, 6 and even 7 nil destruction of their weaker Ligue 1 opposition. Par for the course you might say in such a weak league but all the same, going into a game like this I am sure that the PSG manager, Thomas Tuchel, was happy to take it.
An hour before the game the team sheets showed no surprises, with the line ups as follows:
As expected, FMheathen’s resting strategy had worked with an almost fully-fit XI, notable for the absence of Fiete Arp who has been misfiring recently amid rumours of disagreements over a new contract. His loss though was Timo Werner’s gain and he started upfront alongside Lautoro Martinez, a striker whose stock has been rising recently with some solid league performances despite those aforementioned away struggles. As for the rest of the side, as is well documented the usual quality was there with the likes of Vagnoman, Kimmich and Havertz adding to the German flavour of this Heathen’ side alongside the usual stalwarts such as Juan Miranda, Wilfred Ndidi and Filippo Melegoni.
For PSG, it was more of the same with similar good fitness, with the main news being the French headlines proclaiming that “le retour de Sid” (English: the return of Sid) would lead to the Heathens’ downfall after the newgen’s first return to his boyhood home following his fallings-out with FMheathen and acrimonious £105m departure from New Bank Street just two years ago, (a subject that FMheathen still refuses to talk about). Surrounding him were the outrageously consistent Neymar (age 33 but still in the world top 5) and the dynamic midfield talismans of Pogba and Asensio, reinforced by a solid back 4 of Leduc, Vallejo, Mammana and Maehle who boast an impressive 27 clean sheets in all competitions during this campaign.
Surprisingly, as the teams were announced Sid received little boos from the New Bank Street faithful with even a muted clap heard here and there from some of whom clearly still feel that he never should have left. This was bad news for Newton Heath as the game kicked off and he hit the post within 4 minutes, his chest puffed to twice it’s size it seemed from even that little smattering of home support. However, that was not to last long as a sliding blind tackle from his teammate Jesús Vallejo on Kai Havertz led to a six player shoving match that earned Vallejo the first yellow, Sid a head to head tussle with Timo Werner (which he was never going to win) but more importantly a wake-up call to the Heathens’ fans who suddenly seemed to realise he was playing for the opposition and started to boo every touch he had for the rest of the game. On such small events games are won or lost and one wonders if that is what he feels now as he is getting changed, no doubt with head slumped and a Salford-born tail firmly between his legs.
Tactics-wise, after that cagey start this event had roused the crowd and soon the Heathens’ home attacking mentality was awakened, with early chances on the counter for both Werner and Havertz with money quickly changing hands around the country no doubt for the Heathens to score the first goal. A few minutes later and that faith was rewarded as yet again that low block that the Heathens have become so famous for under FMheathen’s management reaped rewards as Werner yet again broke away and found the net. from a Lautaro Martinez assist, making it 1-0 Newton Heath 1878.
Wounded but by no means beaten, the French beast that is PSG soon rallied and a torrid 20 minutes followed, with the Heathens’ goal peppered with 7 shots and two very clear cut chances, including one when Sid in his own similar breakaway proved to be a poor Werner-mimic when he fluffed and tripped when one on one with Edison Carlos (the Heathens indomitable newgen Sweeper-keeper) to the resounding joy and mockery from the 52,587 home fans.
Score, 12:53: Newton Heath 1878 1-0 Paris St Germain (1-2 on aggregate)
This seemed to enliven the Newton Heath team yet again and a bout of edge of the box pressure resulted in a handball from the unlucky Jesus Vallejo, who miraculously avoided a second yellow but gifted Newton Heath a penalty, which Werner easily converted before wheeling away to celebrate with the delirious fans in the front rows of the Harry Stafford stand to give the Heathens a much-needed 2-2 aggregate parity.
Score, 32:05: Newton Heath 1878 2-0 Paris St Germain (2-2 on aggregate)
If PSG weren’t confident before then now they crumbled. Spirits had been crushed, hope was fading and heads were clearly down as they searched for inspiration from their boot laces. Sadly though there was none as sensing this the Heathens started to attack en masse with a series of ripostes and counter-ripostes that devastated a now lacklustre-looking PSG defence. Long range shots from Mellegoni and Havertz were tipped wide and another box scramble was (just about) held by the PSG keeper Jochen Framberger before finally a change in tactic from FMheathen to go wide that at times looked almost like a tennis match from the two Heathen WBs resulted in yet another easy tap-in from Lautaro Martinez:
Score, HT: Newton Heath 1878 3-0 Paris St Germain (3-2 on aggregate)
As the teams came out for the second half it was clear that PSG needed an inspired tactical shift from Tuchel and unsurprisingly Sid and Neymar were the victims of his retribution, being replaced (to the cheers of the Heathen faithful) by Gabriel Jesus and Ousmane Dembélé.
However, the effect of this was completely nullified as, buoyed by Sid’s demise and the roars from a surging crowd, the Heathens strode forward with even more confidence. No longer on the counter and taking the game to the now-camped PSG, within two minutes Werner got on the end of a perfectly-worked throw in routine and scored again for his hat-trick to make it (almost) game over:
Score, 46:13: Newton Heath 1878 4-0 Paris St Germain (4-2 on aggregate)
Back in play and a brief ressurgence from PSG ulitmately came to nothing as it was clear that even Jesus couldn’t save them, with Gabriel having two shots saved by Carlos between the Heathens’ sticks, resulting in a change back to direct counter from FMheathen. This tactic proved crucial and was soon rewarded with the final goal of the game as crowd favourite Timo turned it into the Werner show with his 4th of the game to top a stunning season-defining performance. The humbling, the humiliation of PSG was complete as the Heathens had done the impossible at New Bank Street yet again and qualifying for the quarter final of the Champions League for the second season in a row.
Final score: Newton Heath 1878 5-0 Paris St Germain (4-2 on aggregate)
Before I go readers I must leave you with these final words from FMheathen in the press conference that has just this minute concluded. which I think is a fitting end to this night of european glory. When asked how he managed to get the respect from players that he so clearly enjoys in order to conjure such a performance (typified by his non-nonsense approach to selling the want-away Sid), he replied with these words:
“I take no nonsense. Dwight Eisenhower once said “the supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office,” and there’s a lot to be said for that, (well, that, and also Timo Werner having a fucking worldie 🙂 “
FMheathen, New Bank Street, 13th March 2025