Solskjaer singes the Blues

United's eternal substitute starts a match and finishes off Everton
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The Independent Football

Let's put it down to feng shui; the fact that Manchester United could spend 28 midweek hours above the clouds, secure their fourth cup of the year in Tokyo, and still retain a familiar harmony and symmetry.

Let's put it down to feng shui; the fact that Manchester United could spend 28 midweek hours above the clouds, secure their fourth cup of the year in Tokyo, and still retain a familiar harmony and symmetry.

Sir Alex Ferguson might have changed the furniture around here yesterday, but there was still the same design and direction to his team, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as imposing a gift from Norway as the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, proving that he is rather more than an honest super-sub. Like buses, his goals tend to come along in clusters. Another four yesterday, just as he managed against Nottingham Forest earlier this year, took his tally to six this season. But this was only his eighth start. Typically, the impish striker greeted all of them with a modesty that others might emulate.

Solskjaer was one of the tourists to Japan, too. But jet-lag? Not a bit of it.

Three-one to the good at half-time, Ferguson's side put Everton to the sword immediately afterwards and indulged themselves only in the final quarter hour by playing out time with exhibition football.

Sir Alex, whose team were given a guard of honour by the visitors as Roy Keane led United out clutching the Toyota Cup, had described the win in Tokyo as his team's curtain call to last season. The stage lights have flickered a little this season on occasion, but here they played to the gallery, treating Ferguson's good friend Walter Smith with disdain once the trivial issue of an early goal from the visitors had been overcome.

Arsenal's surprisingly facile morning defeat of Leicester made them Premiership leaders, albeit temporarily, and applied extra pressure on United to perform. They responded in style, with Paul Scholes fashioning two of Solskjaer's goals and proving himself a powerhouse on the right of midfield.

It was all a welcome culmination to a trying week for Ferguson, in which the future of Keane continues to be a trial - negotiations start again on Tuesday - while the reported nocturnal excesses of David Beckham and the suggested influence of the winger's wife, Victoria, in trying to persuade him to move south have dominated the tabloid pages. Yesterday, the manager, perhaps wisely, placed the England man on the substitutes' bench, where he remained.

Everton, without a victory for seven games, lacked the midfield menace of the suspended Don Hutchison, whose position was filled by the Portuguese international Abel Xavier. With 10 of his squad members missing Smith would have welcomed any of the four outfield United substitutes: Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Beckham and Phil Neville. The absence of the first two gave the Nou Camp heroes, goalscorers Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham, a rare opportunity to cement a partnership from the first minute, rather than the latter stages.

For the first five minutes they did just that, aided by Ryan Giggs who was causing havoc on the left. From one of the Welshman's crosses Nicky Butt's goal-bound attempt rebounded off the relieved Richard Dunne.

Yet, with virtually the first cessation of pressure, Everton scored. The left-back, David Unsworth, dispatched one of those low, tantalising crosses into the goalmouth that defenders detest, and although Campbell missed the ball, Jeffers swept it home delightedly in front of a silenced Stretford End. In the process, Mark Bosnich was seriously enough injured to be replaced by Raimond van der Gouw. There is, seemingly, no end to Ferguson's goalkeeping problems.

United retaliated with a smart header from Solskjaer - after Giggs's centre had picked him out - which required a miracle save from the goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard.

But Everton remained a potent threat on the break. If the United spectators were concerned about the condition of their favourites it appeared justified at that stage. Young Jeffers' movement off the ball always looked likely to cause breaches in the home rearguard and Everton's defence, commanded by Richard Gough, looked relatively secure against United's forward line.

But within three minutes, Ferguson's men turned the game their way. The catalyst was a handball by Dunne which yielded a penalty award from Graham Poll. Denis Irwin converted the spot-kick with his customary coolness.

While Smith's men were still cursing their fortune, Solskjaer inflicted even greater misery when a magnificent ball from Scholes sent him scampering clear of the Everton defence. Although Gerrard did well to advance and get his hand to the shot, the ball had enough legs to bounce into an empty net.

Ferguson's team were still not exactly convincing at that stage, and there was always the feeling that the impressive Jeffers could trouble them further. But they left the field at the interval in good heart after Solskjaer increased their lead with a goal which had a touch of déjà vu about it.

Again, Scholes spoon fed him with a delicious pass, and again, despite the best endeavours of Gerrard, the Norwegian forced the ball home.

Solskjaer completed his hat-trick when he headed home Irwin's sublime cross, and then added to it when Dunne unwittingly set him up after winning the ball from Giggs. Match over. United back on top of the Premiership and, in a sense, on top of the world.