Date:Monday March 13 2006
MAN UTD: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Brown,Silvestre (Evra 45), Ronaldo (van Nistelrooy 75), O'Shea,Giggs, Park, Rooney, Saha.
Subs Not Used: Howard, Vidic, Rossi.
NEWCASTLE UTD: Given, Ramage, Boumsong, Elliott, Babayaro,Solano (Dyer 65), Parker, Emre, N'Zogbia (Luque 81),Ameobi (Bowyer 45), Shearer.
Subs Not Used: Harper, Clark.
Newcastle's mini-revival came to an abrupt halt, and how! It was only due to a manager who seems to have his head up his arse these days - Sir Alex Ferguson (of all people) - that this match wasn't an even bigger hiding than that League Cup 7-2 disaster back in 1976.
Fergie is going through a battle of wills with Ruud van Nistelrooy, and if he'd cut his losses and played the Dutchman rather than Luis Saha, this would have been the day that would have been etched in history because the scoreline bore no reflection to the game.
Wayne Rooney was sat on a hat-trick for 80 minutes, but somehow unbelievably he couldn't get that third, despite some incredible build-up play and some amazing chances missed. If Rooney missed four or five guilt-edged chances, Saha must have squandered three or four more. The ex-Newcastle striker was on the end of so much, but his finishing was like that of five-year old with size 15 boots. Marks out of ten? I'd give him 2 ... for turning up. And there was van Nistelrooy in the dug out knowing full well he is ten times the player that Saha is!
Alan Shearer said this weekend he had no regrets at turning down the call from Old Trafford. But he was little more than a bystander as the new England number nine - Rooney - showed him a reflection of what the Goalden Boy was ten years ago when he was the most expensive player in the world when Newcastle payed £15m for him.
Rooney's performance was top drawer. No-one, not even the Toon Army (who were too busy chanting 'Souness for Sunderland') could argue that the ex-Evertonian is as much a world class player as the load of miss-fits who paraded under the Real Madrid banner at Highbury in midweek. Beckham? Zidane? Forget it, this is the new kid on the block.
Within 12 minutes, the 20-year-old had scored twice. He might have had a hat-trick inside quarter of an hour and with his final kick of the half, he poleaxed his captain Gary Neville with a ferocious volley which sent the the Red Devils man to the floor in theatrical fashion and left him ruefully clutching his jaw as he made his way to the dressing rooms.
Had Rooney's team-mates showed the same clinical instincts, Glenn Roeder could have had no complaints if Newcastle had been five hammered out of sight.
Under pressure from Mikael Silvestre by the touchline, Ramage opted to play a blind pass to Shay Given instead of taking the obvious option of booting the ball out of play. Unfortunately for the full-back, Rooney had read his intentions, skipped onto the loose ball, then beat Given with the most delightful of chips.
O'Shea fed Rooney for number two, a brutal strike after Ramage had been held off with some considerable ease. From that moment on, it became an almost personal crusade for Rooney to complete his hat-trick. Something that didn't happen, but not for the want of trying.
The gulf in class was frightening. We learnt so much about the ability of the Mancs, but just as much about the lack of bottle from some wearing black and white. Celestine Babayaro picks his games to go hiding, and this was one of them. He stands-off far too often for the good of the team, and constantly gives the winger/striker the chance to cross when a 'good' defender would be in there like a pit-bull. He takes the easy option, invites the cross or the pass, and you inevitably suffer because of it.
Jean-Alain Boumsong is just simply too slow to spot the danger, and I'm not going to go into detail because you've heard it a million times before. While Ramage was simply out of his depth. No disrespect to the kid, but this was not the place for him.
But the most worrying player to me is Emre. This was a game made in heaven for the Turkish international and Scott Parker ... up against light-weights in O'Shea and Giggs in the middle of the park ... but neither had a sniff. Parker tried, but was simply out-thought. Emre wasn't in the hunt, and when the second goal went in he was the one who lost heart and his mind went elsewhere. That was shown in the second half when he was pushed up front and went to close down Van der Sar. He took the long route home, via Sunderland I think, and approached from an angle giving the goalkeeper a clear area to boot the ball clear. Shearer would have charged in and lead with his face. Emre tip-toed around the side, as if to say 'after you sir, and give it a good boot for me'.
Van Nistelrooy eventually made his entrance 15 minutes from time, yet even his predatory instincts let him down as he failed to convert from 10 yards as, not for the first time, Boumsong had found himself outmanoeuvred.
We have to pick out the bones and learn from it.
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