Football: United run on Cole power

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The Independent Online
Manchester United 4 West Ham United 1

THE LIGHTS went out at Old Trafford yesterday but there was nothing wrong with the connections to Manchester United's power source.

They comprehensively outplayed a desperate West Ham to move ominously within two points of the Premiership's peak.

Peter Schmeichel was on holiday in the Caribbean and the replacement goalkeeper, Raimond van der Gouw, could have gone with him, because the electricians combating the power cut that put the game back 45 minutes had to work harder than the home players.

Yes, West Ham were that bad. The visitors scored through Frank Lampard only in the closing seconds whereas Alex Ferguson's team could have doubled their tally.

The afternoon began in low farce when the electricity supply failed 25 minutes before the scheduled kick-off. The Theatre of Dreams was plunged into the twilight zone and there was a serious risk that the match would be called off.

Appropriately on a day the electricity failed, it was Andy Cole who was the most potent source of power with two goals, and there was one apiece for Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

"I was a bit worried, but there was no evidence the players were disturbed by the delay," Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said. "West Ham have a cup replay this week and I certainly didn't want the game put back until late in the season."

For a crowd of 55,180, many of whom had travelled a long way, it was not amusing. The urgent requests for a Norweb engineer did not encourage optimism but enough electricity was restored for the game to kick off at 4.45pm even though much of the huge North Stand was without power.

At the end of the game stewards had to guide about 20,000 spectators to the exits in a stand where the lifts had failed and where emergency lighting was the only source of illumination. It took an hour to clear it, which, for what is regarded as the best equipped ground in English football, was not a happy advertisement for the game in this country.

"I did my team talk in the dark," Ferguson said, "and I think the players enjoyed it a bit more. A few of them could go to sleep."

Most of the lighting was restored but someone pulled the plug on West Ham who were so poor they barely struggled into the opposition half. Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, fielded a peculiar line-up, with Ian Pearce left high and dry as a wing back dealing with the tide of Jesper Blomqvist.

To blame Pearce alone would be unfair, however, because the whole West Ham defence was a mess, their midfield riddled with holes and their attack non-existent.

"We were run ragged," Redknapp said. "I thought we'd have problems playing that system against them but I didn't have a choice, to be honest. I don't have any fullbacks who are fit."

From the start it was clear it was not a question of if the home team would score but when, and the answer was nine minutes. Roy Keane drove a pass into the heart of the West Ham defence where Andy Cole spun swiftly and found Yorke on the right edge of the area.

The angle was not hugely promising but the power and the accuracy of the shot was such that it crashed past Hislop into the far corner.

The home team poured forward, West Ham adopted an 8-2 formation and the only surprise was that the second goal was so long in coming. When it did, after 39 minutes, it was the result of a mis-cue by Nicky Butt whose shot was nevertheless powerful enough to strike a post. The rebound fell to Andy Cole who lashed the ball in.

Dennis Irwin could have scored twice early in the second half, first failing to beat Hislop's charge with a chip then heading over a vacant net after Butt's shot had rebounded to him from Hislop's save.

You cannot allow Ferguson's team so many chances and expect to survive and Andy Cole got his second after 67 minutes, driving across Hislop and into the far corner from Yorke's pass. Solskjaer got the fourth, heading in powerfully after Giggs' flick had ballooned into the air off Hislop's body, before Lampard gave West Ham some respectability two minutes from the end. They scarcely deserved it.

Goals: Yorke (10) 1-0; A Cole (40) 2-0; A Cole (67) 3-0; Solskjaer (80) 4-0; Lampard (89) 4-1.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Gouw; Brown (Johnsen, 77), Berg, Stam, Irwin; Giggs, Butt (Solskjaer, 11), Keane (Cruyff, 83), Blomqvist; Cole, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Beckham, Culkin (gk).

West Ham United (3-5-1-1): Hislop; Potts, Ferdinand, Ruddock; Pearce, Sinclair (J Cole, h-t), Lomas, Lampard, Lazaridis; Berkovic; Hartson. Substitutes not used: Abou, Breacker, Iriekpen, Forrest (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Booking: West Ham Sinclair.

Man of the match: Butt.

Attendance: 55,180.