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United go under due to over-confidence

SUCCESS breeds confidence, confidence can breed complacency, complacency can breed contempt.At Hillsborough on Saturday, Manchester Utd stood accused of not taking Sheffield Wednesday seriously, of treating the English Premiership fixture with scant regard and of allowing their minds to focus on more meaningful matters ahead.

The prosecutor was United boss Alex Ferguson. He was calm and collected and spoke but briefly on the subject.


The shame-inducing blast was reserved for the privacy of the dressing-room and for morning training today.

Yet when Ferguson washes his dirty linen in public the world takes notice. ``I wonder if we're now becoming a big-game team,'' he said. ``It was a poor performance, we were unrecognisable and we were well beaten. After all my years at the club, I don't expect too many surprises, but we'll probably excel on Wednesday. You see.''

Wednesday brings the Champions' League, a trip to the Nou Camp in Barcelona. More worthy opponents than Sheffield Wednesday, a more illustrious prize than the Premiership.

When you have been there, seen it and done it four times in the past six seasons the novelty as well as the T-shirt wears a bit thin.

Up until the weekend, United appeared to have struck the right balance. Two defeats in 21 league and cup matches this season both against Arsenal, in the league and FA Charity Shield, and both 3-0 were no more than gnat bites.

Wednesday had not won in six attempts and, even allowing for their Hillsborough hold over United, who had won only once on their previous eight league visits, they should have provided fodder for the Mancunian cannon.

From early on, though, Manchester Utd were a pale version of their usually authoritative selves.

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Peter Schmeichel recently announced his decision to retire at the end of the season but, after his 14th minute howler, it might be wise that he bring forward the deadline.

Catching Niclas Alexandersson's shot was easy, hanging on to it was not and he comically juggled the ball over the goal-line.

Andy Cole equalised with a delightful finish after exchanging passes with Yorke, but United's resurgence was short-lived.

After Denis Irwin should have been awarded a penalty, when he was brought down by Alexandersson, they even resorted to foul means. Jaap Stam nodded on David Beckham's corner and Paul Scholes palmed it into the net. Diego Maradona might have got away with it, but Scholes did not and was rightly cautioned.


Whereas Wednesday snapped at heels and grew in stature, United ambled around in the belief that it would all come good.

Only after Wim Jonk had crashed in an effort from close range, after Schmeichel had saved from Booth, and Alexandersson applied the coup de grace, after neatly evading Schmeichel, did United's players realise that action might be called for.

It was too late, with Roy Keane's discarding of his captain's armband on to the ground, after he was replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, providing a fitting epitaph.

The Times, London.

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