United make light of Redknapp hoodoo

Southampton 0 - Manchester United 4
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The Independent Online

What one could describe as another triumph of the lords over the commons. It was only fortunate that this debate between a member of Europe's élite and one of the Premiership's most impoverished should last a mere 90 minutes, considering that the "division" between the two parties bordered on the overwhelming, and the second half developed into no more than a work-out for the visitors.

What one could describe as another triumph of the lords over the commons. It was only fortunate that this debate between a member of Europe's élite and one of the Premiership's most impoverished should last a mere 90 minutes, considering that the "division" between the two parties bordered on the overwhelming, and the second half developed into no more than a work-out for the visitors.

Yet, who would have thought that here we would be in mid-March and Manchester United and Arsenal would be contesting FA Cup quite so enthusiastically? Effectively, it is both those clubs' one chance to conclude their season on an optimistic note, though hardly consolation for European elimination in midweek.

United had no intention of dwelling on that mishap in Milan. From AC to DC, it could be said. United turned on the direct current immediately, and none more so than Wayne Rooney, who, following his lack of presence in Italy, coupled with a failure to complement an admittedly still far from fit Ruud van Nistelrooy, was under particular scrutiny. But during an imperious first-half display, he was the scourge of Saints, twice striking woodwork and then making a major contribution to United's second on the stroke of half-time.

There was also a Rooney expletive watch, referees having been reminded that they should brandish a red card if they are the subject of players' verbal abuse. But referee Howard Webb had no need for ear-plugs. Apart for a late, brief contretemps with Kevin Phillips, the United man was at his most angelic.

Not that anything threatened to ignite that short fuse of his. In yesterday's earlier tie Bolton had attempted to rough up Arsenal. To football's great relief, they failed. Saints, if anything, showed too much respect to United.

"I don't make excuses," said the Southampton manager, Harry Redknapp, before proceeding to do just that. "But you can't play Man United with six of your best players missing. That's impossible. I just hoped we wouldn't get smashed up. You take five or six out of Alex's team, and he might struggle, too."

Redknapp had never taken a team to the FA Cup semi-finals, and his chances of doing so here appeared remote, particularly given the absence of the suspended David Prutton, the Cup-tied Nigel Quashie, his son Jamie in midfield, Graeme Le Saux, Rory Delap and goalkeeper Antti Niemi. The captain, Claus Lundekvam, who had been suffering from flu, only lasted until half-time.

In contrast, the omission of Ryan Giggs - recovering from that nasty blow to the nose by Gennaro Gattuso and replaced by Quinton Fortune - was the only change to the United team defeated in Milan.

Southampton's fate appeared to depend on the menace of Peter Crouch. The vertically endowed striker had scored in 10 of the 16 games since Redknapp had arrived, including one in every round of this season's Cup.

To Redknapp's chagrin it was at the wrong end that Crouch got an early crucial touch. The contest was barely into the second minute when Saints failed to deal effectively with Fortune's corner. Keane collected the ball with his back to goal, and drove the ball home via a deflection off the loitering Crouch.

United placed the tie beyond their hosts by half-time, although they should have done so much earlier. First Scholes won a ball from Olivier Bernard, fed Rooney, whose attempt was deflected by Paul Smith and looped on to the bar. It rebounded back over Van Nistelrooy before Rooney headed wide.

Just before the interval, it was Rooney again who tormented the Saints' rearguard, utterly bemusing Lundekvam before striking a post. Andreas Jakobsson cleared the danger.

But finally the Merseysider contrived further reward for United, tormenting two defenders deep in the Saints area before finding Van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman's pass across goal was eagerly dispatched past Smith by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Southampton had contributed little up to then. In the early minutes Anders Svensson was foiled by the goalkeeper Tim Howard at the near post, before a Crouch header created danger from the resulting corner. But such incursions were rare occurrences. The United area was too often a frozen wasteland of opportunity in which Crouch was a lone explorer.

Within three minutes of the restart, with the Saints rearguard yet again in disarray, Ronaldo cleverly set up Van Nistelrooy, whose shot was repelled by Smith, but Scholes followed in to turn the ball home. The goal, and United's performance in general, was marred by an idiot in the crowd. A lighted flare was hurled from behind that goal, an area occupied by visiting supporters, which dropped perilously close to Smith. A souvenir from Milan, perhaps? Redknapp declared: "That was dangerous. We don't want to see that coming into the game." United promised to ban for life the supporter responsible if he could be identified.

Van Nistelrooy was denied by Smith as United cruised to victory. And that appeared that. But in the closing minutes, Rooney again instigated a move which saw Van Nistelrooy cross for Scholes to head home at the far post. United progress, perchance to Cardiff? Saints march on, though in this form, with this team, surely to Premiership oblivion.

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