Football: Fans fail to add fuel to protest vote

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The Independent Online
Manchester United 2 Coventry City 0

FOUR DAYS after Manchester United agreed to sell their birthright there was scant evidence of change. A small pitch-side advertising hoarding read "Sky Digital Oct 1" and the member of the Socialist Workers' Party on Sir Matt Busby Way had extra reason to damn capitalism. Other than that, very little.

True, the Coventry fans sang barbed chants, but members of United's board will pocket BSkyB's money with equanimity if the only thing they have to face is: "You're not Man U any more". Even Martin Edwards escaped unscathed.

Why Old Trafford is taking the proposed takeover with barely a whimper is a mystery. A local paper poll had 96 per cent opposition to BSkyB's takeover, yet the 55,000 filling the ground seem to have reached a pact of silence over the deal. Rupert Murdoch cannot have bought all of them, can he?

Perhaps the supporters know something we do not because Old Trafford was buzzing with reports the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association are to launch a bid of its own, although it was struggling to stump up the pounds 6,000 for tomorrow night's fans' meeting at the Bridgewater Hall last week, so pounds 623m is probably beyond them.

For the sake of football romantics, you hope the reports that IMUSA, which distributed 25,000 leaflets, will be backed by a rock star are true, but even Paul McCartney would be hard put to find a sum of that magnitude and he is a Liverpool supporter. "Sky's the limit" was a handy motto to paint on faces and banners; it is also probably true in terms of hard cash.

The future would seem to be one-sided games with one team packed with international stars barely breaking sweat to defeat the poorer toilers put up against them. Not unlike this match, in fact.

Coventry's reputation for making things difficult for bigger, richer clubs will not survive if they provide supine performances like this. Even their second-half improvement was dismissed as "propaganda" by their manager Gordon Strachan, likening it to the golfer who completes the final 15 holes in par after the first three have ensured he has no chance in the monthly medal.

"They're not kidding me on," Strachan said. "You could sense something was wrong from the beginning. We were like somebody going to the dentist knowing there's pain coming some time. We weren't brave enough to play against them."

After Paul Telfer had hinted at hidden courage with a header that flew close to a post after six minutes United took over, doing enough to win the match and then taking the foot off the throttle to prepare for Wednesday's Champions' League match against Barcelona.

At the centre of most good things was Dwight Yorke, who, unlike Andy Cole, has come to terms with the extra demands of playing for United immediately. His partnership with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has yielded five goals in two matches and if they had received anything like adequate service on Saturday that figure would have been more.

Even on these meagre rations Yorke managed to take his tally to three goals in as many starts since his pounds 12m move from Aston Villa, tapping in Paul Scholes' pass after Solskjaer's run and Ryan Giggs' cross to the far post had left Coventry's defence looking as sorry as the car park attendants outside Old Trafford caught in the freezing rain.

After 47 minutes the game was as good as over. Yorke's shot was blocked on the line and Paul Scholes' follow-up was turned in by Ronny Johnsen, who later hurt his right ankle and is doubtful for Wedndesday.

Strachan was impressed with United: "They're just the same. If you don't work hard and do your job you are turfed out. Dwight Yorke and Ryan Giggs were chasing all over the pitch and they're millionaires. Money means nothing to them, their hunger for the game is exceptional. They must get if from the manager."

Alex Ferguson was less sure. "The second goal came too early for us," he said. "After that we went to sleep."

Frankly it became little better than a bore but, never mind, BSkyB will be telling us such fare is wonderful/brilliant/magnificent (take the superlative of your choice) in the very near future. You can almost hear Andy Gray already.

Goals: Yorke (19) 1-0; Johnsen (47) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Johnsen (Berg, 89), P Neville; Beckham (Butt, 78), Keane, Scholes, Giggs (Blomqvist, 78); Yorke, Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: Cole, Van der Gouw (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Shaw, Wallemme, Breen, Burrows; Telfer, Quinn, Boateng, Telfer; Dublin, Huckerby (Hall, 71). Substitutes not used: Shilton, Williams, Soltvedt, Ogrizovic (gk).

Bookings: Manchester United: Beckham, Yorke. Coventry: Burrows.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Attendance: 55,193.

Man of the match: Yorke.