It is a little early in the season for a manager to be putting his feet up, but Sir Alex Ferguson enjoyed a leisurely lunch yesterday as his Manchester United side underlined the impression they created last week that the force is still with them. They came from behind for a comfortable 2-1 victory at Newcastle United, with Ruud van Nistel-rooy and Paul Scholes continuing their scoring habits against the Magpies.
Ferguson was invited to retire from pitchside (a first for him at United) after 24 minutes when he expressed his displeasure that a foul on Ryan Giggs by Andy O'Brien went unpunished. A free-kick would have meant a red card for O'Brien as the last defender, but the referee, Uriah Rennie, waved play on, inspiring a burst of Govan shipyard language from Ferguson. He followed up by kicking the ball wildly down the touchline, and was ordered from the dug-out.
Newcastle's manager, Sir Bobby Robson, felt it was O'Brien's lucky day, and so had some sympathy for Ferguson. "I believe he watched the game from my office, which has just been repainted, specially for him," Robson said with typical irony. "He had coffee and biscuits and bacon-and-egg sandwiches, I believe, and saw his team win. He's had a good afternoon, Alex."
Everyone connected with United did, once the first half and Alan Shearer's headed goal was out of their system; and none more so than Roy Keane. He played his customary captain's part to the full, gradually imposing himself in midfield and laying on both goals. Van Nistelrooy and Scholes wasted chances soon after the interval, but then Keane threaded a pass to the Dutchman, who made a mockery of Newcastle's attempted offside trap before equalising. For an encore, Keane chipped a pass across the penalty area that turned the black-and- white defenders into bystanders as Scholes chested the winner home.
Last week, United hammered Bolton without finding top gear, and now they have brushed aside one of their supposed title rivals with some ease. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
One side who may pick it up, Chelsea, had a hectic home debut under Roman Abramovich's Russian regime, but claimed a second win, 2-1 over Leicester, in a match which saw Chelsea's Géremi and Leicester's Riccardo Scimeca and Alan Rogers sent off. Adrian Mutu settled it with a cracker on a mixed debut. As his manager, Claudio Ranieri, said: "He wanted to show everything with his dribbling and shooting. He was nervous, but it was a special goal."
Sir Jack Hayward has invested a pretty penny in Wolves, but just seeing them in the Premiership may have to be reward enough. Beaten 5-1 at Blackburn on their Premiership debut last week, they "celebrated" their first top-flight game at Molineux for 19 years by losing 4-0 to Charlton.