Football: Scholes makes his mark

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Manchester United 3

Scholes 32 58, Yorke 44

Blackburn Rovers 2

Marcolin 65, Blake 74

Attendance: 55,198

RUPERT MURDOCH may be moving in, Peter Schmeichel may be moving on, and even the pitch may be coming up, but the more things change at Old Trafford the more they seem to stay the same.

United were cruising to an easy victory over a dispirited Blackburn side, whose captain Tim Sherwood was dismissed for elbowing David Beckham in the face. Perhaps success breeds complacency, and perhaps no side has any right to come back from 3-0 down half way through the second half, especially when they are only playing with 10 men and have not won away all season. But not for the first time, United sat back on their superiority and almost contrived to throw the game away.

After a lazy start in which Alex Ferguson's first-choice side seemed to be under the illusion that they had been given another day off, after the reserves had knocked Nottingham Forest out of the Worthington Cup in midweek, they eventually mastered a farmyard of a pitch, which is scheduled to be relayed over the weekend, to pen Blackburn back in their own half and stamp their authority on the game.

Andy Cole had already thumped the ball against the woodwork, when he opted for power rather than precision with the goal at his mercy after stand-in goalkeeper John Filan had spilt the ball at his feet, when United got the better of a three-against-three encounter that started midway inside Blackburn's half.

Dwight Yorke found Paul Scholes on his left and the England midfielder's low hard shot across the face of goal went into the far corner after 32 minutes. The traffic was all one way now and Cole rose on the six-yard line to meet a cross with a powerful downward header which Filan did well to stop on the line, but it was a brief respite for a beleaguered Blackburn.

A minute before the break David Beckham struck a low drive into the penalty area which Nicky Butt flicked on for Yorke to provide a powerful finishing touch from close range. United could have put the issue beyond doubt before the interval as Stephane Henchoz was lucky to survive an appeal for hand ball in the penalty area and Beckham drove narrowly over from 20 yards.

Three minutes after half-time, Blackburn seemed to have fallen on their own sword. The referee, Mike Reed, was still booking their striker Kevin Davies for an earlier foul when Sherwood elbowed Beckham in the face in an off-the-ball incident and was dismissed.

Scholes appeared to have put the match beyond recall when he dribbled across the face of the penalty area to score his second from an acute angle. United certainly thought so. They sat back, and almost fell over. Nevertheless, the Blackburn substitute Dario Marcolin's 65th-minute reply from a corner seemed like mere consolation until Nathan Blake stooped to head home Jeff Kenna's cross for his first goal since his pounds 4m move from Bolton.

"It was a careless performance from a winning position," Ferguson said. "We looked as though we would score a few goals and then we took our foot off the pedal. With 11 men Blackburn were never really a threat. But we could have been embarrassed in the end." Ferguson added that Scholes would probably miss England's match against the Czech Republic after picking up a hamstring strain. "Scholes is a doubt but we have to send him down," he said.

But the Blackburn manager Roy Hodgson found no consolation in his side's spirited comeback: "We gave away silly goals and Sherwood's was a silly sending-off," he said.

Indeed, it was the silly season all round, but United would have been feeling even sillier if Blackburn had grabbed the equaliser they deserved.