Owen on target as United reservists call the shots
Aldershot 0 Manchester United 3
From the ashes, the phoenix rises. At Aldershot, the club that died and lived to tell the tale, Manchester United began again. Sixty hours after what Sir Alex Ferguson described as the darkest day in his footballing history, 60 hours after the nightmare at the Theatre of Dreams, dawn has at last broken.
True, this was only a routine victory against League Two opposition which merely guarantees United's presence in the fifth round of the Carling Cup, but in the new reality ushered into being by Manchester City's storming of Old Trafford, such an achievement should not be scorned.
Seeing their nearest, noisiest neighbours rampant on their own territory caused United's fans to question the very fabric of their being. Here was evidence that not all of the old certainties have been eroded.
This was Ferguson's side in calmly ruthless mode, efficiently quieting Dean Holdsworth's team's impetus. Dimitar Berbatov side-footed the Premier League champions into the lead, Michael Owen somewhat fortuitously doubled it and Antonio Valencia emphatically enhanced it. By the end, a semblance of normality had been returned.
"We were under a little bit of pressure with the result at the weekend," said Owen. "Whatever side was put out, we wanted to bounce back. Sometimes you need a kick in the teeth to get going, and it was a massive kick in the teeth."
Such incidents tend to resonate. This is a United still ripe for mockery, a United serenaded with chants of "we're going to win 6-1" by the 7,044 crammed into the Recreation Ground even after Berbatov, profiting from Park Ji-sung's clever one-two with the returning Tom Cleverley, coolly beat Ross Worner from 15 yards. That goal set the tone for the Bulgarian's performance. It is easy to forget he was the Premier League's top scorer last season, so far has he fallen from favour. He will not be alone among the second string in offering Ferguson food for thought ahead of the weekend's trip to Goodison Park.
"[The squad players] are always giving me nudges," said the Scot. "It is very difficult picking a team when you have such a good squad with so many good players. Every time Michael Owen plays he scores. Dimitar played very well and scored a tremendous goal. They need the games, because the consistency of the team has been good and we have not had to make any changes."
The implication is clear: there will be no pardons for those deemed culpable for the weekend's crimes. The reservists were handed a chance here, and the crack troops may find them hard to dislodge.
Their discipline, certainly, impressed. United survived Aldershot's impassioned opening – though on occasion their nerves frayed, as Jermaine McGlashan tormented Ezekiel Fryers and Nemanja Vidic was forced to haul down Alex Rodman as he raced past – and set about restoring order.
Fabio Da Silva and Mame Diouf might have extended United's lead before Owen did, slotting under Worner after Berbatov's flick-on. That was just before the interval; immediately after, Valencia hammered home from 20 yards.
Aldershot's fans continued to offer their vociferous support. This is a club which has endured much. Nineteen years ago they were playing Clapton, a phoenix club freed from the debts of their original incarnation, but deprived of league football and history. Defeat to Manchester United is not likely to bring about much dejection.
"This was a great day for this club and I am proud to be manager," said Holdsworth. "I had a nice glass of wine with Sir Alex and he was full of compliments, saying how proud we could be and how hard we worked. But we are still disappointed. We feel we could have done more."
They might have done, had Luke Guttridge – not far off the best player on the pitch – not shot wide in the dying minutes or Ben Amos not saved the midfielder's free-kick a moment later. Their victory, though, was being here. Their phoenix has risen. United's can now begin to fly.
Aldershot (4-4-2): Worner; Herd, Jones, Morris, Straker; McGlashan, Guttridge, Vincenti (Collins, 72), Rodman (Bubb, h-t); Rankine (Smith, 82), Hylton. Substitutes not used Young (gk), Brown, Pulis, Panther.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Amos; F Da Silva, Jones, Vidic, Fryers (M Keane, 70); Valencia, Park, Cleverley (Pogba, 60), Diouf (Morrison, 70); Berbatov, Owen. Substitutes not used De Gea (gk), Vermul, W Keane, Cole.
Referee P Walton (Northamptonshire).
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