Football / Coca-Cola Cup: Dream of United is kept alive

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . .1

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . .4

(Man Utd win 5-1 on aggregate)

TREVOR FRANCIS had estimated this match would mark Manchester United's most difficult obstacle on their way to a domestic treble. If it was, then they might as well pack up the trophies today and send them to Old Trafford.

United dismissed Wednesday with a dismissive flick of their abundant talents last night. As a challenge this Coca-Cola Cup semi-final second leg was all over within 10 minutes when Brian McClair and Andrei Kanchelskis put the aggregate score way beyond Wednesday's reach.

Mark Hughes added two more afterwards but by then the tie had been decided. For Aston Villa, who will be United's opponents at Wembley, a recording of the match will make chilling viewing.

'It was a wonderful performance,' Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. 'We got off to a great start which gave them a hell of a task to come back. Now we can put the League Cup away for three weeks and concentrate on other challenges. The priority is Chelsea in the League on Saturday.'

The first leg had been such a dull affair that the second could only be better, even if it was lacking a man from either side who tends to embellish more workmanlike qualities. Eric Cantona and Chris Waddle were injured but it was difficult to imagine how either could have improved a breathtaking opening 45 minutes.

The onus was on Wednesday, 1-0 down from the first encounter, to make the running and this burden became heavier after three minutes. Mark Hughes passed to Roy Keane on the left and his low cross skidded beyond the home defenders and into the path of McClair. The Scot, in the side as Cantona's replacement, had a range of no more than three yards and he duly thumped the ball into the top of the net.

Seven minutes later it was 2-0 to United after a counter-attack with the speed and venom of a cobra. Wednesday were attacking when suddenly a long ball was played from the depths of United's area to Kanchelskis on the right flank. The Ukrainian shot off like a sprinter, altered the angle of atack by finding Ryan Giggs on the opposite side of the pitch and then headed in the Welshman's cross.

The first Wednesday player to have a chance of getting near the ball was their goalkeeper, Kevin Pressman, and all he could do was catch it after it had crossed the line. It was a goal of stunning speed and simplicity.

At 3-0 down on aggregate Wednesday's only chance seemed to be United complacency. The visitors were given hope after 33 minutes. Graham Hyde's initial cross hit a defender and even his second seemed to take a deflection. The touch went in his favour, however, the ball ballooning to the far post where David Hirst made doubly sure it had crossed the line.

But any thoughts United were rocking disappeared five minutes later. The riposte came from Keane and again it originated from United's left. He went past one challenge, drew another defender by appearing to shoot and then passed to Hughes. There was no pretence whatsoever from the Welshman, his low shot from 20 yards beating Pressman.

After that the second half took on the air of a practice match. Mark Bright was close with a header and Peter Schmeichel had to make an outstanding save towards the end from the same player but Wednesday were a beaten side.

Consequently it was United who applied the coup de grace, McClair delivering a pass to Hughes, who scored with eight minutes remaining.

'They still have to reach their peak,' Ferguson said. 'There's more to come. I expect to see that in two or three years.' The rest of the Premiership can hardly wait.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nilsson, Walker, Pearce, Coleman; Bart-Williams, Palmer, Hyde, Sinton (Watson, 63); Bright, Hirst. Substitutes not used: Poric, Key (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs; McClair, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Robson, Dublin, Sealey (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).