Captain rediscovers instinct for retribution

Charity Shield: Manchester United can have no complaints about dismissal but lack of firm refereeing adds to animosity on pitch
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The Independent Football

Enough animosity exists between Manchester United and Chelsea and their supporters to ensure charity was merely a name above the action here yesterday.

Enough animosity exists between Manchester United and Chelsea and their supporters to ensure charity was merely a name above the action here yesterday.

It was business as usual, with rival factions exchanging hostile taunts on the approaches to Wembley Stadium and only 13 minutes had been played when a scuffle developed on the field after Roy Keane up-ended Gustavo Poyet.

Long gone are the days when the contestants in this annual fixture regarded it as a convenient (sometimes inconvenient) warm-up for the League season and since Chelsea are pledged to mount a far more serious challenge for the Premiership than in recent seasons, the action was always going to be lively.

Keane escaped punishment for the incident with Poyet in which he was clearly the culprit, but the policy of remonstration rather than firmness adopted by the referee, Mike Riley, of Leeds, always threatened to bring trouble especially when exchanges early in the second half injected more heat into the occasion.

Clearly upset by a tackle from Chelsea's new signing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who has a nasty habit of leaving his feet about, Keane was in the mood for retribution and was sent off in the 62nd minute for another heavy challenge on Poyet.

Had Riley (who issued a stream of cautions when in charge of a European Champions' League qualifying tie between Tirol Innsbruck and Valencia last week) dealt more decisively with some of the earlier incidents, Keane might not have been fired up enough to be dismissed for the seventh time in United's colours, although this was no excuse for the man who is not only United's captain but is said to be drawing in excess of £50,000 per week in wages and bonuses.

With all the occupants of the press box recalling the dual dismissal of Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan in the Charity Shield of 1974, Keane trudged off to contemplate disciplinary action that will see him miss Manchester United's first three matches of the season.

Not much of a day, then, for Sir Alex Ferguson, who waited in vain for United to strike the high tempo that has been central to their domination of English football. For most of the first half Ferguson's team, admittedly with some of its biggest names on the substitutes' bench, looked a yard short in their efforts and saddled with a persecution complex.

In view of Chelsea's exit from the Champions' League last season and some critically fitful performances in winnable Premiership fixtures, the FA Cup was not much more than a consolation prize and greater things are now expected of them.

Of course, not too much should be read into this result but Gianluca Vialli's side certainly looked further forward in their preparation.

One of their new men, Mario Stanic, wasted a couple of glorious opportunities to put them ahead early in the match following moves that will be make disturbing viewing for Ferguson when he studies the video. And by the time Hasselbaink sent a shot wide after 20 minutes United still had not threatened Chelsea's goal, their moves invariably over-complicated.

Ferguson is a hard man to please at the best of times, so the space Chelsea were allowed to exploit in front of United's back line will lead to some harsh words at the inquest.

Nobody took more advantage of this than Hasselbaink, who looks to have further improved his all-round play since leaving Leeds United for Atletico Madrid.

A big complaint against Hasselbaink, once shared by George Graham when in charge at Elland Road, concerned his lack of resistance when coming under heavy physical challenge.

United's defenders, including Jaap Stam, who had been given further time to recover from an injury until forced into the match as a first-half substitute for Mikaël Silvestre, will testify that resolution has become one of Hasselbaink's strong points. Now much more difficult to shift off the ball, the striker is going to be a handful for Premiership defenders already alerted to his pace and powerful shooting.

In adding to Hasselbaink's first-half goal, Mario Melchiot, who only established himself late last season after a debilitating injury, capped a performance that will further encourage Chelsea's belief that they are now better equipped to challenge United's supremacy.

After losing to Arsenal in this fixture last season, United went on to win another Premiership title.

Tougher this time? Probably.