Irresistible Cole delivers the perfect riposte

Guy Hodgson on the record-breaking performance from the champions that had Old Trafford drooling
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In retrospect the Ipswich Town supporters probably regret their early attempt at ridicule. "What a waste of money" aimed at Andy Cole seemed quite funny at the time; now it will go down in Suffolk as one of all-time great "things we wish we hadn't said".

To be fair to the visiting 1,800, the comment appeared apposite. The £7m man had suffered the striker's embarrassment of tripping over the ball after being put clear of the defence and coming after his misses against Everton he did not exactly look the sharp-shooting footballing of Wyatt Earp. Then the image altered in one glorious, decisive moment.

Ryan Giggs, who also knows a thing or two about self-doubt curbing ability, rocketed down the left wing and then delivered a low cross that allowed Cole no time to ponder his over-anxiety to please. Left to his instincts he did what he does best, sliding in at full pelt to push the ball beyond Craig Forrest.

The effect was instant. At Goodison, Cole had a hunted look but here was the cocky predator, an irresistible force. He made one mistake, hitting a shot against Forrest after Andrei Kanchelskis had pulled the ball back, but that apart he was devastating, scoring from every opportunity he was given. His value was called into question from the stands again, but this time it was the United supporters mocking their Ipswich counterparts' initial derision.

Alex Ferguson, the United manager, saw a glimpse of perfection that extended beyond Cole to his colleagues. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance," he said. "We like to think we set high standards and we aim to be perfect, but you don't expect to get it. Today was a near as you could get. Every one was absolutely brilliant. Even in good performances you can usually look at a few players and give them seven out of 10 but on this occasion everyone was on top of their game.''

The milestones pointed in that direction. This was a record victory for the Premiership and the best performance ever by United at Old Trafford. Indeed, you have to go back to 1892 for a better performance, the 10-1 rout of Wolverhampton Wanderers accomplished when they were still called Newton Heath on their then home ground of Monsall Road.

The only question was how many goals Cole had scored. Initially United's fourth was attributed to Frank Yallop, who arrived at Denis Irwin's cross at the same time as the United striker and appeared to have the decisive touch. Cole later said the ball had ricocheted off the Ipswich defender and hit his cheek on the way to the net. Five goals then, in his seventh match for his new club, and he now has 104 in 151 starts in his career. Even Denis Law could not match that.

You suspect, too, that Law was purring at Cole's last which gave United an advantage of two in comparison with Blackburn's goal difference. Paul Ince headed the ball down from Giggs' corner and Cole, with an opponent at his back, used his body strength to whirl round and thrash the ball into the net with the velocity of a catapult.

On this occasion it was the hapless Davids who were at the receiving end of the sling-shot and while United can contemplate chasing Blackburn at the top of the Premiership, Ipswich have a forlorn future with relegation a near certainty. "The result may turn out to be a good one for George Burley," Ferguson said, throwing a crumb of comfort to the visiting manager. "His players will not want to be reminded about it and maybe they'll do something about it.''

Watching the bedraggled figures in blue leave Old Trafford, it was hard to believe.

Goals: Keane (15) 1-0; Cole (19) 2-0; Cole (37) 3-0; Cole (53) 4-0; Hughes (55) 5-0; Hughes (59) 6-0; Cole (65) 7-0; Ince (72) 8-0; Cole (88) 9-0.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Keane (Sharpe, 45), Bruce (Butt, 79), Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, McClair, Ince, Giggs; Hughes, Cole. Substitute not used: Walsh.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Forrest; Yallop, Wark, Linighan, Thompson; Palmer, Williams, Sedgley, Slater; Mathie, Chapman (Marshall, 63). Substitutes not used: Mason, Morgan (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tilehurst).