Football: Cruyff's delight enlivens drudge match

Manchester United 2 West Ham United 0
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The Independent Online
For West Ham it was like being at the Oscars ceremony and having no connection whatsoever with the The English Patient. Bauble after bauble was handed to Manchester United, each trophy a testament to the stranglehold Old Trafford has on the domestic game. The Hammers could only look and wish.

The Premiership trophy, the fourth in fifth seasons, was presented as the climax, of course, but beforehand United's B, A and reserve teams received the silverware that went with the titles of their respective leagues. When Ken Doherty, who is a lifelong supporter, came out with the cup he won at the World Snooker Championship at half-time, you felt they were taking the mickey. What next, the Open Championship's claret jug?

While others were fighting for their status yesterday, United could be assured of theirs. "Winning the League is a wonderful achievement," Alex Ferguson, their manager, wrote in the programme. "The first time was a precious moment for everyone connected with Manchester United, but after that each time has got better because the expectation has become higher."

A precious moment it might be, but there were very few for the 55,000 to take home yesterday. West Ham, already safe, had nothing tangible to play for either and it showed. It was a testimonial game without the tricks, football with powder-puff tackles. How David Beckham, Paul Kitson and Hugo Porfirio managed to get booked is a mystery.

Just two players, you suspect, will remember this game. West Ham's Les Sealey, who came on in injury time to receive the applause of his former supporters (yes, it was that kind of game) and Jordi Cruyff, the forgotten man at Old Trafford, who scored his third goal for the club.

United took the lead after 12 minutes from a half-cleared Beckham corner. Ronny Johnsen teed up Paul Scholes, whose shot thumped against the bar and crossed the line before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer headed in to make sure.

Solskjaer was just over with a header after 34 minutes and Scholes had a low shot that troubled Ludek Miklosko just before half-time, but to describe the home attacks as a red tide would be an exaggeration.

A pedestrian Hammers at least stirred themselves after the interval and might have got an equaliser when Iain Dowie confused Peter Schmeichel so much that the ball went past him. The pace of the mis-shot was barely measurable, however, and Johnsen cleared.

Kitson, too, had Schmeichel diving to his left to scoop the ball from his near post after 71 minutes, but the impression was that if any team would score it would be United and their second arrived with seven minutes to go. Eric Cantona played an exquisite ball which had Steve Potts stretching and failing to cut out, and Cruyff volleyed home.

The champions had won at home for the first time since 15 March. The worrying thing for the rest of the Premiership is they finished first at a canter.

Goals: Solskjaer (11) 1-0; Cruyff (84) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; Irwin (Clegg, h-t), May, Johnsen, P Neville; Poborsky (McClair, 70), Beckham, Butt, Scholes (Cruyff, 48); Cantona; Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: Cole, Van der Gouw (gk).

West Ham United (3-5-2): Miklosko (Sealey, 90); Ferdinand (Hughes, 65), Hall, Bilic; Potts, Moncur, Lomas, Porfirio, Lazaridis; Dowie, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Rieper, Bishop, Rowland (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley). Booked: United: Beckham. West Ham: Kitson, Porfirio.

Man of the match: Beckham. Attendance: 55,249.