Sunday, October 01, 2006

Reds top of the Premiership after Newcastle destruction

Manchester United returned to the top of the Premiership table with an impressive destruction of Newcastle United at Old Trafford.

The Magpies showed little by way of attacking intent, but they did not possess the defensive quality to keep Sir Alex Ferguson's men at bay and a brace of goals from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hardly did justice to the home side's superiority.

Only the woodwork, some good keeping and profligate finishing kept the scoreline respectable, but this should in no way detract from a performance which confirms United as genuine challengers to Chelsea.

Glenn Roeder's decision to leave Obafemi Martins on the bench gave an indication that The Magpies made the trip to Old Trafford in a mood to stifle and it was the home side who started much the brighter, with Gary Neville nearly embarrassing Steve Harper with a cross-shot and Wayne Rooney almost nipping in between Steven Taylor and the Newcastle keeper.

Harper has had a couple of shaky moments since replacing the injured Shay Given, but he proved his class 15 minutes in as he arched his back to tip over a powerful header from Nemanja Vidic who had beaten Craig Moore with ease at a corner.

Rooney has yet to hit form this term and he flattered to deceive on 20 minutes when striking a shot wide from 20 yards.

The England striker was involved in a quicksilver move which almost yielded the first goal. Solskjaer, Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo combined to play in Darren Fletcher on the edge of the box and his shot thudded against the post.

Newcastle's defensive approach had reduced Red Devils keeper Edwin van der Sar to the role of spectator for the opening 30 minutes and his first piece of action was a routine save from James Milner.

Harper, in contrast, was far more busy and he was relieved to collect a deflected free kick from Ronaldo on 37 minutes.

The keeper could do nothing to prevent Solskjaer from opening the scoring on 41 minutes as the Norwegian was on hand to tap home from six yards after a shot from Ronaldo had bounced off a post and into his path.

Solskjaer effectively put the game beyond Newcastle two minutes after the interval with one of the most fortunate strikes of his illustrious career.

An awful defensive header from Taylor fell at the feet of Vidic who shot towards goal but his effort spun off the heel of Solskjaer and into the net.

Newcastle looked like rabbits in headlights and Ronaldo should have added a third a minute later, but his drive from eight yards crashed against the crossbar.

The woodwork was proving a real thorn in the side of Ronaldo as it came to Newcastle's rescue once again after the Portuguese star had slid in a shot after mesmerising Stephen Carr inside the Newcastle box.

With Paul Scholes orchestrating play like an experienced general and Ronaldo's box of tricks tying Carr in knots, the only surprise was that The Red Devils failed to rack up a cricket score.

An arm from Taylor denied Fletcher a third and to rub salt into the wounds the incident was not picked up by Mike Dean, while van der Sar ensured he would keep a clean sheet when pulling in a drive from Peter Ramage.

Harper had made a number of fine saves during the 90 minutes and he was on hand to push away a powerful drive from Scholes with nine minutes remaining.

Solskjaer came within inches of registering a hat-trick, as his deflected shot drifted just wide of the far post with Harper well beaten, but it mattered little as Ferguson's charges fired out a title warning to Chelsea and co.

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