Sunday, April 15, 2007

Watford no match for United`s superiority

Aidy Boothroyd's line about victory here equalling the shock of the moon landing might have needed a tweak involving Man setting up house on Mars if Watford, the Premiership's bottom club, had actually managed to knock out the Premiership leaders. Instead, the team whose warm-up for this tie was the midweek demolition of Roma in the Champions League reached the first FA Cup final at the revamped Wembley, in front of a crowd that rolled and rocked Villa Park.

United's eighteenth appearance in the showpiece event came thanks to a scintillating Wayne Rooney display that included two goals and allows United's fans to keep dreaming that the 1999 Treble can be emulated. It also means the neutral might hope that when Chelsea meet Blackburn this afternoon in the second semi-final, Jose Mourinho's men will prevail. That would set up the middle one of three possible meetings between the clubs that could decide the FA Cup, Premiership and Champions League - an unprecedented finish to a season that already should linger in the memory.

The Portuguese winger began on the right in the same fluid 4-2-3-1 formation as Tuesday, with Paul Scholes in for Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra instead of John O'Shea. That had Wayne Rooney on the left behind Alan Smith, a decision that had the best endorsement when the former scored after six minutes.

This presaged a sticky period in which United harried, were allowed too much space inside their opponents' half and forced Lee to miskick clearances. But, with their first moment of real pressure, Watford picked up some hope.

Hameur Bouazza, Watford's best player, hassled Wes Brown to win a free-kick. A corner resulted, from which Edwin van der Sar offered the first of various weak punches. The Dutchman was then involved in a mix-up with Rio Ferdinand that led to Watford's equaliser. Last week at Portsmouth a similar breakdown had yielded an own goal from the United No 5. Here, they got in a tangle that also involved Watford's central defender, Clarke Carlisle. This injured the United keeper. From the restart, Tommy Smith eventually received the ball inside the area and found Bouazza. The French striker's left-foot volley was impressive, but took a telling deflection off Gabriel Heinze.

That was in the 26th minute and parity lasted around 120 seconds. Rooney exchanged passes with Alan Smith down the right, then advanced and advanced on Lee. His pass, always meant for Ronaldo, bobbled off the keeper. United's darling was hardly going to miss from two yards.

This frantic start was evidence of the game's openness, which was great for the fans, but until Ferdinand's removal through injury five minutes before the break hardly the best for Watford's chances of defeating a side who just love to attack. Rooney, in particular, took advantage, offering a reminder of the buccaneering talent that has been evident only in flashes this season - a remarkable 50-yard diagonal pass around the half...#8209;hour that took out Watford's defence was particularly memorable.

Now came the restart and Watford's best chance. United at first struggled to adjust to the midfielder Darren Fletcher slotting in at right-back and Van der Sar still appeared to be troubled from the effects of Carlisle's challenge. Bouazza had a shot, was nearly played in by Gavin Mahon and then had a searing run down the left that frightened the rejigged rearguard.

It was Rooney, though, in what was his best performance this season, who confirmed the win with a finish just a little farther out than Ronaldo's. There was even time for Kieran Richardson to chip sweetly beyond Lee. Both had been put in by the excellent Smith.


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