Football: Smith sees red over Beckham

Derby County 1 Manchester United 2 Delap 90 Butt 53,Cole 83 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 33,370
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The Independent Online
IF WE needed something to renew our faith in the English game after Wednesday's debacle at Wembley, this was not it. An ugly contest, in which the Premiership leaders, Manchester United, claimed victory in a convincing enough style once the Derby defender Stefan Schnoor had been sent off seven minutes before the interval, was followed by bitter words from the defeated manager, Jim Smith. The veteran of three decades in management accused the Manchester United players, David Beckham and Gary Neville, of contributing to the German's dismissal after they had dashed many yards to encourage the referee Mike Reed to order him off for a second bookable offence.

"You don't need to do that," Smith insisted. "It's wrong of pros to try to get a fellow professional sent off. I was disappointed because the referee was not going to give anything and then he reacted to the United players' demands."

Schnoor had initially been cautioned for dissent after comments he made to a linesman, following a foul on Dwight Yorke. Three minutes later, he foolishly felled the Trinidadian striker down from behind. It was then that the two United players made their presence felt, and after a delay, Reed issued a red. When asked if big-name England players had more influence over a referee than his men, Smith retorted, tongue-in-cheek: "They're all on first-name terms. We don't know them that well. The ref asked Beckham how Posh Spice was and then sent our player off. He asked him where they're eating tonight."

Smith, whose team incurred a total of eight yellows to United's one, admitted that his player was "silly to have a little go at the linesman", but added that "Cole and Yorke were basically doing that all the time". He added: "When you send someone off it's got to be for a serious offence. The referee gave himself a problem by booking him earlier for something like that."

Schnoor's red was the prelude to a period of frenetic activity, with Reed in danger of losing control as he let off Yorke after he had berated a linesman and then ignored a horrendous challenge by Dean Sturridge on Phil Neville. The half ended to a cacophany of booing, and the crowd howling: "You don't know what you're doing" at the referee, but fortunately the players responded to their better natures after the break. Smith's counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, predictably saw the sending-off rather differently. "We're trying to outlaw the tackle from behind and he went right through the player," he maintained. "The referee had no choice. You can't blame the system for that."

It would have already required a Herculean effort to overturn the Treble- winners. Schnoor's dismissal made the result inevitable although to their credit there was no meek capitulation by the Rams, who have lost Stefanio Eranio with a broken leg at Anfield and Esteban Fuertes at passport control and appear unlikely to sign either Colin Hendry or Craig Burley because of contractual problems.

Nevertheless, Sir Alex Ferguson could not have chosen more willing opponents, or more providential circumstances than Smith's stricken side as his team enjoyed a pre-Fiorentina warm-up three days before their Champions' League visit to Italy.

For Jaap Stam & Co, combatting the 18-year-old striker Marvin Robinson, making his full debut, was the kind of preparation that was ideal before they endeavour to contain the rather more substantial threat of Gabriel Batistuta.

Ferguson had decided to leave England's two-goal scorer at Hampden, Paul Scholes, on the bench, but Gary Neville returned to join his brother Phil in defence. Nicky Butt, like Neville G, had missed both England games and he looked the most influential player on the pitch, scoring the first goal with a sweet half-volley in the 52nd minute and dominating the midfield with Roy Keane. Andy Cole added a second with a precise heeader from Ryan Giggs' cross, his 14th of the season, to nudge Kevin Keegan of his continued scoring prowess. "In the second half we had all the pressure and should have won comfortably," Ferguson said. "But we were careless around the box."

Although Rory Delap ensured a stirring finale with his goal in added time Derby's only other threat to United all afternoon, from the midfielder Darryl Powell, had rebounded off his own player. That said it all about Derby's wretched afternoon and Smith said: "It's difficult enough to play against Manchester United with 11 men, let alone 10. But my players came out of it with a lot of credit." Not so, Raimond van der Gouw. Derby's goal, a header from Seth Johnson's free-kick, found United's notional third choice keeper wanting. The Dutchman, preferred to Massimo Taibi in the absence of the injured Mark Bosnich, was nowhere as Delap pounced and it leaves Ferguson with a dilemma yet again as he prepares for Tuesday night.

Derby's plight will have been regarded with sadness by Jim Smith's former assistant, Steve McClaren, who has filled the void left by Brian Kidd. He was making his first return to the club he left behind in a relatively healthy state but is now destined to continue to inhabit the Premiership poor house unless Smith can acquire the playing assets he so desperately craves.