Life after Ruud van Nistelrooy began for Manchester United yesterday with an inauspicious pre-season defeat at the hands of Preston North End.
But it was another old boy, albeit a less celebrated one than Real Madrid's new signing, who proved the central figure in this game. Danny Pugh, who left United two years ago and has arrived at Preston via Leeds, provided a goal and an assist to help his new side to a deserved victory a week before the new Championship season begins.
Now under the stewardship of Paul Simpson, the former Carlisle manager, Preston look well set for another year challenging for promotion following their loss in the play-off semi-finals in May.
United, who fielded a team of largely young and unproven players, gained a late consolation from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's penalty but it was matters off the field that dominated the thoughts of their travelling contingent. If their attitude to Van Nistelrooy was in any doubt, a loud and sustained song of support before kick-off demonstrated the fans' feelings towards the Dutchman. And by the end of the match their attention had turned to protests against the club'sowner, Malcolm Glazer.
On the pitch, Sir Alex Ferguson began with his 19-year-old Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi, alongside Solskjaer, who was the captain for the day.
Behind them were several youngsters all hoping to catch the eye. But it was a player in their position some five years ago who opened the scoring. Lee Martin allowed Pugh time and space in the penalty area to shoot into the roof of the net at Luke Steele's near post. Preston, with their star striker David Nugent prominent, continued to push forward and midway through the first half Danny Dichio's header beat Steele but landed on the crossbar.
The Championship side extended their lead in the second half when Pugh got behind the United defence and drew the keeper before passing square for Simon Whaley to side-foot home.
"We played some great football," said Simpson whose afternoon was tarnished by the suspected ligament damage sustained by key defender Youl Mawene. "We're now ready to go out and have a right good go at it [the Championship]."
United did improve in the later stages and won a penalty when Darren Fletcher was tripped. Solskjaer converted and also hit the crossbar with a first-time shot in added time. In the absence of Van Nistelrooy or a direct replacement, he might be about to play more of a part in the coming season than was previously expected.Reuse content