Cole hat-trick sets United record

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The Independent Football

None of the ships the young Alex Ferguson helped build in Govan could have been launched as effortlessly as Manchester United's latest Champions' League campaign was here last night.

None of the ships the young Alex Ferguson helped build in Govan could have been launched as effortlessly as Manchester United's latest Champions' League campaign was here last night.

A hat-trick from Andy Cole, who surpassed Denis Law's record of European goals for Manchester United, brushed away an Anderlecht side who committed the cardinal sin of being ordinary at Old Trafford.

Ferguson places much store by history and the night air was full of shades of 1956 when in their first game in the European Cup, Anderlecht were destroyed 10-0 and although Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor scored seven between them, it is hard to imagine they could have played much better than Cole and Ryan Giggs did yesterday.

As he had after the last three games at Old Trafford, Ferguson said the scoreline had flattered his side. Maybe he is becoming generous in his old age but Aimé Anthuenis, the Anderlecht coach, put it more succinctly when he said of United: "They play football from a different planet, the only way we could have stopped them was if we had 13 on the pitch. They are probably the best team in Europe and maybe beyond."

For Cole this was a night to remember. To surpass Law was one thing but to do it with a hat-trick was, like much of United's football, on a different plane entirely and his manager thought that his inclusion in the England squad might have been the added spur. If Michael Owen is on fire, with England's World Cup qualifier with Germany looming into view, then Cole, too, is burning.

Whatever the reason, he took his goals impeccably. By the time the first arrived, after a quarter of an hour, United could have been two up already as first Paul Scholes and Giggs, in virtually his only error of the night, spurned chances.

However, the opener came from the kind of move that one day United will trademark. Giggs cut a pass across from the left which seemed at first to be too high for Cole. However, his heading, like so much else, has improved year on year at Old Trafford and Cole rose to place it in the right-hand corner and in doing so surpassed Law's record of 14 European goals.

He extended the tally effortlessly. Filip de Wilde, whose keeping was sometimes a cause for Belgian embarrassment during the European Championships, was caught horribly out of position for Cole's second and United's fourth by a deflected pass just after half-time. He was still running back when it trickled over the goal-line.

There was nothing he could have done about the move that consummated the hat-trick after which Cole, like Giggs was substituted. Like the first it came from a perfectly placed header which drifted over the keeper's head and under the crossbar.

"It was an honour to break the record. Maybe I will get the credit now," Cole said. "I'm 29 next month and getting on a bit; I want to score more goals in Europe but you know what the manager's like. He likes to rest people and I can feel mine coming on."

It was not just Cole's show. Anderlecht in general and their right-back, Bernard Crasson in particular, never came to terms with Giggs and it was his vision which brought the second via a penalty. The winger, running wild, saw Cole offside and decided to cut inside, where Patrick van Diemen brought him down. De Wilde got the edge of his gloves to Denis Irwin's penalty but no more.

By way of compensation, David Beckham provided the third, in the 41st minute, his low centre finding Teddy Sheringham who was blocked once, twisted back, and scored to render the second half entirely academic.

Ferguson confessed he expected more of Anderlecht, although it is nearly a decade since they could be expected to match United. With Jaap Stam still nursing an injury on the bench, Gary Neville did an effective job marking the giant Jan Koller. The Czech probably deserved his goal 10 minutes after half-time as Fabien Barthez for once misjudged a dash off his line and Koller, having rounded his man, clipped home off a post.

It was with satisfaction that the United manager remarked that "there were no suicidal moments" during the match. He was perhaps forgetting Barthez, who having made a fine save from Tomasz Radzinski, just succeeded in dribbling past Didier Dheedene three yards from his own goal-line. It caused Ferguson to do something rare in the dug-out. The Manchester United manager burst out laughing.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Barthez; Irwin (P Neville, 69), G Neville, Johnsen, Silvestre; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs (Solksjaer, 59); Sheringham, Cole (Yorke, 72). Substitutes not used: Stam, Wallwork, Butt, Van der Gouw (gk).

Anderlecht: (4-4-2): De Wilde; Crasson, Staelens, De Boeck, Dheedene; Van Diemen, Vanderhaeghe, Bassegio, Goor (Ilic, 59); Radzinski (Youla, 59), Koller. Substitutes not used: Oyen, Stoica, Lachtchouk, Didane, Milosevic (gk).

Referee: T Hauge (Norway).