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Manchester United 5 - 1 Everton

Half-time: 3 - 1

Everton Logo
FA Carling Premiership 1999-2000 – Game 17
3pm Saturday 4 December 1999
Old Trafford, Manchester
Att: 55,193
« Aston Villa (h) Ref: Graham Poll Exeter City (a) »
[1999-2000 Fixtures & Results] League Position: 12th [Premiership Results & Table]
Richard Dunne Everton, without a win in two months, started brightly against the newly crowned World Club Champions, returning after their narrow victory over Palmieras in the Toyota Cup.Following early United pressure, Everton took an early lead after Jeffers bundled the ball home on 6 mins, and he could have almost had a second later when his header hit the post.

But an accidental handball by Dunne was awarded a penalty on 27 mins and Irwin levelled the scores; then 2 mins latter a Solskjaer shot crept in: 2-1. Despite Everton applying some pressure and a good free-kick chance for Collins from 20 yards out, Solskjaer scored again just before half time, off a badly deflected shot that looped over Gerrard and into the net.

It didn't take long for Solskjaer to claim his hatrick after just 4 mins of the second half, – the first Man Utd hat-trick scored against Everton since 1960. Solskjaer got his fourth and United's fifth, and it was a stroll in the park after that as Smith withdrew the hapless Richard Dunne and the useless Mark Pembridge, who both had stinkers.



Manchester United: Irwin (pen:27'), Solskjaer (29', 43', 52', 58')
EVERTON: Jeffers (6')
   LINEUPS  Subs Not Used 
Manchester United: Bosnich (7' van der Gouw), G Neville, Stam, Silvestre (64' P Neville), Irwin, Scholes, Butt, Keane, Giggs (64' Cole), Sheringham, Solskjaer. Beckham, Yorke.
EVERTON: Gerrard; Dunne (63' Cleland), Weir, Gough {capt}, Unsworth; Barmby (63' Ball), Xavier, Collins, Pembridge (80' Grant); Jeffers, Campbell.
Hutchison, Cadamarteri (suspended); Moore (not registered); Degn (International Duty); Gemmill, Ward, Watson, Williamson (injured); Bilic (in limbo); Branch, Farrelly, Myhre, O'Kane, Phelan (on loan); Parkinson (retired).
Jevons, Simonsen.
   Playing Strips  Formations
Manchester United: Red shirts; white shorts; red socks. 4-4-2
EVERTON: Royal Blue shirts; blue shorts; blue socks. 4-4-2; 5-3-1
   Yellow Cards  Red Cards
Manchester United: Butt (43')
EVERTON: Weir (23')

Guy McEvoy Final whistle a blessing
Steve Milne Walter's biggest defeat
Mikey Blue Eyes Its Panadol time, everyone
Rob Bland Link to Feeling(s) Blue Report
Mark Staniford Link to SFTH Report
ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH Solskjaer on song as United hit top form
by Colin Malam
THE SUNDAY TIMES United back in the old routine
by Joe Lovejoy
THE INDEPENDENT Solskjaer singes the Blues
by Nick Townsend
THE TIMES Solskjaer restates his credentials
by Stephen Wood
EFC NEWS SITE Link to the Echo / Daily Post Match Reports

THE OBSERVER Link to Football Unlimited Match Report
THE GUARDIAN Link to Football Unlimited Match Report
SKY SPORTS Link to Sky Sports Match Report
CARLINGNET Link to CarlingNet Match Report

 Final whistle a blessing
Guy McEvoy
I'd just left my flat and decided there was a 'nip in the air' so popped back to put my scarf on. Jesus, was I glad I had. I'd got about 5 minutes into my half-hour walk to the station and a blizzard kicked in.

I had time to thaw out on the train, and arrived in Manchester in good time, so decided to hit the bookies. £5 on Everton to win, odds quoted 6-1. But Mr Ladbroke wouldn't take my money; 'Sorry - can't take singles if the games not on live on Sky'. This country. You can't even give your money away.

On to the pub for a few winter warmers and then, fashionably late, onto the tram for a game of sardines. Just as well we were a little late, otherwise we'd no doubt have to have put up with them parading around the 'World Club Cup' thing. As Kenny Myers mused 'If we win today does that make us world champions?'.

Old Trafford was packed as usual. Every time I go there I hate the place a little more. There we were tucked in a crappy corner underneath yet more ground extension work, miles from the pitch. The view was so bad I kept getting players confused (I spent 10 minutes thinking Michael Ball was Tony Grant) and it's a good job I saw the highlights on Match of the Day to cobble this together, otherwise I'd be talking even more shite than normal.

I may be up in the heavens in the Top Balcony at Goodison, but at least I'm close to the pitch and can read the names on the players shirts. At the other end of the ground at Old Trafford it's a case of only being able to make out vague shapes in Blue.

First Half

The team that had already started was the same that had been so abject against Villa, with the one exception being the suspended Hutchison's place taken by Xavier. United came at us hard, but we drew first blood. Unsworth slotted an uncharacteristically good ball through the United defence for Jeffers to side-foot in.

Bliss. Those few minutes were a shear joy. Winning at Old Trafford. You can imagine the noise we were making. We even managed our first blast of 'Jingle Bells' for the season. I don't think anyone realised that Bosnich was playing hurt and got substituted immediately after the goal. But then, would we have cared anyway?

Good so nearly got better. First off Gerrard made his weekly top-drawer-outstanding save from a close range header, and moments later Barmby chipped a ball to Jeffers who managed a magnificent connection with his head from ten yards out. It hit the bar. We can only mull over what might have been had it been an inch the other way.

And with that Everton's effort ended and the rest is a catalogue of defensive errors. First off, it was Dunne, who had already made his mark on the game with a blinder of a sliding block earlier on. Now, as sure as Gerrard can be relied to pull an outstanding save at some point in each match it seems we can rely on Dunne to loose his head once a week with a moment of utter madness which can hand away points. A nothing ball came towards him but we all watched him follow through with his elbow. Penalty. Irwin equalised.

No sooner had that disappointment set in than they turned the screw and started the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer show. I can't remember which way round goals two and three came but both where from balls which saw the Norwegian make Weir look a liability, valiant efforts from Gerrard couldn't keep them out.

'Don't worry the jet Lag will kick in soon'. My arse.

Half time was wasted trying to get served with a warm drink – but we can take heart that United for all their acclaimed marketing acumen and ability to extract every last penny from fans have a catering operation every bit as crap and unprepared as ours. So I went without my coffee. Maybe they won't be able to pay Beckham's wages this week as a result.

Talking of Beckham, the scary thing was that he was on the Bench. Also warming their arses were Cole and Yorke. The truth is we were getting tonked by their reserves, in a formation that Ferguson had put together 'just for a laugh like'.

Second Half

Second half was much the same as the first, though this time we didn't even have a spell were we looked like taking them. These guy's punish silly mistakes and in the second half we made another two. It's easy to make scapegoats of Dunne and Weir. So I will. Which is a shame because as is said week after week, move away the moments of madness and Dunne looks the international part.

The other thing about the half was that it seemed to last for ever. All we could do was try to take it in good humour. I mean, your four-one down at Old Trafford, and what option does the manager have to turn it around? The introduction of Alex Cleland. Europe's finest were hardly shitting themselves. So we had a laugh and managed ironic cheers celebrating each Everton pass strung together coupled with chants of 'easy, easy', which seemed to spur the players on to some surprisingly flowing football. Ball and Grant had also been brought on at this point and were well involved in the token too-late effort. This culminated in Jeffers being put clean through. This time his magic touch deserted him and he fell over the ball with only the keeper to beat.

The final whistle when it came was a blessing.

You've got to be philosophical about games like this. That team is on a different level to us. Over the 90 minutes they maybe weren't four goals better than us in general play (maybe five or six!), but the salient point is that even when they're playing in a low gear they are good enough to capitalise on mistakes and that even when we go up a gear we're sloppy enough to make them. Mr Ladbroke, you're mad.

I thought the tram had been busy on the way there but it was crush stuff on the way back. Worse than that some tosser lifted my scarf (and it had been to Wembley in '95 had that scarf), and Kenny's mate Barry (well I reckon it was him) dropped off the most obnoxious fart I've smelt in a while. At least he almost held it in till we got to our stop.

On to the pub for a quick shandy before the train home, but this turned into two then three then a Chinese meal (too late the food, I was already mullered). Adie kindly shoved me on the train at about 11:30, and I slept all the way to York, which would have been great and made the journey go faster IF I had been trying to get to York – which I wasn't.

Anyway, to cut the story short I realised at three in the morning at a locked-up York Station that my whole life I've been using the word 'cold' incorrectly. For the hours stuck on that platform I discovered what the word REALLY means.

Finally got home in time to watch the game on the morning repeat of Match of the Day and go through it all again.....


Referee's here are like they were at Anfield in the 80's. Inevitable I suppose. Our whole defence: What was going on lads???? Jeffers and Cambell - particularly Kev: Lack of service I know, but much quieter than there usual pairing together - despite Jeffers blitzkrieg start.

Back to our level next week ;)

 Walter's biggest defeat
Steve Milne
Just for a change I sat with some United friends. When Franny slotted the ball in the net on 7 mins, one of them said to me, "you have scored a bit too early". Then the sleeping giant woke up we were out classed, just look who they had on the bench resting after the trip to Japan.

The goal came from Unsworth's cross. Franny beat the United defenders to put the ball in the back of the net. Fantastic Jeffers could have made it two, this time Barmby the provider of the cross, Jeffers with the flick header, hit the post.

Man Utd then stepped up a gear or two. Dunne gave away a pen "arm ball". The rest as they say, is history.

I feel that Walter who has his hands tied in the transfer market due to the financial problems at the club, must be finding the whole thing a bit frustrating. Just how much patience does he have? Today was his biggest defeat. We now have a couple of games that we can not afford to lose or we will start the downward slide.

United's squad boasts 42 players, Everton's squad has 35 players (with 5 out on loan). Walter could just find enough players to fill the bench.

  • Gerrard 5 – Not at fault for goals
  • Gough 5 – Below par performance
  • Unsworth 3 – Out of sorts
  • Weir 5 – Average game today
  • Dunne 5 – Armball and terrible loose pass
  • Collins 5 – Never got a grip of the game
  • Barmby 6 – Had a couple of nice touches
  • Pembridge 5  – Covered a lot of the Old Trafford pitch but didn't do much when there
  • Xavier 4 – Oh god!
  • Jeffers 5 – Took his goal well
  • Campbell 5 – Was starved of service, unable to do much as a result

 Its Panadol time, everyone
Mickey Blue Eyes' view from East Stand Tier 1 Upper Entrance E30 Block E230 Row 5 Seat 42
Tedious, I know. But it's Panadol time everyone.

Something of the inevitability of the production line of an abbatoir in this one, people. Yes, we got slaughtered.

And I might as well get rid of all the excuses right at the beginning. Yes, we had bad luck. Yes, we never had the bounce of the ball. Yes, the referee was the most appalling gutless homer I've seen this season.

Despite all that... we were outclassed totally by a team playing most of the game at their pace and with three of their best players on the bench. No point moaning about it. The gap in class was enormous, as we perhaps feared it was going to be. You always hope for something different though and that's what drove a full complement of Blue Bellies to the match.

In our case, first stop before the match was The Swinging Bridge pub opposite the Trafford Centre. Amazingly, the place was as dead as we were when the ref blew his final whistle. Nobody there at all. Which explains the look of total panic on the tubby little girl behind the bar when we walked in. She provided one of those supremely philosophical anthropological moments when asked for a Brown Mixed... and she said, "We're not servin' food." No, you won't find her in a MENSA queue in the morning...

As we came out buoyed by alcoholic courage, Andy opined that the Trafford Centre had an "Egyptian Look" to it. Since I know a little bit about the subject I tried to reassure him the style was more akin to Scally Regency. But he wasn't having any.

Oh and another thing... when I got in the bus I asked Terry what colour me very expensive skiing windcheater was... and just as he was about to say "Blue" (his mouth was actually formed in a letter "B") some preprogrammed twat at the back said "Purple." Which it isn't... but it just goes to show

So we get to Old Trafford and I went walkies around the ground. I had to. The last time I was there was when we beat them 3-0 in a League Cup tie in 3000 BC and Docherty ha ha got sacked as a result.

It is of course a completely different place now. Equally of course... it is also a magnificent stadium on the inside, easily the best I have seen on my travels thus far. All stadia designers should note the way the hospitality suites have been designed... tucked away under the first tier. Sadly, it looks as though they're going to break with this in the new East Stand now under construction, where it looks as though the front of the upper tier is set for yeuk hospitality balconies.

I hate those things. I accept that hospitality is a way of making some cash from corporations that want to spend tax-loss dosh, but that's no reason to make our grounds look likecheap Spanish hotels. Pure unadulterated trash.

Outside, they've spent more money on materials than most but, at the moment, the general external form isn't as good as Newcastle's. This might be different when it's finished. I certainly liked a lot of the frameless glazing they've used in some areas. Otherwise, it's just more crinkly tin cladding and tubular steel roof trusses, only on a MUCH bigger scale.

Walking around, I got a bit sick of seeing... the Stretford Suite... the International Suite... the Busby Suite... all of them with fascia and pilasters of cheapo polished granite/marble and faintly green glazing guarded by fat, red faced bouncers plugged by their ears into Radio Wankchester.

And the bizzies were EVERYWHERE, most of them in half riot gear. Have any of these lads the faintest idea of just how ugly they look? Sadistic control freaks apart (who probably ENJOY the crap they're wearin') I'm sure most of them wouldn't want to go home to their Mams wearing that evil looking muck. It's so bad and sad it could make it to Fogsie's fashion page...

Anyway, the match:

The Mancs battered us for the first five minutes, then we got a breakaway and Big Ears stuck one in from a hard cross from the left by Unsie. Yes, it was a dead ringer for the one he deflected over against the Brummies last week. This time it went home gloriously to show he has fully recovered from the op. A few minutes later he got his head onto a hard cross from the right from Nicky and it looped against De Phooey's top left bar/upright and came out.

Then the Mancs battered us again and scored five, four of them to Solskjaer. One of them was a pen, two were long punts which bounced and should have been cleared, one was a header from an unmarked central location and the fifth was so comical it might get into Private Eye next week.

I'm not going to slate anyone because there's no point. They were all crap with the possible exception of Paul Gerrard who made one his stunning stops from an unmarked header.

Really, the only encouraging aspect was Big Ears' display. To me, the boy looks more and more like Ian Rush. He could and should have had three goals in this match. Most of the time though he got little or no service from midfield, largely because the midfield couldn't win the ball or because they were waiting for it from the defence, who were otherwise occupied at the time....

Sadly, Dunney's Weekly Howler happened THREE times. First, for a stupid and needless penalty. Secondly, when he gave the ball away, got it back, and then stroked it perfectly into the path of Solskjaer for the fifth. But he wasn't on his own... as I said, they were all absolute crap.

Take nothing away from the Mancs though. Even when it looked as though maybe we might just get something out of this they kept their heads, stayed patient, and just kept sidefooting it around with confidence. They are a great side and only a dickhead would deny it. You shudder to think what would've happened if they'd had a full side out, fit and narky for a win.

For all that, the atmosphere inside Old Trafford is decidedly odd.

Now, count me out of this nonsense that all-seater grounds ruin the atmosphere. That's plain bunkum... from people who say that don't know the difference between genuine enthusiasm and old fashioned, hateful footy tribalism, the type which brought the game to it's knees.

No... Old Trafford no longer has the feel of a place with roots. Don't ask me to define this sort of feeling because I can't. But, like all worthwhile human feelings, you know it when you experience it... or lose it. Toon's St. James hasn't lost it, for instance, at least, not yet.

The nearest I can get to putting this in words is what happened towards the end. Bored mindless at our useless display, I decided to spice things up, got to me feet and yelled over the fans' divide...."I hope the fuckin' PLC goes BANKRUPT yer load uv Murdoch wankers!" Now under normal circumstances this might be guaranteed to draw at least some kind of grinning riposte or vigorous advice to go and mate with an alsatian – even a camel!

But no. It was like shouting into a cemetery. It was even like looking at the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Weird.

Then the whistle went and we were outside, wending our way between the bizzies in riot gear and the shoppers carrying their red megastore bags full of cheap, third-world manufactured sweat shop trinkets.

Yes, people. It's Panadol time again. Good style. Lay in a stock NOW. Lose against Watford and we might as well buy up the entire supply. It's all we can afford anyway.

Johnson out.


 Solskjaer on song as United hit top form
Colin Malam, Electronic Telegraph
JET LAG? Fatigue? Fat chance. Any hopes Everton might have harboured of catching Manchester United below par after their taxing Toyota Cup trip to Japan were blown to smithereens at Old Trafford yesterday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had played as a lone striker for the first 45 minutes in Tokyo, scored four times as the new world club champions showed no ill-effects from their trip.

United went back to the top of the Premiership – at least until Leeds play at Derby today – with the swagger of true champions. A goal down after only six minutes and nearly two behind when the Everton scorer, Francis Jeffers, struck the woodwork before Denis Irwin had equalised from the penalty spot, United responded with such overwhelming vigour and panache that Everton, without a win in eight games now, simply could not cope.

United started without either of their leading scorers, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, and with David Beckham being rested as well, it was quite a star-studded substitutes' bench they paraded.

With Everton's Don Hutchison suspended, Frenchman Abel Xavier took over in midfield and he must have wondered what he had let himself in for when, during the opening minutes of the match, United poured forward in attacking waves which suggested they might have been on holiday, rather than a gruelling trip to the Far East.

They were battering Everton with crosses, mostly from Ryan Giggs on the left, and Richard Dunne had to throw himself in the way of the ball to stop Paul Scholes driving home one of Giggs's centres from not much more than six yards.

Then the visitors broke away and scored. The chance was created by the wickedly swerving centre David Unsworth sent over from the left. Kevin Campbell went for it and missed, but Jeffers was following up perfectly and bundled the ball over the line in a tangle of bodies that left Mark Bosnich, the United goalkeeper, injured and unable to continue.

It looked like upper body damage Bosnich had suffered because the hero of United's narrow victory over Palmieras was able to walk around the running track under his own steam, albeit disconsolately, as he was replaced by the substitute goalkeeper, Raimond van der Gouw, in the eighth minute. There was no damage to United's spirit, however, as we saw when Solskjaer forced a fine reflex save from Paul Gerrard with a header from a Giggs free-kick.

The home side were fortunate, though, not to fall further behind after 22 minutes. When Nick Barmby hooked the ball in from the right wing, Jeffers' instinctive header beat van der Gouw but struck the angle of post and bar and rebounded to safety. Everton's disappointment was compounded four minutes later by the sight of the referee pointing to their penalty spot for an almost involuntary handling offence by Dunne.

Irwin tucked the kick away with his customary efficiency and lack of fuss to bring the sides level after 26 minutes. It proved to be the opening of the floodgates, United scoring twice more before the interval. Both the goals were claimed by Solskjaer, who got his first by running on to a glorious through pass from Scholes, outpacing David Weir and shooting so hard that Gerrard could not keep the ball out even though he got plenty in the way.

Weir was again the fall guy when Solskjaer found the net again three minutes before the interval. Collecting Scholes's centre from the right at the far post, the Norwegian striker forced his way determinedly past Weir and beat Gerrard with a bouncing shot driven into the ground. "It's just like watching Tranmere," the United fans sang gloatingly, though the score-line was hardly a fair reflection of the first-half play.

Solskjaer's third and fourth goals came within six minutes of each other early in the second half. Firstly, he glanced Irwin's centre beyond Gerrard's dive after 52 minutes. Then the Norwegian scored with a side-footed shot when Dunne, who had given away possession to Giggs in the first place, tackled the United winger and succeeded only in knocking the ball into Solskjaer's path in front of goal.

Report © The Electronic Telegraph

 United back in the old routine
by Joe Lovejoy, The Sunday Times
JET LAG? That's for wimps. United returned from their Japanese excursion full of vim and vigour to give poor Everton a right drubbing. If Mancunian strength had been sapped by the winning of the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo, you would hardly have known it as they regained the League leadership in champion style.

As if to emphasise that fatigue is a stranger at Old Trafford, it was one of the players who had started against Palmieras on Tuesday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who destroyed Everton, with four goals taken with the expertise of the born finisher. It was not a first for the elfin Norwegian, who scored four as a substitute last season, against Nottingham Forest.

Everton had the temerity to take a seventh-minute lead through Francis Jeffers, but were punished with an avalanche.

United have now won seven of their past eight games, and are in prime form for their crucial Champions League match at home to Valencia on Wednesday. They were able to rest David Beckham with that date in mind, but will be without Mark Bosnich, who damaged a hamstring and had to give way after only eight minutes to Raimond van der Gouw, who will deputise again in midweek.

Everton are heading for yet another winter of discontent, without a win in their past eight matches. "Our defending was poor, and we didn't deserve any better" was the down-in-the-mouth verdict of their manager, Walter Smith.

In contrast, Sir Alex Ferguson was all smiles. "It was a marvellous performance," he said. "We didn't quite know how we were going to react, or what effect the travel would have, but the players' response was brilliant. A few of them were on song today, and it was really good stuff. I think Tuesday actually helped them. They enjoyed going out there, and the big occasion. The spirit in the dressing room was particularly good."

Solskjaer played himself into contention for a place in the starting line-up against Valencia. "He's bang in the picture," Ferguson said. "It doesn't matter when you play him, he'll always be on the end of chances and he'll take more than his fair share. He's always on target, too."

After events in midweek, it would have been no surprise had the teams taken the field to a Don King-style Las Vegas introduction: "Ladies and gentlemen, in the red corner, the champions of England, Europe and the world . . . Manchester United. And in the blue, with a record of five wins in 16 contests, fighting out of Merseyside . . . Everton."

Instead, there being a Y in the day, Manchester's welcome was wet and windy.

Ferguson began with Beckham, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole on the bench, and gave Teddy Sheringham a rare start. Paul Scholes filled Beckham's star-studded size nines on the right of midfield, performing the role so well that his England colleague was never missed.

Everton, in mitigation, were without Don Hutchison, Danny Cadamarteri, Dave Watson and Mitch Ward, all injured or suspended.

In their manager's words, United started "like a house on fire" and might have gone ahead when Scholes's shot was blocked by Richard Dunne. Reprieved, Everton broke away to stunning effect. David Unsworth thundered down the left and put over a telling cross for Jeffers to bundle in at close range.

Bosnich, injured in taking a goal kick, hobbled off.

It took a top-notch save to prevent United equalising after 21 minutes, when Solskjaer got in what looked like a scoring header, only to be denied by Paul Gerrard's reflexes. Then inches separated Everton from a second goal when Jeffers's header hit the near post and bounced onto the crossbar before running tantalisingly wide. Instead of taking a commanding lead, they found themselves in arrears, United scoring twice in four minutes.

First Dunne handled Scholes's centre to allow Denis Irwin to restore parity from the penalty spot. Then Scholes was in the thick of the action again, playing Solskjaer in through the middle. He left David Weir for dead before firing in a shot that Gerrard could only help into his left corner.

The same combination struck again in similar fashion to leave Everton dead and buried by half-time. This time Scholes curled a lovely long ball towards the far post, over Weir's head, and Solskjaer directed a bouncing shot across Gerrard and inside his left upright.

A delighted home crowd taunted their visitors with gleeful choruses of "It's just like watching Tranmere." What cheek. Tranmere won.

The red hordes had real reason to make themselves heard seven minutes into the second half, when Irwin's inch-perfect cross from deep on the left enabled Solskjaer to complete his hat-trick with a firm downward header at the far post.

The roof was falling in on poor Everton, and after 58 minutes United made it five. Dunne gave the ball away to Giggs, and although he won it back, he promptly lost possession again – this time to Solskjaer, of all people. The gift was accepted with alacrity, a firm side-footer leaving Gerrard helpless.

Everton's afternoon was epitomised just before the end when Jeffers, clean through, stood on the ball and fell over, six yards out. "Easy, easy" was the cry. Too true.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

 Solskjaer singes the Blues
by Nick Townsend, The Independent
United's eternal substitute starts a match and finishes off Everton

Let's put it down to feng shui; the fact that Manchester United could spend 28 midweek hours above the clouds, secure their fourth cup of the year in Tokyo, and still retain a familiar harmony and symmetry.

Sir Alex Ferguson might have changed the furniture around here yesterday, but there was still the same design and direction to his team, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as imposing a gift from Norway as the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, proving that he is rather more than an honest super-sub. Like buses, his goals tend to come along in clusters. Another four yesterday, just as he managed against Nottingham Forest earlier this year, took his tally to six this season. But this was only his eighth start. Typically, the impish striker greeted all of them with a modesty that others might emulate.

Solskjaer was one of the tourists to Japan, too. But jet-lag? Not a bit of it.

Three-one to the good at half-time, Ferguson's side put Everton to the sword immediately afterwards and indulged themselves only in the final quarter hour by playing out time with exhibition football.

Sir Alex, whose team were given a guard of honour by the visitors as Roy Keane led United out clutching the Toyota Cup, had described the win in Tokyo as his team's curtain call to last season. The stage lights have flickered a little this season on occasion, but here they played to the gallery, treating Ferguson's good friend Walter Smith with disdain once the trivial issue of an early goal from the visitors had been overcome.

Arsenal's surprisingly facile morning defeat of Leicester made them Premiership leaders, albeit temporarily, and applied extra pressure on United to perform. They responded in style, with Paul Scholes fashioning two of Solskjaer's goals and proving himself a powerhouse on the right of midfield.

It was all a welcome culmination to a trying week for Ferguson, in which the future of Keane continues to be a trial – negotiations start again on Tuesday – while the reported nocturnal excesses of David Beckham and the suggested influence of the winger's wife, Victoria, in trying to persuade him to move south have dominated the tabloid pages. Yesterday, the manager, perhaps wisely, placed the England man on the substitutes' bench, where he remained.

Everton, without a victory for seven games, lacked the midfield menace of the suspended Don Hutchison, whose position was filled by the Portuguese international Abel Xavier. With 10 of his squad members missing Smith would have welcomed any of the four outfield United substitutes: Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Beckham and Phil Neville. The absence of the first two gave the Nou Camp heroes, goalscorers Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham, a rare opportunity to cement a partnership from the first minute, rather than the latter stages.

For the first five minutes they did just that, aided by Ryan Giggs who was causing havoc on the left. From one of the Welshman's crosses Nicky Butt's goal-bound attempt rebounded off the relieved Richard Dunne.

Yet, with virtually the first cessation of pressure, Everton scored. The left-back, David Unsworth, dispatched one of those low, tantalising crosses into the goalmouth that defenders detest, and although Campbell missed the ball, Jeffers swept it home delightedly in front of a silenced Stretford End. In the process, Mark Bosnich was seriously enough injured to be replaced by Raimond van der Gouw. There is, seemingly, no end to Ferguson's goalkeeping problems.

United retaliated with a smart header from Solskjaer – after Giggs's centre had picked him out – which required a miracle save from the goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard.

But Everton remained a potent threat on the break. If the United spectators were concerned about the condition of their favourites it appeared justified at that stage. Young Jeffers' movement off the ball always looked likely to cause breaches in the home rearguard and Everton's defence, commanded by Richard Gough, looked relatively secure against United's forward line.

But within three minutes, Ferguson's men turned the game their way. The catalyst was a handball by Dunne which yielded a penalty award from Graham Poll. Denis Irwin converted the spot-kick with his customary coolness.

While Smith's men were still cursing their fortune, Solskjaer inflicted even greater misery when a magnificent ball from Scholes sent him scampering clear of the Everton defence. Although Gerrard did well to advance and get his hand to the shot, the ball had enough legs to bounce into an empty net.

Ferguson's team were still not exactly convincing at that stage, and there was always the feeling that the impressive Jeffers could trouble them further. But they left the field at the interval in good heart after Solskjaer increased their lead with a goal which had a touch of déjà vu about it.

Again, Scholes spoon fed him with a delicious pass, and again, despite the best endeavours of Gerrard, the Norwegian forced the ball home.

Solskjaer completed his hat-trick when he headed home Irwin's sublime cross, and then added to it when Dunne unwittingly set him up after winning the ball from Giggs. Match over. United back on top of the Premiership and, in a sense, on top of the world.

Report © The Independent

 Solskjaer restates his credentials
by Stephen Wood, The Times
IF YOU believe one of the more original and last remaining terrace offerings at Old Trafford, you will know that Roy Keane, to paraphrase, chose to join Manchester United because they are "dynamite". The trouble with such a substance is that it is designed to blow up and, with the faces at Old Trafford exposed, Keane and a relatively unknown quantity from Spain have their hands on the plunger.

In more ways than one, therefore, this is a must-win week. The future of the Irishman, who contributes most of the nitro-glycerine when United are blazing a trail, could be decided by the weekend, by which time Martin Edwards, the chief executive of the plc and chairman of the football club, will have convened what is expected to be one last meeting with Keane and his representative, Michael Kennedy.

The United supporters sent their hero off with another rendition of the song dedicated to him on Saturday evening, although it is to be hoped, for their sakes, that the lack of conviction in their voices is not rooted in a knowledge of something we do not have just yet.

At least the assuredness of United's performance suggested that the right result might be forthcoming on the pudding of a pitch on Wednesday night. Then, as Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, has accepted, nothing short of victory over Valencia will be required to reinforce the European Cup-holders' chances of successfully defending the trophy.

Everybody is looking for a sign at the moment, and none more so than Ferguson. Not only does he want to know whether his charges have the wherewithal to recapture the form of last season, he must have wondered whether they will still have it all in the absence of Keane.

Trust Everton to broker a hiatus in that process. So pitiful was their display that United would have triumphed by a similar margin had Keane taken the afternoon off to go house-hunting in Madrid. The visitors, who have now gone eight matches without a win, even needed Mark Bosnich, the United goalkeeper, to sustain an injury before Francis Jeffers could give them a surprise lead.

Bosnich, with a recurrence of the hamstring strain that has blighted his season, will be out of action for another three weeks, but at the time his departure was never going to be an insurmountable problem. Once Denis Irwin had equalised from the penalty spot after Dunne's handball, the after-effects of United's trip to Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup were conspicuous by their absence.

"They may have spent 12 hours on an aeroplane, but if you travel in first-class it's not too bad," Richard Gough, the Everton defender, said.

For all Everton's ineffectiveness, the sheer intensity of United's continued exploits cannot be denied. Stam's dominance was constant, Butt and Giggs were happy to revert to a work ethic when inspiration failed them, Scholes's passing was sublime and, in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ferguson had the match-winner.

Solskjaer's feat of scoring four goals equalled that of last season against Nottingham Forest, although Ferguson might like to take him to task on his waning appetite: at the City Ground it took him 14 minutes, whereas he spread them out over half an hour on Saturday.

"I did not know how they would react to the trip to Japan," Ferguson said. "But the response was as brilliant as it could have been. The passing, the tempo of our play, the work-rate was excellent. We know all about the talent here, but the players have character as well."

Indeed, given Solskjaer's form, Ferguson even has the luxury of breaking up the Cole-Yorke partnership, although it would be a surprise if he took that option on Wednesday night.

The only anxiety is provided in the goalkeeping department. Bosnich's failure to keep his muscles loose means that Van der Gouw will be the only recognised first-teamer available. Taibi is still ineligible in Europe and the next in line is Nick Culkin, a 21-year-old with approximately 30 seconds of senior experience behind him.

The monster that has been created at Old Trafford, undoubtedly, has begun to lurch. The fans are as nonplussed as ever with the attitude of the club, the fallout from the team's achievements is being anticipated by many and if they do not secure at least one more European Cup, they may never convince some critics of their greatness.

It is likely that it will take a lot more, however, for the focus of the players that remain to be blurred and, although it is not in his nature, an emphasis on short-termism from Ferguson this week could procure untold rewards.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd


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