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Football: Fortune finally unearths brass from the muck

Manchester United 4 Bradford City 0
MANCHESTER UNITED bade farewell to Old Trafford for the millennium yesterday, and frankly they will be happy to leave it behind as they go in search of new worlds to conquer. They overcame Bradford City, but a far greater obstacle was their own pitch.

The playing surface has been relaid four times since the summer of 1998 at a cost of pounds 1m. The result yesterday was the worst pitch in the Premiership. The richest club in the world and a quagmire: the old adage about where there's muck there's brass was never more pertinent.

Bogged down in this sticky mess, and slowed further by the obduracy and will of their opponents, it took the treble-winners 74 minutes to breach Bradford's defence, but once they had it was a rout, Quentin Fortune, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Roy Keane helping themselves to goals.

"Christmas can throw up some crazy results," Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said, "and I'm just glad we're not one of those statistics. You have to admire Bradford because they worked their socks off, but I think we deserved the result."

In the match programme Ferguson invoked Christmas past, recalling that United had flopped against Middlesbrough just before the festive period last year. "I am always looking over my shoulder," he wrote, "because I know we are pretty good at cock-ups and when we do slip up we frequently do it gloriously, like the hammering we took not so long ago at Chelsea."

Nevertheless the Red Knight was in the mood for surprises, and at the start United's team was more a question of "Why?" rather than the normal Who's Who of Premiership football. No Giggs, no Beckham, no Yorke, no Cole: a million of the nation's walls were bedecked with pictures of players who did not make it to this first team. Instead Fortune made his first start and the strike department was left to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham.

The first blow was left to nature, however, because hail, snow and rain reduced the rutted surface to a mudheap. It looked like a great leveller and just to make make it even more so Bradford adopted a 4-5-1 formation that meant United had to plough through a thicket of white shirts to get anywhere.

As a consequence the first half was an almost unremitting tale of United possession broken only by isolated raids. The closest the champions came before the interval was from Fortune, who proved to be a more than able deputy for Beckham when he curled a delightful and delicate 20-yard free- kick round the wall after 36 minutes which smacked against the bar before being cleared.

The long siege continued after the interval but United's chances were becoming less clear cut and after 66 minutes Ferguson was forced to employ his heavy artillery, bringing on Yorke and Cole. It almost brought reward six minutes later when Yoke coolly back-heeled the ball into the rampaging Keane's path. His shot was placed, but wide, curling outside the far post.

Jaap Stam followed that by crashing a low shot that Matt Clarke did well to tip round the corner but you sensed Bradford were buckling and in the 75th minute they broke spectacularly. The sheer number of attacks disrupted the visitors, Solskjaer crossed from the right and Fortune slid in ahead of half a dozen others to get the final touch.

With that the dam was swept aside and Yorke and Cole helped themselves to the goodie bag, scoring similar goals after being put through after their runs from left to right. Yorke curled his shot inside the far post, Cole dallied and cut his back but the result was the same.

Bradford's resistance had been shattered and the coup de grace was delivered by Keane, charging through after 88 minutes to lash a low shot past Clarke and into the corner.

"Even a blind man could see the scoreline was unjust but look in the papers and it will be 4-0," Paul Jewell, the Bradford manager, said. "I couldn't ask any more from my players. We were up against the best team in Europe and we gave them a fright."

Goals: Fortune (74), Yorke (78), Cole (87), Keane (88).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Bosnich; G Neville, Stam (Wallwork, 80), Silvestre, P Neville; Scholes (Yorke, 66), Keane, Butt, Fortune; Sheringham (Cole, 66), Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: Taibi (gk), Cruyff.

Bradford City (4-5-1): Clarke; Halle, Wetherall, O'Brien, Myers (Blake, 80); Lawrence (Beagrie, 54), McCall, Windass, Redfearn (Saunders, 80), Sharpe; Mills. Substitutes not used: Davison (gk), Westwood.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Bradford: Redfearn, Halle.

Man of the match: P Neville.

Attendance: 55,180.