AH, FOOTBALL. So much controversy has swirled around Old Trafford in recent days it is easy to forget that points in the Premiership, not pence on the share price, are the priority. Manchester United duly supplied a reminder last night.
With some style, too. Four goals for the first League victory of the season was a welcome and extravagant diversion from the controversy that has surrounded BSkyB's proposed pounds 623m takeover of the club. So welcome in fact it could have come by order of Rupert Murdoch.
The media magnate was not at Old Trafford but if he had been he would have been delighted with the most expensive part of his prospective purchase, Dwight Yorke, who scored his first two goals since his pounds 12.5m transfer from Aston Villa. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also got a couple in what was an emphatic recovery from Mark Kinsella's opener for previously undefeated Charlton after 31 minutes.
To say the least the atmosphere was strange. Posters outside Old Trafford had been defaced with anti-takeover grafitti and members of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association distributed leaflets condemning the alliance that has been painted as unholy and unnecessary.
Inside the ground chants competed with each other to hit new heights of anger. Except, initially, they were not from the United fans. The words "Sack the Board" rang out but they were used with heavy irony by the Charlton supporters.
"I've never been that popular," United's chief executive Martin Edwards had admitted at a press conference in the North Stand earlier, but even he must have been taken aback by the lack of vitriol. "Stand up if you love Man U" is not the sort of thing that sparked the Russian Revolution and it took a full 15 minutes for the first insult to be hurled.
Adter the match Alex Fergsuon, United's manager, was not prepared to comment on the takeover. He said he had expected the players to cope with the pressure of the week's events and was not surprised that the night had passed off with the club's supporters solidly behind their team. "I thought they focused their support on us," he said. As for his players, he said: "They enjoyed their game and that's what I expected. I was very proud of them tonight."
Even so, in the climate of corporate change Yorke's home debut, not to mention Jesper Blomqvist's first appearance, were virtually forgotten statistics, as relevant as Ferguson's programme notes, which waxed about a mid-season break. Nevertheless there were surprises in the United team, not least the omission of Ryan Giggs, who had played for Wales on Saturday against Italy but was not fit last night.
There were definitely worried frowns on the United bench when Kinsella was allowed to tee himself up after 40 seconds and then unleash a fierce drive at Peter Schmeichel that the goalkeeper stopped but dropped as if the ball was red hot.
The crowd had come to watch a red uprising and they were nearly satisfied after two minutes when Solskjaer's shot was blocked and Ronny Johnsen's header from the resultant corner momentarily suggested it would beat Sasa Ilic.
David Beckham, who had a very good night, was thriving on the right and it was from his flank that United created two chances, Solskjaer heading against Ilic after 23 minutes and Yorke flicking over when he dived to meet a cross six minutes later.
A goal seemed certain to come and it duly did - in the United net. Just as in the opening seconds Kinsella was allowed too much licence after 31 minutes and this time his shot beat Schmeichel, a deflection wrong- footing the Dane.
The surprise was profound but it was overcome within seven minutes. Solskjaer played a wall pass with Yorke that was more of a rebound off the club's record signing rather than a measured return ball. No matter, the Norwegian cracked the rebound in.
Once prised apart the Charlton defence, which had an unblemished record before last night, was susceptible and United's second and third goals arrived just before and after the interval.
Beckham, possibly the best crosser in the Premiership, sadly lacks the pace always to reach the places that hurt on the flank, but foul him near the area and you invite problems. So it was that he delivered a delightful chip and Yorke, his pace taking him ahead of his marker, headed into the net.
Beckham also played a prominent part in the next goal, delivering low and hard after Paul Scholes had located him with a glorious pass. Solskjaer got a touch and Yorke was behind him to apply the finish.
After 62 minutes it was threatening to become a rout. Henning Berg, brought on as substitiute for the injured Denis Irwin, crossed from the right and Solskjaer scored with a diving header.
By the finish, United were in a different league to Charlton, but, after the events of the last few days, we knew that anyway. The gap is unlikely to narrow.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; P Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin (Berg, 57); Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Blomqvist; Yorke (Sheringham, 67), Solskjaer (Cole, 67). Substitutes not used: Wilson, Van der Gouw (gk).
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2) Ilic; Mills, Brown, Youds, Powell; Newton (Mortimer, 55), Kinsella (K Jones, 75), Redfearn, Robinson; Mendonca (S Jones, 70), Hunt. Substitutes not used: Balmer, Petterson (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies