Ageless Giggs the man for all seasons
Manchester Utd 3
Newcastle Utd 0
RYAN GIGGS remains the man for all Premier League seasons.
Last night, shortly after coming on, the 36-year-old maintained his remarkable record of scoring in every one of the 19 years of the Premier League. Earlier, he had been applauded warming up by the United fans -- the Newcastle United fans.
Giggs' goal capped a routine victory over Newcastle, extending the visitors' failure to win here in the league since 1972. The real damage had been done in the first half when Dimitar Berbatov, looking far livelier than usual, and Darren Fletcher, put the visitors to the sword.
On an encouraging night for Alex Ferguson's side, there were also good performances from Paul Scholes, inevitably, and Nani, amongst others.
Newcastle, by contrast, look in for a long hard season unless they tighten their defence. The Magpies' mistakes had cost them dear in the first half, allowing Berbatov and Fletcher to put Ferguson's men in comfortable control. The hosts' movement constantly caught Newcastle out, whether out wide or through the middle where Scholes (35) again dictated the tempo.
Berbatov, who talked of his love of drawing in the programme, has too often resembled still life for Old Trafford tastes, but his talent was far more on show last night.
His partnership with Wayne Rooney hardly clicked -- the England forward was replaced by Javier Hernandez midway through the second half -- and it was Scholes who brought the best out of the Bulgarian. Scholes ran midfield, making light of the black-and-white-shirted attentions of the combative likes of Joey Barton.
Before their defence folded, Newcastle's players caught the mood of defiance. When the hard-working front-runner Andy Carroll neatly won a corner off Nemanja Vidic, Newcastle almost scored. As he walked to the flag, Barton was booed by the Stretford End for being Barton, for being a former Manchester City player, for being from Merseyside, although it could have been for the surreal moustache.
Barton swept in a good corner, picking out Carroll's clever run. The striker had eluded Vidic but wasted the free header, powering the ball wide.
Carroll then demonstrated his importance at defending set-pieces, leaping up to head clear a Nani corner. Newcastle's work ethic was excellent, Alan Smith throwing himself in the way of a John O'Shea drive. Kevin Nolan then blocked a Nani free-kick.
Yet the hosts' speed of thought and movement caught Newcastle out. Barton, whose moustache indicated he had mistaken the occasion for a Terry Thomas tribute night, fouled Nani, who was then dragged back by James Perch. Fabricio Coloccini, who looked like he was heading to a Brian May tribute night, swept a pass blind across his own 18-yard line, almost gifting possession to Rooney.
Newcastle soon learned the hard way that concentration needs to be so much sharper in the Premier League. Jonas Gutierrez sought to dribble the ball out of defence but failed to detect a pacy pickpocket called Antonio Valencia ghosting up to nick the ball.
Scholes took over, immediately sliding the ball back through the ragged ranks of Newcastle's defence. Berbatov, timing his run well down the inside-right channel, beat the offside trap. Jose Enrique accidentally helped the ball on to the Bulgarian, who arrogantly drilled it past Steve Harper. Newcastle didn't learn. Again their concentration and poor positioning were exposed.
Fletcher and Scholes worked possession right to Nani, who placed the ball between Wayne Routledge and Perch to Patrice Evra. The French full-back flew into the box with typical purpose and slipped the ball on to Rooney.
His control was less than perfect but the ball fell kindly to Fletcher, who had continued his run. The Scot easily held off Coloccini and placed the ball past poor Harper.
Leading by two goals, Manchester United's hunger remained immense. When Gutierrez thought he could dwell on the ball, O'Shea and Valencia hounded him into surrendering it. If there was one concern for Ferguson it was the fact that Rooney was not at the races; decent in the Community Shield, he was disappointing here in front of the watching Franco Baldini, England's general manager.
Rooney did combine brilliantly with Berbatov at one point early in the second half, flicking Scholes' pass elegantly to the Bulgarian. With only Harper to beat, Berbatov placed his shot wide. Rooney soon departed, replaced by the new idol Hernandez, the Mexican whose busy, threatening movement immediately delighted the Stretford End.
Berbatov and Hernandez had struck up an instant understanding in the Community Shield and Ferguson clearly wanted to see them in tandem again.
Where this leaves Michael Owen, who was not even on the bench, is difficult to assess. Ferguson explained that Owen had not had "enough minutes". He won't get them in the stands.
Newcastle never gave up and Barton led an attempted salvage mission, delivering some good corners and crosses, one of which Shola Ameobi headed wide.
Ameobi had joined Carroll in attack, with Xisco coming on in left midfield as Chris Hughton vainfully attempted to give Newcastle a sharper attacking edge.
But there was more. Scholes clipped the ball to the far post and Giggs, ageless and graceful, put Newcastle out of their misery. (© Daily Telegraph, London)