Football: Ferguson dips into gold reserves

United's treble dream lives on but manager and chairman head for a collision over cash
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The Independent Online
Manchester United 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0

Solskjaer 35, Sheringham 44,

Scholes 62

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 55,270

YOU IMAGINED it might be a bit like watching Superman after a blast of kryptonite. Between two semi-finals, a heavyweight FA Cup bout with Arsenal and with Juventus to follow in the Champions' League, Manchester United should surely have been there for the taking.

Particularly as Sheffield Wednesday were one of only three teams to have humbled Alex Ferguson's men in the League this season, and there was no David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole or Dwight Yorke. How United's rivals must have eagerly anticipated the outcome at Old Trafford. But they were to be disappointed as the Premiership leaders extended their advantage.

Wednesday, despite their flirtation with relegation, were almost supine in their apparent desire to offer no resistance whatsoever to United's ambitions. Oh, that Juventus will be so accommodating on Wednesday night in the return leg of the Champions' League semi-final.

United just keep moving relentlessly towards an unthinkable treble. Maybe it is better this way. If they had time to draw breath and consider what actually confronts them in the next month or so, maybe the whole charabanc would come to a shuddering halt. Certainly, yesterday's exhibition will have served at least temporarily to distract those with more vociferous voices who combined to help prevent the abortive BSkyB take-over from studying the contents of Manchester's evening paper. The message from the club chairman Martin Edwards was that, because of the Government's blocking of the takeover, there would be no lavish purchases this summer to compare with the pounds 28m acquisition of Yorke, Jaap Stam and Jesper Blomqvist last year, although there would be a pounds 44m outlay on improving the stadium. It looks like being a Cold Trafford indeed. "We have to make sure that we don't go heavily into the red," insisted Edwards, who also confirmed that he had no intention whatsoever of standing down.

Ferguson would only comment: "He [Edwards] hasn't said anything to me about money - and in fairness I haven't asked him." However, the manager added significantly: "The demands next season are going to be enormous and we need the squad to cope with that."

Pressed about possible purchases and the money to finance them, his only response was: "It depends on how we feel certain young players, like Wes Brown and Jonathan Greening, have progressed." No doubt there was a more full and frank discussion in the pubs of Salford last night.

United, at least the remnants of their midweek team, required only 20 minutes yesterday to clear their heads of the effects of that emotion- riven night at Villa Park before setting about the Yorkshire team, who are utterly devoid of any suggestion of adventure and were fortunate that their hosts were not in more vengeful mood. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, that Scandinavian for all situations, who made a relatively rare appearance on the starting team-sheet, netted his 17th goal of the season in which, remarkably, he has been substitute on 18 occasions.

Before half-time, the reliable Teddy Sheringham, who performed effectively off the principal striker, added a headed second from Solskjaer's right- wing centre, which might have been delivered from the cross-master Beckham himself. Paul Scholes reiterated United's dominance just after the hour, lashing home Sheringham's pass. Immediately, Ferguson, with Juventus clearly in mind, withdrew Stam and Roy Keane, leaving a team that bore little relation to his first-choice line-up.

With the manager confirming that Peter Schmeichel should be fit along with Cole, Giggs is United's only real source of concern. "He's in a bit of pain but he's walking without crutches, although he is doubtful," Ferguson conceded.

United head for Turin, now 24 matches undefeated, but in the knowledge that Wednesday night will make yesterday's turgid encounter look like one of those testimonials that finish 8-7. "That was the perfect result for us," Ferguson declared. "There was always a question mark against how much last Wednesday would take out of them, but in the first half our concentration and intensity of passing was magnificent. Once we got the breakthrough that was it. When we got the second goal that killed them off."

He added: "Juventus beat Lazio 3-1 today which is a fantastic result, so we know we're going to have to perform. There's plenty of evidence that we can get through all right. My players will probably have to hit the heights, but then they're doing that quite regularly."

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