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?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker