Football: Two-goal Cole fires five-star United

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The Independent Online
Manchester United 5

Cole 19, 88, Giggs 45, Beckham 48, Yorke 54

Wimbledon 1

Euell 39

Attendance: 55,265

MANCHESTER UNITED whittled two points off Aston Villa's lead at the top of the Premiership with a performance so dynamic and dominant that it was barely believable that Wimbledon briefly made it a 1-1 draw.

Jason Euell's equaliser five minutes before half-time was a reminder to the swaggering aristocrats that accidents can happen. Their response - three goals in the six minutes immediately before and after the interval - ensured that if there was to be any mishap, Wimbledon would be the victims.

Only two points below United at kick-off Wimbledon were subjected to wave after wave of potent assault right from the start. They did well to keep the ball out of their net for as long as they did, although Roy Keane - a driving force for United throughout - hit the post after 16 minutes and his side finally took the lead they had threatened two minutes later.

The Wimbledon defence, who had already been reprieved by a couple of close offside decisions, seemed to be waiting for another one in their favour as Andy Cole darted through on to David Beckham's throughball and tucked his shot low past Neil Sullivan.

Amid the glut of chances United's fluid attacks were creating, Keane had a goal-bound effort diverted away by Dean Blackwell and Wes Brown, making an excellent first start of the season at right-back, saw a fierce drive tipped around the post.

But then came the shock to the system, Euell latching on to a loose ball to slot it past Raimond Van der Gouw. There were immediate mutual recriminations but, fortunately for them, United did not have to brood over that goal at half-time.

By then they were back in front, Jesper Blomqvist putting the ball back into the middle after Blackwell had headed Dwight Yorke's effort off the line and Ryan Giggs leaping to score at the far post.

"Some of our football in the first half was superb and we should have been a lot of goals up before half-time," Alex Ferguson, Manchester United's manager, said. "We got a warning when Wimbledon equalised, but Ryan's goal just before half-time sealed it for us. We weren't going to make any mistakes after that."

That confidence was justified by two quick goals after the break, Beckham surging through from midfield to beat Sullivan with a low right-footer from well outside the area. "There's no shame in being beaten by a great team," said a philosophical Joe Kinnear afterwards. "But we didn't help ourselves with some of our defending."

That was certainly the case when Blackwell was dispossessed by Yorke, who wove his way through to nudge the ball past Sullivan for United's fourth.

There could have been plenty more, with both Cole and Yorke spurning inviting chances before Cole rounded it off three minutes from time with a delightful shimmy and a clinical finish.

It had been a hugely impressive display, rated by Kinnear as by far the best his side had been on the receiving end of this season.

With no extra injury problems and every prospect of Peter Schmeichel being fit for Wednesday, it was also the perfect preparation for the Champions' League clash with Brondby. The Danish champions also won 5-1 this weekend; it must be doubtful though, whether they looked quite as commanding as this.