Everton. . . . . . .3
THREE sucker punches left United red-faced with embarrassment, nursing the sort of start to the season that their manager, Alex Ferguson, must have dreaded. Needing to put the disappointment of last May behind them, they have instead resumed much as they left off, with back-to-back defeats.
This was not the drubbing the scoreline would suggest, Everton striking on the break with rare economy, but neither was it an acceptable performance for the perennial championship aspirants. The Old Trafford public were far from happy. Instead of the improvement they were seeking here was a result as shocking as United 1 QPR 4 on New Year's Day.
Public disapproval reached a peak when Ferguson replaced the popular Ryan Giggs with his only summer signing, Dion Dublin.
The most famous ground of them all is not the intimidating venue it once was - considerably less so now that the Stretford End has become just another of football's proliferating building sites. Of greater concern to this most ambitious of all clubs will be the fact that the team also looks incomplete, lacking Bryan Robson, who is injured, and Neil Webb who is not. Ferguson's continuing preference for his son, Darren, in midfield reinforces the suspicion that Webb no longer figures in the manager's plans.
United began with a proper sense of urgency but they were unable to translate possession and progress into solid achievement. Webb's foot-on-the-ball composure would have been useful against Everton's gritty resistance.
Preoccupied with defence throughout the first half, Everton's first goal attempt was 43 minutes in coming, and then Peter Schmeichel made routine work of Paul Rideout's shot. Their second strike, as the first half went into stoppage time, burgled them the lead. Gary Ablett's defensive header enabled Robert Warzycha to send Peter Beardsley scuttling through the middle before beating Schmeichel, cool as you like, with a precise low shot from 15 yards. It was a finish of the highest order, but one which to be topped later.
Poor United. Paul Ince retired at half-time with a recurrence of his hip injury and Giggs made a mess of a straightforward headed chance. The Reds were drowning in an Everton-blue sea.
Even when they did get it right, Neville Southall was there to deny them, saving bravely at the feet of Andrei Kanchelskis, then throwing up an arm to tip over Ferguson's close-range volley.
It was plain that it was not to be United's night long before Warzycha made the game safe with a marvellous second goal, 10 minutes from time. The Polish winger sprinted from half-way, turning Gary Pallister first one way and then the other before shooting past Schmeichel from 12 yards.
The third goal, in the last minute, took the form of a gift. Schmeichel, out of his area in attempting to clear Ablett's long punt, chested the ball straight to Maurice Johnston, who drove it coolly into the vacant net.
'An embarrassing sickener' was Ferguson's succinct summary. No one at Old Trafford was about to argue. United and Arsenal down at the bottom. How ironic that the arrival of the elitists' Premier League should echo to the sound of a tumbling elite.
Manchester United: Schmeichel; Irwin, Blackmore, Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Kanchelskis, Ince (Phelan, 45), McClair, Hughes, Giggs (Dublin, 81). Substitute not used: Walsh (gk).
Everton: Southall; Harper, Hinchcliffe, Ebbrell, Watson, Ablett, Warzycha (Johnston, 82), Beardsley, Rideout (Beagrie, 71), Horne, Ward. Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).
Referee: K Barratt (Coventry).Reuse content