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Manchester United young guns serve up treat for Fergie

The ticket prices -- £45 for the away fans: £20 more than any other club have charged this week -- demonstrated that Manchester United always believe they can put on some theatre, even when it's the League Cup third round and the team is experimental.

By the end, the drama proved to be rather more enervating than Alex Ferguson had hoped. Cruising to a win at 2-0 up before the hour, a United defence which he hopes is the face of his club's future was subjected to an exacting test, from which they just about emerged intact.

Wayne Rooney, back with his left leg strapped up, didn't look like a man who had been missing for a month and a day when he dropped deep as United's creative nexus -- his face as red as his shirt with the intensity of effort.

There were two gorgeous first-half passes from him -- one clipped 20 yards, one thumped fully 50 yards, from either of which Javier Hernandez and then Danny Welbeck might have scored -- but from his unusual vantage point in the stands Ferguson was looking for something he didn't already know.


Anderson's performance may have been a frustration and an encouragement in equal measure for the manager. The Portuguese already had a few chances too many to prove himself and here -- in the powerful, driving runs, brushing off first Fabricio Coloccini, then Dan Gosling -- we saw why Ferguson has persisted with a player in whom he invested £27m.

It was the second of those runs that concluded with Anderson's powerful 20-yard shot which sent United ahead.

And yet, if evidence were really needed of the 24-year-old's painful inconsistency, then it came when Anderson ballooned over a pass Welbeck laid into his path in the early minutes of the first half.

Tom Cleverley, whose last goal came in Wigan Athletic colours in March last year, couldn't immediately replicate that type of finishing -- inconceivably firing into the side netting after another neat build-up -- with Welbeck precise and tricky once again.

For Newcastle, Cheick Tiote stood tall above the experimental members of a side in which Alan Pardew made nine changes -- to Ferguson's entire 11.

Gosling volleyed high over from Shola Ameobi on 13 minutes but there were otherwise no first-half difficulties for a young United back four which had only one previous senior start and one substitute's appearance between them.

It was an important night for Michael Keane, 19 years old and at centre-back. He looked calm and poised, though the way that Haris Vuckic's neat, quick footwork deceived him in the box on 53 minutes demonstrated the standards he must reach for.

Cleverley finally found the target just before the hour, set up by Welbeck to curl his first United goal low into the corner of the net -- and it was only then that Pardew was driven to act. Papiss Cisse and Shane Ferguson arrived from the bench and within a minute had combined to pull a goal back. Ferguson provided the deep, accurate cross that the 21-year-old centre-half Scott Wootton was unable to deal with. Cisse rose behind him to power home a header.

It altered the complexion of the game and Cisse put Wootton to an unsparing test. The game had 10 minutes to run when, with his back to goal, the Senegalese took a ball which was lofted back when United failed to clear convincingly and executed a bicycle kick which struck the bar.

Ryan Tunnicliffe's father wore the biggest smile in Old Trafford when his son arrived from the bench, delivering him £10,000 on the bet he once placed that the then nine-year-old would go on to play for United. But Ferguson grinned too when the night's work of a pitch invader came to a spectacular end. The signs of a very relieved manager. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent