As one Manchester United striker prepares to leave Old Trafford, another signalled his intent to remain a major force at the club. Unlike the departing Dutch striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to go back to a European encounter with Panathinaikos in September 2003 for his last senior United goal. But he gave hope that a long-awaited Premiership return may be imminent, rolling back the years with two first-half goals in front of a noisy and enthusiastic crowd here in South Africa yesterday.
The 33-year-old Norwegian's career has been wrecked by a series of knee injuries and, more latterly, a hamstring problem and a broken cheekbone, which even United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, felt might force him into premature retirement. Solskjaer accepted a role as club ambassador when handed a new two-year contract last season but far from settling for life behind the scenes at Old Trafford, he intends pressing for a first-team place again. Judging by how he opened the scoring with a well-taken fifth-minute goal before taking advantage of sloppy defending to slide home a second, the indications are Solskjaer might just do it.
Although the United touring party is shorn of all its World Cup players, there were still eight full internationals in the starting line-up and the crowd did not have to wait long for proof of its quality. Paul Scholes and Solskjaer have been written off as major Premiership forces but there could be no complaint with either man's contribution to United's first goal.
Scholes began the move with an inspired crossfield pass from deep inside his own half which picked out Giuseppe Rossi. The young striker, eager to break through after two fine seasons at reserve team level, lifted a pass to Ryan Giggs, who in turn flicked it on to Solskjaer. From 10 yards, he struck a crashing half-volley which gave Pirates goalkeeper Francis Chansa no chance.
Solskjaer spurned a couple of further opportunities before the hosts started to click and while goalkeeper Ben Foster did not have a real save to make there was enough action going on around his goal for Ferguson to be concerned. It was Foster's first United start although he will return to Watford on loan for the new season once Ferguson can sort out the transfer of Tomasz Kuszczak. The West Bromwich keeper would cover for Edwin van der Sar, 35, who is set to be offered a one-year extension on his contract which expires next summer. "We have to pay attention to his age and it depends on how he does next season but he was a terrific addition to our squad last year," said Ferguson.
United went back on the offensive and when Innocent Mdledle hesitated as he lined up a clearance near the six-yard box, Solskjaer nipped in to slide home a second. After the break, substitute David Jones caught the eye setting up Kieran Richardson for the third and the tenacious midfielder prompted a panic attack from Lehlo Seema, who belted a routine clearance into his own goal.
Solskjaer, who has seen little action in three years, said: "The main thing is not who scores the goals but getting match fitness - though a goal or two helps. It's been a while since I got one for the first team. I'm just enjoying every game and every training session."Reuse content