Scholes is sharp with scissors

Manchester United 2 Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Football

Paul Scholes has never been comfortable when the spotlight has swung in his direction, and you can imagine him squirming when he was being described as one of the best midfield players in the world last summer. But to be fair to the Manchester United player, he has done a good job of playing the praise down.

Paul Scholes has never been comfortable when the spotlight has swung in his direction, and you can imagine him squirming when he was being described as one of the best midfield players in the world last summer. But to be fair to the Manchester United player, he has done a good job of playing the praise down.

A mixed European Championship was followed by his international retirement, being put in the shade by the brouhaha surrounding Wayne Rooney, and performances so jaded at the start of the season that questions were being asked as to his appetite for football. Well, he looked hungry enough yesterday. A much improved performance against Newcastle United last Sunday was followed by a match-winning one against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford yesterday and Scholes, who was 30 on Tuesday, even rediscovered the habit - in his 300th Premiership game - that has always stood him apart as a midfield player: scoring.

You had to go back to the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal last spring - 20 games ago - for the last time he had scored in a United shirt, but yesterday he popped up to grab a beauty. Darren Fletcher's cross was less than perfect for his run but he turned that into a virtue, hooking the ball from behind him with a flying scissors-kick. "It's been a long time coming," Scholes said. "And it's a relief. In the last couple of weeks I've had chances here and there so I felt I was getting closer, and thankfully it's come."

His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, added: "We made a lot of chances and we could have got a lot of goals today, but you have to keep at it with Charlton because they're a determined side who just keep going. They persevere and persevere."

Ferguson had plenty of reason to be satisfied in what was his 999th game as manager of United, because if he could have ordered a warm-up for Tuesday's Champions' League match against Olympique Lyonnais, this would have done nicely. Charlton have never won a Premiership game against United, and yesterday they never looked likely to halt that miserable run. They packed midfield in the hope of a hit-and-run raid, and once that had failed when Ryan Giggs put United ahead after 41 minutes there was no Plan B. With five minutes to go they had managed only one off-target shot, and even though they increased that to three as United took the foot off the accelerator completely, they did not force Roy Carroll to make a single save.

"When you come to the top three or four," Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley, said, "you have to work so hard to contain them, and the trick is that you have to flick that around and create chances of your own. We couldn't, and that was our problem."

It was a problem for the audience, too, because the first half could have been used as a motivational tool for Christmas shopping, such was the paucity of incident and atmosphere. Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a ripe chance from Wes Brown's cross in the second minute and, a couple of shots from Scholes apart, only the cold kept Old Trafford awake.

Then, with the spectators drifting towards their half-time refreshments, United suddenly took the lead. Rooney's trickery had flattered to deceive hitherto, so it was ironic that he achieved more with the more prosaic: jumping merely to make it more difficult for Talal El Karkouri to head clear. The Charlton centre-back was suitably distracted and Giggs had the space to run, cutting inside Chris Perry before beating Dean Kiely with a shot that went in off Luke Young's heel.

Thrilling though Giggs's run had been, it had been a goal that owed a debt to fortune, but even the biggest curmudgeon would have found it difficult to criticise United's second. Scholes's power and agility were worth the price of admission.

After this, Scholes donned his imp's clothing and toyed with the Charlton defenders, setting up Rooney with a series of flicks and passes for chances that the prodigy could not quite convert.

The unbelievable reign of 'game's greatest manager'

When people talk about modern-day managers it is my own belief that he is the greatest in the game. His record at Aberdeen for a provincial club, beating the Old Firm and taking the championship, was fantastic, and he has gone on to prove himself at United. I know people think that he was a game away from getting the sack, but he turned that around with an unbelievable reign. It is an absolutely fantastic achievement to win the championship with any players, but he has done it again and again despite having to change his side around with evolution. Then you throw the Champions' League and other successes in for good measure. I have the utmost admiration for him, and more than that, and I speak for every manager in European football.

Martin O'Neill, Celtic manager

I'll be celebrating all week! Seriously, no matter what kind of differences we have, this is a fantastic achievement. I don't know all the history, but he's certainly one of the greatest British managers, with what he's done. Of course I respect him for that.

Arsène Wenger, Arsenal manager

The gaffer's always felt that I'm the type that needs a bollocking. Even when I was young he used to get stuck in. I think he's always felt that it's the best way to handle me. But he has changed a lot. His approach to players now is different. The whole culture is different, and the manager has had to change with the times. The gaffer has mellowed, there's no two ways about it. But his desire to win and succeed is definitely still there.

Ryan Giggs

What we will never know is what type of man he really is when his front door closes. In my heyday at Watford I well remember my wife Rita telling me that when I left for work she did not see me departing as the Watford manager but as her husband, and wanted me to return as the same. I have lost count of the number of occasions I must have let her down because, mentally, the job never leaves you. What it has been like for Alex and his wife Cathy over the last 18 years, only they know.

Graham Taylor

If you ring Alex, and it could be anyone - a lower-league manager to one of his contemporaries - he will return the call. He has always got time and he will offer something.

Alan Curbishley, Charlton manager

At United there was always a lot of hype before every game. I didn't think the Forest game was any different. He has nothing to thank me for. I was just doing a job of scoring goals. I will always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity. If it was pivotal in any way, then I am proud to have played some part.

Mark Robins, whose FA Cup winner against Nottingham Forest may have saved Ferguson's job in January 1990

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