Manchester Utd 3 Portsmouth 0: United give Ferguson a perfect score

Manager celebrates 20-year reign with Rooney, Neville and Ronaldo in outstanding form
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The Independent Online

It was 20 years ago today (almost) that Sir Alex taught the Reds to play (again). In the eventful two decades since, they have been going in and out of style, but they are guaranteed to raise a smile on days like yesterday, when the performance was full of the purpose and panache that the manager knew from day one he had to restore to the club as well as winning some trophies.

All the evidence from the past few weeks of Premiership football, with five successive victories and 14 goals against one, suggests that elusive combination can be achieved again this season and bring home something more glittering than the Carling Cup.

Portsmouth, like Bolton last Saturday, were swept aside almost before working out which way they were kicking, and then found their brief attempt at revival after half-time dismissed just as brusquely. In the space of a week United have routed the teams third and fourth in the Premiership, scoring seven goals and threatening many more. Chelsea's visit at the end of the month is looming and the mouth is watering already.

Once again Wayne Rooney and his partner Louis Saha were both in irresistible form, supported superbly by Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gary Neville down the flanks, and Paul Scholes from behind. Getting a touch of the Premiership's new yellow football (a mere £65 in a shop near you) was often beyond Portsmouth.

With barely quarter of an hour played, Ferguson was able to accommodate the Stretford End's request to "give us a wave", relaxed in the knowledge that his team were well on the way to another victory. "It's amazing," he said. "I don't know where the years have gone. The good thing today was that we didn't let it become a circus or carnival. We were professional. It was a dream start and we could have scored a lot more goals."

There was special praise too for three players he has nurtured from schoolboy hopefuls into senior achievers, Neville, Giggs and Scholes: "They're great players and if we're in a challenging position next April these are the players who've been there before and I think they'll get us through."

Keen as Ferguson had been to play down the significance of the occasion - he declined to have a presentation on the pitch - everything was set up for a day of celebration. United were back to virtually full strength and Portsmouth were critically weakened in defence. Noe Pamarot and Andy O'Brien had to stand in against an attack that last weekend produced what Rio Ferdinand called the best 25 minutes of football he had ever played in. Not surprisingly, they struggled from the start, conceding two early goals amid a riot of pace and movement.

The first materialised after only two and a half minutes. Neville caught the defence dozing with a quick throw that Rooney darted on to before Dejan Stefanovic's challenge sent him to the floor. Saha tucked the penalty away for his seventh goal of the season. In the 10th minute it was Saha who was grounded by a high tackle 25 yards out, and Ronaldo stepped up to arrow the free-kick past David James.

United created half-a-dozen further opportunities before the interval, many stemming from Neville being allowed so much freedom on the right. Despite deploying five in midfield, Portsmouth had nobody tracking the England full-back, who was twice close to adding to his meagre seven goals in 516 games. James thwarted him each time, as well as pushing away Ferdinand's header and saving from Rooney. O'Brien had to head off the line from Scholes after Rooney lured James out of goal, and Matthew Taylor was left calling for back-up from his negligent midfield.

Taylor did at least manage Portsmouth's one shot on target in the opening half. It took them 43 minutes to earn a corner, which was headed out only as far as Taylor, whose fierce shot was just diverted over the bar by Edwin van der Sar. Harry Redknapp sent on an extra striker for the second half, Andy Cole, one of Ferguson's 1999 European Cup heroes, getting the nod ahead of Nwankwo Kanu and receiving a warm reception from both sets of supporters. But any hope of spoiling Fergie's day disappeared as Nico Kranjcar shot feebly wide and Neville made the third goal. Giggs played a corner short to him for a perfect cross headed in by the powerful Nemanja Vidic.

For the last 15 minutes, United gave Rooney and Ronaldo a rest, replacing flair with the more workmanlike qualities of John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher. Ferguson well knows there will be more testing days than this one; above all when Mr Mourinho brings his boys to town.

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