Manchester United under scrutiny following Ferguson absence

Manchester United have found themselves under scrutiny for their Carling Cup selections on a number of occasions but never before has the name on the top of the teamsheet proved the most controversial.

While the Red Devils, showing 11 changes from Sunday's win over Liverpool, fulfilled their role on the pitch with a 5-2 victory over Scunthorpe, all the focus after the game was on Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to travel to Spain to watch Valencia instead.

The United boss left assistant Mike Phelan in charge for the third-round tie at Glanford Park as he scouted out next week's Champions League opponents.

Ferguson has only missed two previous competitive games in his 24 years at the Old Trafford helm, but Phelan defended the Scot's decision and insisted United have already proved their commitment to the cup.

He said: "We put a big value on the Carling Cup. We've never set out to demean the Carling Cup. We're holders, we've done that two years in a row and you can see from the players' attitude that we want to keep hold of it."

Ferguson's absence also showed how important he deems next week's Valencia match to be after United's failure to beat Rangers in their opening Champions League fixture at Old Trafford.

Phelan continued: "It's important after the Rangers game that we prepare properly and get a good view of Valencia, who've started their season very well.

"He chose to go and watch the Valencia game. We need to go there knowing what we're up against. He's the manager and he had to make a decision."

Phelan would have had even tougher questions to answer had Scunthorpe managed to build on the flying start that saw Josh Wright send the record 9,077 crowd into raptures with a stunning opener in the 19th minute.

But Darron Gibson equalised four minutes later and Chris Smalling put United ahead with his first goal for the club.

The visitors made sure of victory after the break with two goals from Michael Owen and one from Park Ji-sung before Martyn Woolford finished off the scoring by grabbing a deserved second for Scunthorpe.

Iron caretaker manager Ian Baraclough is set to be confirmed as the permanent successor to Nigel Adkins before the weekend and he admitted his side had been made to pay for their positive approach.

"It could have been so different but it wasn't to be," said Baraclough. "The lads won't be too down about it, I won't let them be.

"We just kept going forwards, but we left ourselves open a bit.

"We learned a harsh lesson, but if you do that to any team, not just Manchester United, they'll punish you. We got caught up in the atmosphere a bit and the excitement of taking the lead.

"But I'm not going to have a go at them because for three games they've been superb for me. I've enjoyed being in charge and I've learned from these nine days. I hope it stands me in good stead."