Scholes heads to the summit

FA Premiership: Sheringham steals in to share spoils as champions romp home
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The Independent Online

No one likes coming to Old Trafford but Sunderland possibly fear it more than most. They have won at their Theatre of Bad Dreams only once since 1952-53 and this latest defeat takes their aggregate to 15-0 in their last four visits. That score is most definitely not in their favour.

No one likes coming to Old Trafford but Sunderland possibly fear it more than most. They have won at their Theatre of Bad Dreams only once since 1952-53 and this latest defeat takes their aggregate to 15-0 in their last four visits. That score is most definitely not in their favour.

This time the pain was inflicted by Paul Scholes, with two goals, and Teddy Sheringham, although Manchester United would have reached the top of the Premiership by threatening a repeat of their midweek 6-0 demolition of Bradford if they had accepted the chances created in a spectacular opening half-hour. By the conclusion the match resembled a training run-out which, with Anderlecht due in the Champions' League on Wednesday, was willingly accepted by Sir Alex Ferguson, even if he was concerned that he had to withdraw Jaap Stam with an Achilles tendon injury at the interval.

"The performance was not great," Ferguson said, "but the manner of the goals was fantastic. For the first 30 minutes we played very well, the rhythm and the tempo were good but after that we stuttered. You have to give a lot of credit to Sunderland. They made it difficult for us."

It depends on your viewpoint and Ferguson's Sunderland counterpart, Peter Reid, was unwilling to accept the plaudits. "He was being kind to me."

Sunderland were willing, ran themselves to a standstill and would have got an equaliser but for an outstanding save by Fabien Barthez from Niall Quinn's header 15 minutes from the end, but were comfortably overcome. The distractions of Europe, injury, form or luck, nothing seems to go sufficiently their way at Old Trafford for them to prevail. Their last success was in 1968.

The first ominous note for the visitors would have come with the team-sheets. Pre-match noises had suggested Stam would be missing, with the obvious prospect of Quinn causing havoc, but when Ferguson revealed his hand the giant Dutchman was there,albeit only for the first half.

Stam collected an award before the game for being the best defender in Europe last season but a few isolated punts in Quinn's direction apart, he had few opportunities to display his assets. Sunderland briefly threatened danger when Kevin Kilbane sped inside Mickaël Silvestre in the first three minutes and later Kevin Phillips thumped into the net long after an offside flag had gone up against Quinn; the rest of the first half was a collection of party-pieces from the champions.

After 45 seconds Teddy Sheringham flicked a header wide, Nicky Butt and Andy Cole tested Jürgen Macho's reflexes with shots on the turn; it seemed merely a matter of time before United scored and it was, after 13 minutes.

It was a goal that allied simplicity with complexity beautifully. For a change there was nothing particularly clever about the cross from David Beckham that was met by Scholes's header from a range of eight yards but the space on the flanks had been built by a bewildering blur of one-time passing and movement that had involved Silvestre, Butt, Sheringham, Cole and Scholes (twice). By the time the ball flew past Macho the Sunderland defence had been spun giddy.

Nine minutes later Cole might have added a second, spending so much time trying to place a shot from the left he neglected to provide power, although there was little wrong with Scholes' shot after 28 minutes that cannoned off a Sunderland post before ricocheting to safety.

The second half, with Stam's departure disrupting the champions' flow, descended from the heights of the first. Beckham had a free-kick brought to a range of eight yards by Don Hutchison's dissent but when that was blocked it appeared the match would peter out to a 1-0 win until Sunderland made the mistake of waking up the slumbering United.

Hutchison had a shot blocked after 75 minutes and when Thome won the first challenge from John Oster's corner, Quinn dived backwards to get a touch that would have found the corner of the net but for a low dive by Barthez tohis right. "It was the turning point", Ferguson conceded. "Moments like that winmatches."

United had been confronted by the dangers of their slender lead and made amends with a viciousness that was matched only by the speed. Within a minute Beckham passed to Cole whose cushioned header fell perfectly for Sheringhamto volley with languid selfassurance past Macho.

Sunderland's spirit was broken and the points were confirmed in the 83rd minute. When the "super-sub" Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on the pitch for just three minutes, took a quick throw-in, Ryan Giggs turned and teed up Scholes with a short pass along the area and the England midfielder drilled a shot into the net.

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