One more point will take Manchester United into territory that proved beyond them last autumn - the knock-out stages of the Champions' League - after they comfortably overcame Copenhagen last night. Even the honour of becoming the club's youngest captain could not trick Wayne Rooney into a goal, but Paul Scholes and John O'Shea struck either side of half-time and Kieran Richardson added a late third.
United's next game, in the Danish capital on 1 November, should see them achieve in four games what they could not do in six when they finished bottom of their group a year ago. Sir Alex Ferguson did not see history repeating itself. "They've proved themselves. They've grown up. They don't want any embarrassments like last season," he said.
Ferguson was lavish in his praise of Rooney despite the 20-year-old's failure to find the net for a ninth successive match for club and country, not to mention a 12th consecutive Champions' League fixture. "Wayne was fantastic," the United manager said, explaining that he toyed with handing the armband to Edwin van der Sar for his "personality and experience", but preferred an outfield player to lead the side. "Wayne joked about wanting a go at being captain last season," added Ferguson with a twinkle in his eyes. "Within earshot of Roy Keane he said that Keane was finished and he should have it."
The vacancy had arisen when Ryan Giggs was taken sick shortly before kick-off and joined Rio Ferdinand in withdrawing from the starting XI. Ferdinand, who suffered what Ferguson called a "painful cricked neck", is doubtful for Sunday's visit of Liverpool. Giggs should be fit, while Ferguson felt Gabriel Heinze had an "outside chance" of playing.
It was a measure of the modest opposition provided by a technically accomplished but toothless Copenhagen side that United did not miss any of them. Ferguson, however, will not be experimenting with his selection in the return. "They will be starting to think of getting into the Uefa Cup (by avoiding bottom place in Group F), so it will be an important game for them," the Scot cautioned. "I'll be playing my strongest team."
Rooney's partnership with Louis Saha almost conjured a goal inside 30 seconds, his pass releasing Saha for a low shot which he sent too close to Jesper Christiansen. Having survived United's early flurry, Copenhagen had three attempts midway through the first half. Marcus Allback came closest, forcing a fine stop from Van der Sar.
United, on their own patch, briefly had to resort to the counter-attack. After a clearance saw Rooney streak away from inside his own half, Saha was again played in against the 'keeper, who this time parried.
Six minutes before half-time, Scholes decided the impasse had lasted long enough. The ball was helped on via Patrice Evra and Saha to the former England midfielder, whose 25-yard shot tore into the net.
United plumped up a two-goal cushion immediately after the break. Rooney looked set to end his drought when he flicked the ball over Christiansen, but Michael Gravgaard stole in front of him as it dropped before an empty net and headed it to safety. Or so Copenhagen thought: from Darren Fletcher's kick, O'Shea turned the ball in, the ball striking his back foot as his front swung and missed.
United's final goal was just reward for their dominance, though it was soft, too. Spoiling his earlier defiance, Christiansen let Richardson's 30-yard effort elude his grasp before trickling over the line as Rooney hovered in hope.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Brown, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick (Solskjaer, 60), Scholes (Richardson, 76), Ronaldo; Rooney, Saha (Smith, 60). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Jones, Giggs.
Copenhagen (4-4-2): Christiansen; Jacobsen, Hangeland, Gravgaard, Wendt; Silberbauer (Bergvold, 82), Linderoth, Norregaard (Kvist, 58), Hutchinson; Berglund (Pimpong, 58), Allback. Substitutes not used: Gall (gk), Thomassen, Brandrup, Hansen.
Referee: J Wegereef (Netherlands).
Gill is the last pre-Glazer man left standing
The Glazer effect at Manchester United saw two of the remaining directors resign from the board yesterday, leaving the chief executive, David Gill, the last survivor of the pre-takeover days at a club that now has six of Malcolm Glazer's offspring on the board.
The commercial director, Andy Anson, and finance director, Nick Humb,y may not be names that mean much to the rank-and-file fans but, as well as Gill, they were the last executives at the club who pre-dated the Glazer regime that seized control in May 2005. Although sources indicated last night that Gill has no intention of leaving, the resignations suggest that the two felt sidelined by the Glazers' controlling influence.
Anson negotiated the record £56.5m, four-year kit sponsorship deal with AIG this year after United were dropped by Vodafone and Humby oversaw the £45m quadrants extension that raised the Old Trafford capacity to 75,000. Gill requested that, once he agreed to work with the Glazers, both men be kept on.
While both men, who leave in February, are to be replaced it would now seem that many of the executive decisions are being taken by the Florida-based owners of the club. Originally just Joel, Avram and Bryan of Malcolm's children were on the board, but this year that was increased to include Kevin, Edward and a daughter, Darcie.
Gill, who is regarded as a dominant figure at the club who prefers not to delegate, said yesterday: "I am very disappointed to lose Nick and Andy. Nick has been an excellent finance director for the last five years. In his three years with the club, Andy has set a new commercial strategy for the club, on which he has delivered excellently."
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