Scholes starts United's rout

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MANCHESTER UNITED sent an ominous warning to their title rivals last night by demolishing Sheffield Wednesday, but the victory was overshadowed by the prospect of losing their captain, Roy Keane.

MANCHESTER UNITED sent an ominous warning to their title rivals last night by demolishing Sheffield Wednesday, but the victory was overshadowed by the prospect of losing their captain, Roy Keane.

"I've had some chats with Roy and he's certainly undecided about the future," Sir Alex Ferguson, United's manager, said in a solemn post-match press conference. "He'll probably tell us [his decision] on Thursday or Friday." Asked what he thought of the fans' chants in praise of the Irish international, which resounded around Old Trafford last night, Sir Alex added: "The fans are just saying what we all want to say. We hope he stays."

It is thought that Keane is asking for somewhere approaching £40,000 per week for his services, a figure the plc board seem unwilling to pay. Either he will have to accept less to stay or he might end up being told that the plc board want him sold before the European competitions' deadline on 31 August. If he goes before then, he could fetch about £10m.

The fans gave a clear message last night by chanting "Give him the money". Sir Alex was clearly depressed at the mere thought of losing Keane. "For me, as a captain Roy is a real Manchester United player," Sir Alex said."He embodies the club perfectly." Pushed on the precise nature of the contract problem, Sir Alex said only: "Maybe he wants a change.Who knows?"

One thing that everyone will know this morning is how hard United are going to be to beat this season. Sir Alex made one change to the side that drew 1-1 with Everton on Sunday, bringing Ryan Giggs back in to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Giggs was supposedly still 10 days from fitness after a thigh strain, but that was either misinformation or the Welshman made a remarkable recovery. His contribution was sparkling and his impact was immediate. After eight minutes he made a jigging run down the left before crossing a perfectly weighted ball into the box. Paul Scholes was on hand to connect with a left-footed volley to put the Treble winners ahead.

Before half an hour had gone, United could have scored another three. A David Beckham cross was headed powerfully towards goal by Henning Berg but was well held by Pavel Srnicek. Beckham then combined with Scholes to feed Dwight Yorke, who somehow failed to score as he and the goalkeeper scrambled for the ball. Yorke then hit the woodwork and the ball rebounded to Berg, who shot over.

The visitors had only two chances in the opening 45 minutes but failed to capitalise on them.Niclas Alexandersson was given the ball in the box after a misunderstanding in the home defence, but lofted it over the bar.Then the Dutchman Gerald Sebon had a chance to place a shot but drove his 20-yard effort straight into Mark Bosnich's arms.

United's second goal came 10 minutes before the break after Giggs had made another foray down the left. Looking up briefly before sending the ball in, he picked out Yorke, who rose to head in from the edge of the six-yard box. Yorke was replaced at half-time by Teddy Sheringham who, after nine minutes on the pitch, latched on to a corner and drove towards goal with a low shot from the edge of the box. Andy Cole got a final touch to put it in the net.

With the game all but wrapped up, United made a double substitution, replacing Giggs with Solskjaer and Beckham with Nicky Butt. It might have caused the tempo to drop but instead it only seemed to rally the home side. At one point even Jaap Stam launched himself on a run down the left wing, passing three players. As he feigned each one, the crowd shouted "Ole" and the whole proceedings took on a processional air. Stam's cross, when it came, was met by Cole, but the United striker could only head it wide. The fourth goal was scored by Solskjaer, six minutes from time, after a Sheringham shot rebounded off the woodwork.

"It was a pleasing result," Sir Alex said. "In the second half our balance perhaps went when we withdrew Beckham and Giggs, but they both took little knocks.There's nothing to worry about but it wasn't worth taking any risks.Yorke also took a knock but he should be okay by Saturday."

By Saturday, United might have lost another long-standing player, but Sir Alex will not want to dwell on that.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Bosnich; P Neville, Berg, Stam, Irwin; Beckham (Butt, 56), Scholes, Keane, Giggs (Solskjaer, 56); Yorke (Sheringham, h-t), Cole. Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Curtis.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Newsome, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Atherton, Alexandersson, Sonner (Briscoe, 63), Rudi; Sibon (Carbone, 59), De Bilde (Cresswell, 76). Substitutes not used: Pressman (gk), Haslam.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).