Football: United fired by fresh Beckham

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The Independent Online
Football

DERICK ALLSOP

Manchester United 1 Southampton 0

They remain in charge of the Premiership, second only to Blackburn Rovers, and while proposed contenders continue to falter, there seems little likelihood of change. David Beckham appeared, fresh, hungry and lethal, from the bench to sustain Manchester United's successful launch of another championship campaign.

Southampton, a side with a knack of interrupting United's momentum, were within 12 minutes of providing their manager, Dave Jones, with his first point at the club when Ryan Giggs dismantled the right side of their defence and Beckham picked his way through the rubble to sweep home the only goal of the night.

They should not, however, feel hard done by. Much as United were frigidly ineffective in and around Southampton's area and rarely eased the suspicion of vulnerability at the back, they were distinctly the more subtle and progressive team. Ronny Johnsen headed against a post in the first half, while Giggs struck the angle of bar and post in the second.

Alex Ferguson has long preached patience here and he was again vindicated, just as he had been at Tottenham on Sunday. And yet on this occasion you sensed United were forced into slow motion by a diminishing tank of ideas.

Southampton never suggested they might re-enact the six-goal romp that subjected the champions to their greyest day last season, but felt quite capable of embarrassing their hosts. However, they should have made more of the first minute free-kick they were awarded, Lee Todd merely assisting Peter Schmeichel's warm-up routine.

Southampton effectively ambushed United's attack before it could be activated, retreating in numbers, harrying and covering. With so few front-line options currently available to Ferguson, he can be content with the story so far.

Teddy Sheringham will feel that with a fair wind he might have sailed through his home debut with two or three goals. Instead, he was repeatedly and tantalisingly close. He will be praying his career does not go off course as that of other distinguished strikers in the past here.

Comforting for Ferguson was the first contribution from new signing Henning Berg. The defender, a second-half substitute for the injured Johnsen, accepted the invitation of an earlier then expected debut and responded with enormous conviction.

Giggs, although infuriatingly careless at times, always proffered a source of hope. His characteristically exaggerated body swerve sent the hapless Ulrich Van Gobbel chasing a dummy apparently somewhere in the stand and then wreaked decisive destruction after 78 minutes.

Again he left Van Gobbel in his wake and the cut-back found its way to Beckham, who deployed his lesser renowned left foot to score the goal that ought to mark an end to his extended summer holiday.

Ferguson said afterwards: "It wasn't a great performance. I thought the flow of the game was slow and in that situation it's easy to defend against. But winning's the name of the game."

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Irwin, Johnsen (Berg, h-t), Pallister, P Neville; Scholes (Beckham, 55), Keane, Butt, Giggs; Sheringham, Cruyff. Substitutes not used: G Neville, Poborsky, Van der Gouw (gk).

Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Van Gobbel (Williams, 79), Monkou, Benali, Todd; Oakley, Magilton, Maddison, Slater (Robinson, 79); Ostenstad, Johansen (Evans, 56). Substitutes not used: Davies, Taylor (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Surrey).

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