Smith sparks United talents into creative demolition of Crewe

Crewe Alexandra 0 - Manchester United 3
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The Independent Football

After the flying food, the ugliness and the accusations that scarred Old Trafford on Sunday, this at least was a match that would be remembered for its football.

After the flying food, the ugliness and the accusations that scarred Old Trafford on Sunday, this at least was a match that would be remembered for its football.

The League Cup may be a diversion for Sir Alex Ferguson, but with Manchester United and Arsenal both still wading through the fall-out, last night was a palette-cleanser. Crewe proved as everyone knew they would be, a side that could both play and lose with some degree of style.

Tim Howard, whose immediate future in the United goal appears to swing between League Cup encounters and reserve fixtures at Altrincham was arguably Ferguson's most active player. Even when they were three down and obviously beaten Dean Ashton and Steve Jones continued to push and probe. Indeed, had Crewe been slightly less aggressive they might have restricted Manchester United to a far narrower victory.

It would be a pity if the only value of this match to United was to use up one match of Ruud van Nistelrooy's three-match ban. In the muscular, uncompromising form of Alan Smith, who looked strangely comfortable wearing all-white, they possess a striker who deserves to be more than a mere stand-in.

Ferguson is a manager who appreciates unstinting effort, all the more so in games that do not really matter to the fabric of his club's season. The sight of Smith muscling past defenders in the closing minutes would have earned considerable respect.

As is his custom in the League Cup, Ferguson played the kids, although his spending in the past few years ensured these were a very expensive bunch of youngsters - nine full internationals and £35m worth of talent.

Smith has never lacked motivation for playing on small grounds in minor competitions and his seventh goal of what threatens to be a marvellous first season in Manchester arrived with a beautifully struck shot from the edge of the area. The game was then barely 10 minutes old and already Darren Fletcher had seen a wildly deflected shot tipped on to the crossbar by Ben Williams, like the Scot a product of United's youth team.

It was that kind of match between those kind of teams. Crewe's five previous games had seen 21 goals; this night was to continue the same pattern.

It was their own attacking free-flowing football that gave Manchester United the space to make the match safe before an hour was up. Howard, certainly, had saved more shots than Roy Carroll ever did at Old Trafford on Sunday, maybe because his manager chose to field only two specialist defenders.

However, in going forward, Crewe were left horribly exposed and Liam Miller was given the simplest of chances to score his first goal for his club. This was nothing like the opportunity that David Bellion was presented with minutes later; a low cross that found him perhaps two yards out. Nevertheless, the Frenchman managed to fluff his shot only to see Steve Foster knock the ball into his own net.

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Williams; Otsemobor, Foster, B Jones (Walker, 85), Tomkin; Lunt, Cochrane, Sorvel (Rivers, 67), Vaughan; S Jones (White, 69), Ashton. Substitutes not used: Ince (gk), Roberts.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard; Djemba-Djemba, Brown, O'Shea (Pique, 67), Richardson; Bellion (Blake, 85), Fletcher (Eagles, 78), Kleberson, Miller; Saha, Smith. Substitutes not used: Ricardo (gk), Spector.

Referee: M Messias (Yorkshire).