Manchester United 0 Coventry City 2: Ferguson 'flabbergasted' as gamble on youth backfires

If the Carling Cup has become the measure of the next generation for Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson then it is the Arsenal manager who will be anticipating the future with the greater pleasure this week. A day after Wenger's fledgling stars had so impressively seen off a strong Newcastle side, Ferguson's found that a middle-of-the-road Championship side simply knew too much.

With a goal in each half from the impressive Maltese international Michael Mifsud, Iain Dowie's Coventry City pulled off a memorable victory to end United's interest in the competition at what for their team is the first hurdle.

"The performance was a shock to us all," Ferguson said. "These are players whose talents we have been trumpeting for a while but I was flabbergasted with the performance."

Ferguson had gambled with a complete change of team after Sunday's win over Chelsea, knocking on the head the notion that Wayne Rooney might be given his third game in eight days after his recovery from injury. He picked nine players aged 21 or younger. These included Nani and Anderson but at the start the only real senior experience was provided by John O'Shea, who captained the side from central midfield on his 129th start since making his debut in this competition in 1999.

The back four included two players, Jonny Evans and Danny Simpson, who were making their senior United debuts and while both gained useful experience on loan with Sunderland last season, protecting United's 100 per cent record of clean sheets at Old Trafford this season proved to be a testing challenge. It was one that proved beyond them, as Coventry emphasised their intention not to be compliant guests at some kindergarten party by going ahead in the 30th minute, much to the raucous delight of the 11,000 fans they had brought with them up the M6.

The first goal tore United's defence apart in classic style. Leon Best spread the play by releasing Michael Doyle wide on the left, the Coventry captain responding with a low driven cross to the opposite post. Mifsud arrived to meet it, the Maltese international firing in his fourth goal of the season, three of them in the Carling Cup after a second-round double against Carlisle United.

Moments later he almost added another, attempting to convert Robbie Simpson's low cross from the right with the inside of his right heel. United were relieved that it bounced away after clipping the foot of a post.

By now the enthusiasm of the home crowd had been dampened somewhat as a United attack, in which the winger, Lee Martin, made probably the most eyecatching contribution, began to look rather less confident.

"There is no mitigation; it was just a bad performance," said Ferguson. "They are not used to cup ties like this one but it is disappointing none the less and the players will need to look at themselves and their own performances."

Whatever the future holds for this crop of developing talent, making a mark in the present was beyond them last night. Ferguson's second-half changes were designed to add nous as much as variety. Frazier Campbell, a rangy forward who had made his debut in the Premiership against Manchester City last month, replaced Martin but more significant was the arrival of Wes Brown to bolster the back line, quickly to be joined there by O'Shea as Michael Carrick took over in midfield.

The changes were effective in as much as the home side quickly looked more coherent all over the field, particularly in the middle, where Carrick's authority commanded respect and gave United the direction going forward they had lacked.

Coventry, for whom centre-back Elliott Ward was outstanding, soon found themselves defending under pressure, Nani cutting in from the left to test Andy Marshall with a rising drive before the goalkeeper blocked from Chris Eagles at close range. It seemed only a matter of time before United produced an equaliser as Marshall pulled off a brilliant save to keep out a Campbell header that was heading for the top corner. Yet just as United were taking the upper hand, Coventry scored again, breaking swiftly on the left with Mifsud again applying the rapier thrust. The Maltese left Pique on his backside on the left and after an exchange of passes with Jay Tabb whipped a vicious diagonal shot beyond the reach of Tomasz Kuszczak to leave United facing an immediate exit.

Mifsud, nicknamed the mosquito after his ability to irritate opposing defenders, could have had a hat-trick, sliding the ball wide after Kuszczak had been able only to parry a free-kick. But two goals was more than sufficient for the Coventry followers, who had not travelled in such large numbers since the 1987 FA Cup final. By the end, a stadium that had been filled with 74,000 fans 10 minutes from the end, was virtually given over to them as United supporters made an early dash for the car parks.

"To come here and score twice against zero does my players a lot of credit," said Ian Dowie, the City manager. "They showed great desire in every position. The keeper made one great save but we limited them to only a few chances really. It was a team that Fergie thought was good enough to beat us and to talk about who was not playing would do a disservice to my players."

Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Bardsley (Brown, h-t), Pique, Evans (Carrick, 54), Simpson; Martin (Campbell, h-t), Anderson, O'Shea, Nani; Fangzhuo,Eagles. Substitutes not used:Heaton (gk), Eckersley.

Coventry City (4-1-4-1): Marshall; Osbourne, Ward, Turner, Borrowdale; Hughes; R Simpson, Tabb, Doyle, Mifsud; Best. Substitutes not used: Konstantopoulos (gk), De Zeeuw, Adebola, McNamee, Thornton.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancs).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines