Scholes declares United's title intent

Manchester United 2 - Charlton Athletic 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Early kick-offs can make fools of the wise and grant authenticity to dreamers. On Saturday morning you wondered whether the grand old man had lost it when Sir Alex Ferguson cranked his rage into gear in his programme notes, but by 6pm?

Early kick-offs can make fools of the wise and grant authenticity to dreamers. On Saturday morning you wondered whether the grand old man had lost it when Sir Alex Ferguson cranked his rage into gear in his programme notes, but by 6pm?

Ferguson, in his 999th game in charge at Old Trafford, was on a familiar theme - the perfidy of the press - when his pen thundered out the news that he had not said Manchester United could not win the championship this season.

"What I did say is that failing to take chances is not championship form," he wrote. Semantics, maybe, but they have stronger foundations today.

United are still missing chances - Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney must have the worst conversion rate in the Premiership - yet where once Chelsea and Arsenal appeared distant figures, suddenly they are nearer. And they are front-runners contemplating dark thoughts planted by past surrenders of leads.

"United are still in this race," Alan Curbishley, the Charlton Athletic manager, said with a conviction that stemmed from more than just a need to camouflage his side's inhibited performance. "The thing you have to remember about Chelsea and Arsenal is that they are fighting on several fronts as well - the League, [the] cups and the Champions' League. Squads are going to be stretched to the limit."

Ferguson, too, had a gleam of the chase in his eyes. "If we can get a run going through December then come New Year's Day we could be back in it. The beginning of January tells you who will be in the frame for the title run-in. It's never changed."

Undoubtedly his spirits were heartened by later events, but more so by the exuberance in this match of one of his favourite sons. One distant and out-of-character refusal to play for the reserves apart, Paul Scholes has given his manager less trouble than the club cat, yet he must have provoked concern recently.

Thirty is a dangerous age for a footballer and while Scholes passed that milestone effortlessly last Tuesday, it was in contrast to his strained labours on the field.

Coming on top of his retirement from international football, he looked like a man out of love with his profession, someone for whom the pipe and slippers of retirement were far from abhorrent.

In this game, however, he donned his sorceror's cloak, scored his first Premiership goal for nine months with an agile volley after a trademark late burst and, more importantly, brimmed over with bright ideas. Rooney could have had a hat-trick and each of his chances stemmed from the man whose role he may assume in future years.

"He loves Scholesey," Ferguson said of Rooney last week, and no wonder. Scholes appeared on television after the match and, rather than having his usual, worried look of a stranger in an alien land, he was more relaxed than anyone could remember.

"Time will tell," he replied to a question about United's title hopes. "We never think we're out of it. No matter how many points we are behind we'll give it a shot."

With anyone else that would be sitting on the fence; with Scholes it was the equivalent of a declaration of rigid intent. Chelsea and Arsenal could have reason to be concerned.

Goals: Giggs (41) 1-0; Scholes (50) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-1-4-1): Carroll; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Fortune; Keane (P Neville, 79); Rooney, Fletcher (O,Shea, 83), Scholes, Giggs; Van Nistelrooy (Smith, 75). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Ronaldo.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely; Young, El Karkouri, Perry (Fortune, h-t), Hreidarsson; Kishishev, Murphy, Holland, Thomas (Konchesky, 57); Bartlett (Jeffers, 74), Johansson. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Euell.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Man of the match: Scholes.

Attendance: 67,704.

Comments