Despondent exits from Old Trafford were not the sole preserve of Ruud Van Nistelrooy yesterday as Alan Curbishley endured the farewell his contribution to Charlton Athletic did not warrant, but which made his decision to leave The Valley after 15 years all the more understandable.
The now former Charlton manager was treated to an exhibition on his final game at the helm, although it was not one he will recall with relish as the exhibitors were exclusively in the red of Manchester United, who bid adieu to their own campaign of internal dispute and belated promise with a flourish to seal second spot and the final automatic qualifying place for next season's Champions' League. Even the disgruntled Dutchman may have wished he had stayed to watch a performance of imagination, pace and, pointedly in Van Nistelrooy's absence, goals.
"The club have bought me a ticket to see my sister in New Zealand as a leaving present but mid-way through the first half I didn't think that was far enough," said Curbishley. "It has been a strange week and I didn't enjoy that."
The pre-match tantrum from the £19m striker may have stunned his team-mates but it did not distract them from the task of tearing apart a depleted Charlton team to record their first home win in three matches and to guarantee second place above Liverpool.
There was a carnival air to proceedings before United had begun their elegant stroll with Sir Alex Ferguson producing one of his customary selection surprises and naming Paul Scholes among his substitutes.
Scholes was not due to return until next season following the head injury he sustained at Birmingham on 20 December that left the former England midfielder with blurred vision. Instead, he delivered a reminder of the distribution United have lacked at critical junctures this season with an impressive second-half performance, although by the time of his arrival the game was already won.
Giuseppe Rossi, whose progress was rewarded by Ferguson with his full Premiership debut and thus demoted Van Nistelrooy, produced a relentless performance alongside Louis Saha but it was another of United's Academy graduates, Kieran Richardson, who delivered the game's outstanding contribution.
Appearing more relaxed and adventurous than in recent months the England international almost opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a 30-yard drive that struck the crossbar and bounced off the goalline. "That was the turning point, everyone was lifted after that" said Sir Alex Ferguson, who presented Curbishley with a "special" bottle of red wine before kick off but whose generosity spread no further.
In front of a new record attendance for the Premiership of 73,006, Saha sent a glancing header from a Ryan Giggs corner beyond the Charlton goalkeeper Stephen Andersen in the 19th minute and the Wales midfielder created a second three minutes later when the visitors failed to clear another of his set-pieces. Giggs's low cross into the area struck Cristiano Ronaldo, who also found Wes Brown in his path, but from a kind rebound he beat Andersen.
An emphatic reverse seemed inevitable. Nine minutes before the break Saha beat Gonzalo Sorondo on the right wing and though Rossi could not apply the finishing touch the back-tracking Jason Euell obliged to slide the ball into his own net.
With Old Trafford revelling in the sight of Scholes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the second half, Richardson got the goal he deserved when he dispossessed Radostin Kishishev on the half-way line and ventured forward unopposed to convert from distance. The consolation for Curbishley is that he will not dwell on this defeat too long.
Goals: Saha (19) 1-0; Ronaldo (22) 2-0; Euell og (34) 3-0; Richardson (58) 4-0;
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville (Vidic, 60), Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre; Ronaldo, O'Shea (Scholes, h-t), Giggs, Richardson; Saha (Solskjaer, 60), Rossi. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Fletcher.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Andersen; Sankofa (Fortune, 46), Perry, Sorondo, Powell; Holland, Kishishev, Euell (Ambrose, 60), Hughes; Bartlett, Bent (Sam, 46). Substitutes not used: Randolph (gk), Bothroyd.
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).
Booked: Manchester United Richardson.
Man of the match: Richardson.
Attendance: 73,006.Reuse content