Kezman leaves United red-faced

Ferguson's below-par side suffer most crushing European defeat for nearly six years
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The Independent Football

Ruud Van Nistelrooy watched from the stands as Manchester United, the club he may yet join, suffered the kind of reverse on the European stage not seen since the days when Romario ripped them apart in the Nou Camp and they were overturned by IFK Gothenburg in the same campaign. That defeat six years ago was terminal for United in the Champions' League, although this may not be, even after Dynamo Kiev's demolition of Anderlecht had pushed Sir Alex Ferguson's side into third place.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy watched from the stands as Manchester United, the club he may yet join, suffered the kind of reverse on the European stage not seen since the days when Romario ripped them apart in the Nou Camp and they were overturned by IFK Gothenburg in the same campaign. That defeat six years ago was terminal for United in the Champions' League, although this may not be, even after Dynamo Kiev's demolition of Anderlecht had pushed Sir Alex Ferguson's side into third place.

United went into the game having been held by Chelsea last weekend and with Highbury this Sunday pressing on Ferguson's thoughts. His decision to send out the kind of team he would have fielded against Derby - no Ryan Giggs, David Beckham or Andy Cole - to face the Dutch champions demonstrated that the Premiership rates higher than the European Cup at Old Trafford.

The giant, throaty roar that rang around the Philips Stadion on the final whistle was an answer to that, although should Arsenal be overcome and Eindhoven and Kiev beaten in Manchester then the sacrifice of this match may have been worthwhile. On top of the defeat, however, Beckham, who came on as a 70th-minute substitute, was facing allegations that he spat in the referee's direction after receiving a yellow card for dissent. But the United manager defended his star afterwards: "It's understandable. They get frustrated with the referee. The referee is supposed to be at the top of his job, that's the reputation he has got, but we didn't get a lot of help from him in protecting the players."

Ferguson then put the blame for the loss on "naïve defending" carried out by too many who lacked real experience of European competition, although he did not begrudge his opposite number, Erik Gerets, the result. After giving away a penalty as early as the second minute, PSV recovered to the extent that they ended up in clear, comfortable control.

Their long through-balls into the heart of the Manchester United defence caused constant havoc, although after 99 seconds the game looked very different as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, sprinting through, was brought down by the PSV goalkeeper, Ronald Waterreus, to concede a penalty which Paul Scholes duly converted - a rather simpler chance than his last goal here for England, against Portugal, when a two-goal lead was thoroughly squandered.

When Dwight Yorke missed from close range, they should have had the second goal which Ferguson was convinced would have given them command of the game. Given the glare of publicity Yorke has had to endure this week, there would have been poetic justice in him scoring but often last night United were unable to find any rhythm, still less poetry.

The visitors held on to their lead for less than a quarter of an hour. Eindhoven had already begun attacking with enterprise when a long ball out of defence beat the United back-line and found Wilfred Bouma running on to it. He was still 15 yards out but his shot left Raimond van der Gouw standing.

The Dutch goalkeeper did not enjoy much of a homecoming and, at times, was left horribly exposed. He was left helpless in the 37th minute when a beautiful pass from Mateja Kezman, PSV's £7m summer purchase from Partizan Belgrade, pierced an increasingly ponderous defence. Mark van Bommel's first touch was perfect and he drove his shot through Van der Gouw's legs.

Two minutes after the restart came the moment when humiliation began to come beckoning for Manchester United as a lovely one-two sent Kezman clear on goal. Van der Gouw spread himself but the shot was off target.

But it did not take long for the Serb to make amends, although curiously he scored from a more difficult chance than the one he spurned. A cross-field ball allowed him to turn Mickaël Silvestre before driving his shot off the crossbar and into the net.

Immediately afterwards, Arnold Bruggink, the Dutch club's leading scorer, spurned a far easier opportunity as United failed to clear and presented him with a clear shot at goal that he was amazed to have missed.

Giggs and Beckham were thrown on 20 minutes from the end but by then it was all rather forlorn and all rather late and, although United had a shot cleared off the line, defeat was deserved.

This stage of the Champions' League has been condemned as being bloated, toothless and somewhat irrelevant. Last night proved that no club can take it for granted, not even Manchester United.

PSV Eindhoven (1-3-4-2): Waterreus; Nikiforov; Van der Weerden, Hofland, Heintze; Van der Doelen (Lucius, 77), Vogel, Van Bommel, Bouma (Rommedahl, 79); Bruggink, Kezman (Kolkka, 83). Substitutes not used: Ooijer, Dirkx, De Jong, Lodewijks (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van Der Gouw; P Neville, G Neville, Brown, Silvestre (Beckham, 70); Greening (Giggs, 74), Keane, Scholes (Wallwork, 70), Butt; Yorke, Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: Johnsen, Cole, Sheringham, Bosnich (gk).

Referee: M Merk (Germany).

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