Tevez hat-trick puts heat on Ince

Manchester Utd 5 Blackburn Rovers 3
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The Independent Football

A sobering night for another of the Ferguson alumni. If Roy Keane thinks he has it bad at Sunderland, he might care to call Paul Ince, who left their old stomping ground with the shouts of “We want our Rovers back” ringing in his ears. It was an evening more wretched than any he will have experienced here as a player.

There was a brief and improbable comeback as Blackburn scored twice in the last six minutes but make no mistake: this was a hammering. It was of little surprise that Ince pulled out of Manchester last night without appearing before the written press and he was grasping at straws when he told the television cameras that the 51st minute penalty which sent United 3-1 was the game’s defining moment. “That penalty kills us. We’re scoring goals but we are just not keeping them out,” Ince said.

A sparkling display by Carlos Tevez, who scored his first United hat-trick, lit up a bitter night and the mounting sense of antipathy towards Ince as a second-string United ran through them defined it. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” went up from the visitors’ supporters when Robbie Fowler ran on in place of Roque Santa Cruz – followed by “Tony Parkes’ blue and white army”, in reference to Ewood Park’s perennial caretaker manager. It was hard to tell whether the shouts for Graeme Souness, a free agent currently warming the TV studios who left the club in 2004, were ironic.

It was one of the characteristics of the Mark Hughes era that the elite sides never found Rovers easy, but it is the case no longer. Second bottom of the league and two points beneath Keane’s Sunderland side, Rovers have one win in all competitions since claiming the points at Newcastle on 27 September. The beneficiary last night was Tevez. It has not been an easy time for the player, with his representatives privately puzzled by the difficulties in tying up his £32m permanent move to Old Trafford.

However, in the move which brought his second goal there was evidence of his potential and Ince’s problems in equal measure. It was a mesmerising, six-pass zig-zag from central midfield to goal, anchored by Anderson with three one-twos and a Ryan Giggs backheel to propel it to Tevez, who tapped it into the net. From a Blackburn perspective it was schoolyard stuff, none of their players coming near to a touch on the ball.

Tevez was insisting last night that he had scored four goals not three. “I’m very pleased to score four goals because it’s the first time I’ve done it in my career,” he said. “It was good tonight because I don’t play very much but it shows we can play in every competition.” The dubious goals panel will surely decree that United’s first, claimed by the Argentine after he ghosted in at the back post at a free-kick from Giggs which panicked Aaron Mokoena into heading past Paul Robinson on 36 minutes, was an own goal.

Andre Ooijer had the worst of it. When Tevez had mesmerised him for the umpteenth time with the scoreline at 4-1 he screamed at team-mate Stephen Warnock. But Nani danced past the Dutch defender to score United’s second after receiving the deftest return pass from Tevez on 40 minutes and Tevez did much the same himself after the break, leading Ooijer to push him in the box for the penalty.

Though Sir Alex Ferguson was satisfied with some “marvellous performances” from Tevez and Anderson, United were slack defensively at times. Gary Neville allowed Benni McCarthy to latch onto a long ball to score three minutes after half time and, in a finale resonant of United’s 4-3 win against Hull City, Matt Derbyshire cut inside substitute Patrice Evra to net and sent in a low cross which McCarthy slid home. In the mayhem Paul Scholes appeared for the first time since suffering a knee injury in September and Ben Foster offered more evidence that he is a United player for the future.

There was no hiding for Ince as Tevez latched onto Anderson’s lofted ball to thump home for his hat-trick. It is hard to know who will feel worst this morning: Ince, who faces league leaders Liverpool on Saturday, or Keane, who, if he sticks at his job, must venture to Old Trafford.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1) Foster; Rafael, Neville, Evans, O’Shea (Evra, 67); Possebon (Scholes, 67), Anderson; Gibson, Giggs (Manucho, 71), Nani; Tevez. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Evra, Park, Vidic, Welbeck.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1) Robinson; Emerton (McCarthy, h-t), Ooijer, Nelsen, Olsson; Derbyshire, Mokoena, Tugay (Pedersen, 70), Warnock, Treacy; Santa Cruz (Fowler, 76). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Villanueva, Judge, Roberts.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).