Giggs shows fluent skills in fight for United future

Manchester United 3 - Southampton 0
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The Independent Online

"If you walk through the door, there are not many Manchester Uniteds waiting, that's for sure," Sir Alex Ferguson remarked last week. That warning, born of having seen so many footballers leave Old Trafford usually to begin the long, slow decline of their careers, will be revolving through the heads of at least three of his players as they report for training at Carrington this morning.

"If you walk through the door, there are not many Manchester Uniteds waiting, that's for sure," Sir Alex Ferguson remarked last week. That warning, born of having seen so many footballers leave Old Trafford usually to begin the long, slow decline of their careers, will be revolving through the heads of at least three of his players as they report for training at Carrington this morning.

The statement was aimed at Roy Carroll, whose contract expires in six months and who has yet to sign an extension. However, it could equally have applied to Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville. Neville did not even make the bench for a fixture against a club who have picked up seven points from a possible 90 at Old Trafford and have not won there since 1969.

For more than a year there has been a question hanging over Giggs' future; in the summer of 2003 it was thought that he, rather than David Beckham, would be the one to leave Manchester and although his contract still has another 18 months to run he is said to feel slighted by the offer to extend it for only a further year.

The man who could fairly compete with John Charles for the title of the greatest footballer Wales has ever produced turned 31 last Monday and lately there have been few of the command performances to match his demolition of Juventus in the Stadio delle Alpi in 2003. This, however, was something exceptional.

He began with a few step-overs, as if to prove to Cristiano Ronaldo that he was doing this sort of thing when his team-mate was in primary school in Madeira, struck the post, and pushed through a beautifully weighted pass for Wayne Rooney to crash the ball into the top of the net. In between, he went through the full array of his passing technique and was unafraid to scrap for the ball on the byline.

Every time he truly performs you are reminded of Ferguson's famous phrase about Giggs, the one about him resembling a spaniel chasing a slip of paper in the wind. To Southampton's over-stretched defenders Giggs would have resembled an Alsatian pounding towards them. "He is somebody football fans pay good money to see," said Southampton's manager, Steve Wigley. "I thought we just about kept him in check in the first half, but after 35 minutes of the second I was sick of the sight of him."

Unless there is a significant upturn in form, Wigley's brief, unsatisfactory term in charge at St Mary's is nearing its final days. Last season, Gordon Strachan took Southampton to Old Trafford, had a go and lost 3-2. On Saturday, Wigley, despite complaining his team had suffered from too many draws, seemed to raise his sights no higher than a goalless stalemate and, as Charlton discovered last month, these are futile, self-defeating tactics. They drew blood when Alan Smith was forced off with a gashed head, but United never had to break sweat.

Wigley was not helped by the early departure of James Beattie through injury but had United doubled their score, the beleaguered manager could hardly have complained.

"The thing about Manchester United is that they go for your throat more than any other team," he said. In Southampton, they saw soft, vulnerable flesh.

"Once we got the first goal, we proceeded to play some really impressive football; quick, decisive and ruthless," Gary Neville reflected afterwards. "Once we go 1-0 up at Old Trafford, the opposition have to scrap the game plan they have worked on all week."

This was Manchester United's seventh successive victory, which Neville put down to the club's top players returning to peak form. "Paul Scholes has had such an impact, scoring goals from midfield over the last couple of years and now he's got three in four games. When he's on song, it takes a lot to stop him.

"For a couple of chances, we just tried to pussyfoot it into the net, instead of smashing it in. We could have won four or five-nil and even scored six. Those sort of scores send out messages to the rest of the Premiership that Manchester United are rolling."

Goals: Scholes 52 (1-0); Rooney 58 (2-0); Ronaldo 87 (3-0).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Carroll; G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Keane, Scholes, Giggs; Smith (Bellion, 62), Rooney. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Brown, Miller, Fletcher.

Southampton (4-4-2): Keller; Nilsson, Lundekvam, Jakobsson, Higginbotham; Telfer, Svensson, Delap (Fernandes, 85), Le Saux; Phillips, Beattie (Blackstock, 21). Substitutes not used: Blayney (gk), Dodd, Crouch.

Referee: B Knight (Kent).

Booked: Southampton: Lundekvam.

Man of the match: Giggs.

Attendance: 67,121.

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