Football: United cruise

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Manchester United. . .3

Hughes 46, Kanchelskis 71, 75

Charlton Athletic. . .1

Leaburn 77

Attendance: 44,347

CHARLTON had beaten Blackburn, and that was quite a tale. Charlton beating Manchester United, that would be a story. But in spite of this season's defiance of logic, and United weakening themselves by having their goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, sent off, Charlton's FA Cup adventure ended at Old Trafford yesterday.

Not that United ended overjoyed. Alex Ferguson is to appeal against Schmeichel's sending off, which came just before half-time when he rushed out of his penalty area to stop a breakaway by Kim Grant. Schmeichel clipped Grant and handled the ball almost simultaneously. Ferguson claimed that the handball was unintentional and he will appeal to the FA against the decision, which, if it stands, will cost Schmeichel his place in the Coca-Cola Cup final on Sunday week.

Ferguson had begun the day saying that United's home defeat by Chelsea the week before was a 'reminder that probably came at the right time'. A reminder of seasons when everything seemed on course only to turn from summer back to winter. So it was not a moment to underestimate Charlton.

The immediate and lasting problem for Charlton was that United had Eric Cantona back to provide those angles and improvisations that transform the champions from a good side into one of predictable brilliance. By failing to mark him closely Charlton risked being dismantled by his ingenuity.

Having also to cope with Ryan Giggs threading silken traces down the left, Charlton were unable to maintain the pressure that Carl Leaburn and Darren Pitcher placed upon Schmeichel, who encouraged them with nervous saves and one clearance that went straight back to Leaburn, who in his surprise muddled his shot.

There was no question of an early thrashing but as Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Ince slammed shots close and Mark Hughes had another blocked by the foot of Charlton's reserve keeper, John Vaughan, the indications were that pain was about to be inflicted. In fact United inflicted it on themselves with Schmeichel's dismissal. Magnanimously, Steve Gritt, the joint Charlton manager, said the decision was another sign of inconsistency: 'Other goalkeepers have done similar things and not been sent off.' He felt that once United had been reduced to 10 men the tempo was also reduced, which favoured United.

United put Les Sealey in goal and removed Paul Parker. Charlton emerged for the second half apparently with enhanced hopes. United destroyed them straightaway. Giggs dropped a corner into a tightly packed goalmouth. Hughes found an inch, but his instant shot was instinctively blocked by Vaughan. The rebound went to Hughes, who this time beat the goalkeeper.

United had rearranged, putting Roy Keane at right- back and keeping Hughes in a deeper midfield role. Even so, Hughes was quick to go forward in support of Cantona. When Hughes swept forward after 63 minutes and turned a centre into the goal area, Ince's header smacked the crossbar. The disappointment was short-lived.

The neatness of Cantona and speed of Kanchelskis ended Charlton's hopes. These two combined to provide United's second goal. A touch from Cantona in midfield and Kanchelskis was on his way in pursuit of the pass, veering right to draw Vaughan from his line. The goalkeeper got a hand to the shot but it was insufficient.

Kanchelskis spectacularly added the third, running from halfway, collecting Giggs's pass and leaving Charlton's players looking like marble. Vaughan again came out but the shot was almost in the net before he could raise a hand. Charlton did counter with a close-in header by Leaburn, but if their memories will be of the day they failed to beat 10 United men, a lot of richer teams would have done no better.

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