Football / Coca-Cola Cup: Scholes in class apart for United

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The Independent Online
Port Vale. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

ON THE day Gary Lineker announced his retirement, another teenager added his name to the burgeoning list of strikers vying to inherit his mantle in the late Nineties. Paul Scholes, a contemporary of Robbie Fowler and Noel Whelan in the England Youth side, marked his Manchester United debut with two nonchalantly taken goals at Vale Park last night.

The Salford-born Scholes, one of five 19-year-olds in the Double winners' starting line- up, gave United a first-leg lead after Lee Glover had put Port Vale in front early on. Against bigger, stronger opponents who are riding high at seventh in the First Division, Alex Ferguson's fledglings might have been expected to cave in.

Instead, they allied superior touch and mobility to surprising maturity, and Vale's embarrassment was compounded by a gloating chorus of '2-1 to the Youth Team' from the visitors' end. It was men against boys - but this time the boys were in a different class.

So Ferguson enjoyed the last laugh after a day when everyone from the trading standards authorities to the local MP had had their say about the champions' under- strength team. The matter is unlikely to stop there, however. By fielding only four of the 14 players involved against Liverpool last Saturday, United laid themselves open to a charge by the Football League under the regulation which requires them to put out their 'strongest available team'.

Any disappointment Vale's followers felt about the absence of Cantona, Giggs and Ince et al was assuaged by a seventh-minute goal. Scholes headed Kevin Kent's corner straight to Bradley Sandeman, whose 20-yard drive was diverted past Gary Walsh by a deft flick off Lee Glover's head.

United equalised nine minutes before the interval. The slightly built Scholes seized on an under-hit back-pass by Allen Tankard before coolly drawing Paul Musselwhite off his line. His diagonal shot went in off the far post.

The winner, in the 54th minute, followed some left- wing trickery and a clever cross by Simon Davies, at 20 one of the veterans of the United side. Scholes, dodging in front of his marker, directed a glancing header past Musselwhite. 'They're off to school in the morning,' the Manchester contingent crowed.

Ferguson was unrepentent afterwards. 'I'll be doing this throughout the Coca-Cola Cup,' he insisted. 'With Europe next week and internationals coming, most people expect me to do the sensible thing. It may incur the wrath of the League, I don't know, but we'll be doing what's right for Manchester United.

'The inexperience helped us out there. They didn't have a care and played without fear. It must have been hard for Port Vale facing that.'

Port Vale: (4-3-3) Musselwhite; Sandeman, Griffiths, D Glover, Tankard; Van der Laan, Porter, Kent; Naylor (Burke, 70), L Glover, Foyle. Substitutes not used: Walker, Van Heusden (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2) Walsh; G Neville (O'Kane 77), May, Keane, Irwin; Gillespie, Butt (Sharpe 82), Beckham, Davies; McClair, Scholes. Substitute not used: Pilkington (gk).

Referee: J Lloyd (Wrexham).

THE Football Association has ordered an inquiry into how Universal Football Tours travel agency acquired 1,200 tickets for Manchester United's European Champions League match away to Barcelona on 2 November. The seats are among those reserved for home supporters, a breach of the guidelines of football's European governing body, Uefa.