Football: Yorke delivers Red Sky delight

Manchester United 2 Coventry City 0 Yorke 21, Johnsen 48 Half- time: 1-0 Attendance: 55,193
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The Independent Online
WHATEVER ELSE it may have achieved, the ongoing debate over the ownership of Manchester United has done nothing to blunt their effectiveness on the field of play. As reassuringly solid as their balance sheet at the back, but prepared to speculate to accumulate in attack, United put a goal in each half past a Coventry side unrecognisable yesterday from the one that had put such a dent in their title ambitions by beating them at Highfield Road last season. If the burden of being part of a pounds 623m investment - or even a pounds 700m one, if a reported rival bid from a major investment bank comes to fruition - weighs heavily on the United players' shoulders, it did not show.

Their second success since becoming the Sky Reds was ultimately too easy to be totally satisfying, but was based on the excellence of two pairs of players who are hardly on first name terms with each other yet. Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in their second outing together, were again an effervescent combination. Yorke, in particular, has taken no time at all to establish himself as an Old Trafford favourite of the first order. Although Alex Ferguson was discouraging any comparisons with Eric Cantona, he made the point that the club's new record signing has his own style, his own presence.

Yorke scored one goal - his third in four days - could have had a couple more and contributed to his side's second. His understanding with the equally slick and slippery Solskjaer, now apparently back to his best after disappointing last season, is only going to mature and sharpen.

Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen are scarcely any more familiar with each other's play, but they were a dominating pairing at the heart of a United defence that was in full command throughout.

"They were superb," said Ferguson afterwards. "Dublin and Huckerby are a handful for anyone, but they were in complete control today at the back."

Models of composure though they were, Stam and Johnsen were not asked too many serious questions in the first half by a Coventry side which seemed to lack the ambition and enterprise of last season. Gordon Strachan, the visitors' manager, compared them to a patient going to the dentist and waiting for the pain to start - sure enough, it did.

With David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes supporting their front men enthusiastically from midfield, United had Coventry stretched uncomfortably from the start and it was mildly surprising that it took 19 minutes to make their breakthrough.

When the goal came, it involved most members of the home attack, with Yorke and Solskjaer working the ball to the wing for Giggs. His cross was deep and high and brought Magnus Hedman, who had helped Sweden to victory over England last Saturday, out of his goal in an unsuccessful attempt to claim it. Scholes was waiting beyond the far post to lay it back into the goalmouth and Yorke was left with a tap-in. He will produce more convincing finishes, but Coventry were in such disarray that just about any touch was enough.

"One-nil to Sky TV," sang their supporters, making ammunition out of adversity. Yorke was close to a second goal before half-time when Scholes' attempt rebounded for him, but this time Hedman did well to block his shot from point-blank range and then get back to deny him his follow-up header.

It was perhaps a premonition of what was awaiting Coventry, as well as a commentary on their general lack of appetite for the game, that accounted for their reluctance to come out for the second half before they had to, leaving their opponents standing around for a couple of minutes. When they did emerge, they were soon further in arrears. Giggs' corner started their troubles, Yorke had a goal-bound shot blocked and Scholes' low effort from outside the area was steered in by Johnsen, adding the goal that killed the game to his immaculate stint in defence.

Ferguson admitted that, for the game as a spectacle, it was not a well- timed goal, saying: "The second goal came too early for us in the second half and the game dipped very badly after that."

Strachan, his opposite number and old ally, would not accept the consoling suggestion that Coventry improved after going two down. "That's just propaganda," he said. "The game was over, finished - anyone can play well after that."

In fact, Coventry never did play well, but they were allowed a share of the game by a United team content to sit back and let the opposition come to them. They were secure in the knowledge that, even given that concession, Coventry were so flat after last Wednesday's game at Liverpool that they were incapable of doing much with it.

Paul Telfer, who, along with the newcomer Barry Quinn, was Coventry's most involved player, did get the ball in the net. But the way Peter Schmeichel watched it, knowing it was from an indirect free-kick, was almost patronising.

United had already been close to a third from Beckham's swinging free- kick, but their only real concern at the end was Johnsen's late ankle injury, which could keep him out of the Champions' League match against Barcelona on Wednesday. By then, this undemanding affair had long since resolved itself into little more than a United training session for that much more difficult assignment.

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