Beckham shines as United head table

Manchester United 4 Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Football

Two goals apiece from David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy took United back to the top of the Premiership at the end of a contest distorted by the sending of Mauricio Taricco before half-time.

The Spurs defender was dismissed by the Premiership's most enthusiastic wielder of red cards, Mike Riley, after pulling back Paul Scholes on the edge of the area in the incident that gave Van Nistelrooy his 30th goal of the season from the penalty spot.

It was the sort of help United hardly needed on a blustery night when controlled football was often difficult but the gap between the two sides was already evident. Even without Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and with Ryan Giggs an unused substitute, United still oozed goal-scoring possibilities. If Diego Forlan, making his first start for the club, had shown a little more steadiness in his finishing, he could have added a couple of his own and there is no saying where the avalanche would have been halted. Van Nistelrooy showed from start to finish why he has become the first United player since Brian McClair 14 years ago to reach the 30-goal mark.

After Spurs, victims of that astonishing turn-around when they were leading 3-0 at Whitehart Lane earlier this season only to lose 5-3, had made a bright enough start, with Simon Davies and Gus Poyet both getting in decent shots, the Dutchman played a big part in Beckham's opener.

The England captain gave the ball to Van Nistelrooy on the right touch-line and he showed his strength and touch in steering it back to him perfectly for an angled run on goal. As Neil Sullivan came out, Beckham curled it round him neatly with his less favoured left foot and United were on their way.

Their momentum became unstoppable four minutes before half-time as Scholes chased the ubiquitous Van Nistelrooy's pass and was hauled down by Taricco. There was little doubt about the offence, but much more about where it had taken place.

After consulting his assistant, Mr Riley awarded both the red card and the penalty, duly blasted in by Van Nistelrooy. The Spurs manager, Glenn Hoddle, called it "a diabolical decision'' and called for the introduction of full-time linesmen. "Key decisions are being made by part-timers and it's ridiculous,'' he said.

Sir Alex Ferguson agreed with him, but only to a point. "I don't think it was a turning-point, because we were already 1-0 up," he said: "The man had to be sent off, but the penalty was harsh because it was outside the box.''

It hardly contributed to a happy first return to Old Trafford for Teddy Sheringham, although he at least got a little more support when Spurs brought on Les Ferdinand for Sergei Rebrov at half-time.

That did little to change the pattern of the match, however, which was one of United pouring forward in search of further goals.

Everyone, including the less likely candidates like Laurent Blanc and Gary Neville, had their opportunities, while Forlan should have opened his United account when put clean through by Roy Keane.

Forlan went a long way towards making up for his miss when he sprinted clear on the left and pulled the ball back for Van Nistelrooy to lay off unselfishly for Beckham, who smote it ferociously into the roof of the net.

With 13 minutes to play, the ball criss-crossed the Spurs penalty area before Van Nistelrooy put his foot on it and finished with his usual icy calm for his 31st of a memorable first campaign at Old Trafford.

"He showed great composure for his second goal,'' Ferguson said. "But David Beckham was terrific tonight. He looks really fresh, as though he could play every game now.''

Manchester United (4-4-2): Barthez 6; G Neville 7 (P Neville 5, 67), Blanc 7, Johnsen 6, Silvestre 7; Beckham 7, Keane 7, Scholes 6 (Butt 5, 70), Veron 6 (Fortune 5, 70); Forlan 6, Van Nistelrooy 8. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk) Giggs.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Sullivan 6; Taricco 4, Richards 6, King 6, Thatcher 6; Davies 6, Sherwood 5, Poyet 5 (Perry 5, 66), Ziege 6 (Etherington, 85); Sheringham 5, Rebrov 4 (Ferdinand 5, h-t). Substitutes not used: Keller (gk), Gardner.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).