Saturday 24 February 2018

Owen displays old class with double in United exhibition

Scunthorpe 2
Manchester Utd 5

Mark Ogden

It is perhaps typical of Michael Owen's luck that, on the night he once again displayed his predatory instinct in front of goal, the man he is desperately trying to impress was not there to see it.

Just a week after expressing his frustrations with his role as a fringe player at Manchester United, Owen marked his first start since last season's Carling Cup final by scoring twice in the holders' emphatic victory against Scunthorpe.

But while Owen was delivering a reminder of his prowess in front of goal at Glanford Park, United manager Alex Ferguson was 1,000 miles away in Spain, opting to scout next week's Champions League opponents Valencia instead of overseeing his team's third-round tie against Championship opposition.

Ferguson will doubtless receive a full debrief of Owen's goals, the eye-catching performance of Chris Smalling and the substitute debut of Bébé, the £7.4m summer signing. But there is nothing quite like being there.

Ferguson has used the League Cup, in its varying guises, to blood Old Trafford's rising stars for almost two decades, but assistant manager Mike Phelan probably never expected to be handed his first taste of senior management in place of Ferguson in the United dugout.

With Scunthorpe producing a special souvenir programme and even commemorative mugs to mark their first competitive meeting with United, the absence of Ferguson in the visitors' dugout would have been felt as keenly as the non-appearance of stellar names such as Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney.

Those luminaries were never likely to make the two-hour trip east, but the locals were afforded the opportunity to witness the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Owen attempting to prove their readiness for more testing challenges.

Prior to this game, England captain Ferdinand had managed just one and a half games of football since suffering knee ligament damage prior to the World Cup.

Ninety minutes against Rangers and a 45-minute run-out for the reserves against Oldham are the sum total of Ferdinand's contribution this season, yet having been an automatic choice to return at the first opportunity in the past, the 31-year-old is now having to prove his credentials ahead of Jonny Evans and Smalling.

Injuries and ageing limbs suggest that he will have to work harder then ever before to return to his previous untouchable status and he endured a worrying moment on 13 minutes when landing heavily on his back following an aerial challenge with Chris Dagnall.

Ferdinand was certainly made to justify his presence in the early stages, however, as Scunthorpe bombarded the United goal.

Josh Wright shot wide from 18 yards before Eddie Nolan and Martyn Woolford brought fine saves from Tomasz Kuszczak.

And the impressive Wright, on loan from Charlton, gave the home side a deserved lead when he scored with a crisp left-foot shot from Woolford's lay-off on 19 minutes.

Ian Baraclough, still waiting to discover whether he will be offered the Scunthorpe manager's job on a permanent basis following Nigel Adkins's departure to Southampton, could not have wished for a better start.

But the goal stung United into life and they were level within four minutes when Darron Gibson lobbed Ireland colleague Joe Murphy after racing onto Smalling's 70-yard pass. Smalling's distribution and confidence on the ball have prompted comparisons to Ferdinand and they appear valid.

The defender also displayed an adventurous side and it was rewarded when he put United ahead on 36 minutes.

Wes Brown's pass into the penalty area sparked the move and Smalling scored his first competitive goal for United when he volleyed Ji-sung Park's cross past Murphy from three yards.

Trailing 2-1 at half-time, Scunthorpe quickly ran out of steam after the break and Owen put the game beyond them when he raced away from David Mirfin before calmly scoring from 12 yards on 49 minutes.

When Park extended United's lead with a close-range strike five minutes later, the only remaining question was when Bébé would be introduced from the bench.

United would extend their lead further before Bébé's arrival, though, and it was Owen again who found the back of the net. Scunthorpe scored again in injury-time through Woolford, but it was nothing more than a consolation.

By then, Bébé had been unleashed. The Portuguese showed pace and trickery and an eye for a shot. Maybe he isn't so bad after all. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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