Football: Solskjaer uncorks special reserves

Manchester United 2 Nottingham Forest 1
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THE WORTHINGTON Cup may be no more than an exercise yard for Manchester United's second string, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is grateful for any opportunity to demonstrate his finishing skills and last night his goals carried the club's standard into the quarter-finals, where they will meet Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Even Alex Ferguson's policy of picking a virtual United for this competition failed to provide a level playing field for Nottingham Forest's beleaguered team. For all their early promise and the persistence of Steve Stone, Forest were ultimately rather less of a concern to Ferguson's reserves than the now infamous pock-marked Old Trafford pitch.

The likes of Solskjaer, Jordi Cruyff and Nicky Butt may consider inclusion in this line-up a slur on their character yet they responded positively and eventually produced the penetration and precision to snuff out the glimmer of light in Forest's dark winter. Dave Bassett's club, in accordance with age-old tradition, can now concentrate on the League or, to be more precise, the long, grim struggle for Premiership survival.

Stone's spectacular goal rekindled hope and Pierre van Hooijdonk, ordered on as a second-half substitute through gritted teeth by Bassett, warmed the hands of his countryman Raimond van der Gouw with a characteristic free-kick.

However, Solskjaer might have indulged himself still further, lofting the ball off target with Dave Beasant stranded almost on the half-way line, then stretching the veteran goalkeeper to a fingertip save which diverted the ball on to the crossbar.

Both Solskjaer's goals were set up by Cruyff, who produced the perfect supporting role for the Norwegian, and were fashioned and executed in a manner worthy of the first team.

Ferguson will abide by his strategy and said: "We want to do well and we'll put out a team we think will win. That game comes in a difficult period for us in the League and Champions' League. I think the fans will tell us what team to pick for that. I thought that they had the shackles off in the second half and enjoyed themselves. Ole's taken his goals really well, but I thought Cruyff was our best player: he was superb. And Henning Berg played a captain's part."

Berg effected two crucial interceptions, the second after he had sustained a head wound. His experienced defensive partner, David May, was less fortunate, withdrawing at half-time with a calf injury.

The arrival of Van Hooijdonk, to the approval of the travelling fans and derision of the home support, added height but little more substance to Forest's attack. They squandered their early momentum and once United were into their stride the outcome was inevitable. In the 57th minute Cruyff threaded a through ball to Solskjaer, and three minutes later played a diagonal pass to the same player. On each occasion the Norwegian's response was clinical.

Stone pulled one back in the 68th minute with a searing 25 yard shot and almost bulldozed his way to an equaliser. But Solskjaer's final flourish confirmed United's ascendancy.

Bassett said: "If Alex puts any of those players on the list tomorrow they'll go to Premier League clubs. They still put out a hell of a good team."

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Gouw; Clegg, Berg, May (Wallwork, h-t), Curtis; Greening, Wilson, Butt, Mulryne; Solskjaer, Cruyff. Substitutes not used: Notman, Nevland, Teather, Ford.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Louis-Jean, Chettle, Armstrong, Rogers; Stone, Bart-Williams, Gemmill, Gray; Freedman, Harewood (Van Hooijdonk, 63). Substitutes not used: Quashie, Crossley (gk), Darcheville, Lyttle.

Referee: R J Harris (Oxford).