By Joe Behan
Man. Utd. 4, Sunderland 0
Manchester United started without David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Denis Irwin. Super sub Ole Gunnar Solskj’r is not renown for running like a train after defenders and loose balls. If Roy Keane is your captain, it may be a different story.
Within three minutes of the starting whistle, Gunnar intimidated the Sunderland defense as he forced a bad back pass, which he intercepted and put away so easily. Keane’s influence doesn’t stop at intimidation. Six minutes into the second half, the Norwegian lobbed Sunderland’s Williams then half-volleyed home. Butt (66) and Berg (70) joined the Utd. highest scoring machine as the Red Devils need four points to win the league.
Sunderland, in seventh place, were unable to stop Manchester United running alone into the final stretch of the premiership. Peter Reid will be happy to get that one out of the way and his fighting spirit, spearheaded by Niall Quinn, will be tested for a UEFA spot.
Keane continued his midweek aggressive standards against Sunderland as he was booked again; tackling goalkeepers, balling out teammates and winning at all costs. Ferguson removed the yellow-carded Keane, who was having a blinder, from the midweek game against Middlesbrough and instantly Utd. lost their shape. The game turned into an end-to-end battle.
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Keane was like a man possessed in Utd.’s 4-3 victory over Middlebrough during the week. For most of the first half, the Utd. captain wouldn’t shut up. Brough’s Andy Campbell blasted his goal through Bosnick’s legs as Denis Erwin held the goalscorer onside. Initially it was understandable that Utd.’s captain was infuriated with his defense. It seemed that his anger was toward his fellow Corkman, who was taken off very early on in the game. It well may have been a tactical move and, if Ferguson had any doubts about the decision, well, one thing’s for sure, his captain was on the same page. Indeed, the defense was struggling. Utd. did settle and although 1-0 down they finished the first half way on top of Middlesbrough.
It was a matter of minutes into the second half and Utd. equalized from a throw-in, which Middlesbrough did not clear well enough and it fell for Ryan Giggs to volley home. Then David Beckham skipped through Paul Ince and Co. to play a through ball into the path of Andy Cole. Cole’s first-time strike was well-taken. Paul Scholes hit a stunner that flew inside the post. Three-1 and Utd. were sailing and in total control of the game and the premiership.
For some reason Keane got involved in some ridiculous situations and the Corkman was fighting with everybody as the crowd booed his every move. The inevitable yellow came out and so did Keano. Ferguson replaced him and within minutes Paul Ince was the Governor as he equalized with a brave header. Middlesbrough were back in it but only for a few minutes when Fortune struck a point-blank goal for Manchester.
Protests for offside were ignored and rightly so. Four-2 and still Middlesbrough were not finished. The flashy Brazilian Juninho scored a brilliant individual goal, but it was too late for a comeback.
Utd. were unstable at the back and it was obvious even more so without Keane. No doubt about it, the Corkman is running the show at the minute, but his temper caused him to leave the game early, it also caused him a UEFA final appearance. Both Corkmen left the field early but under quite opposite circumstances.
Liverpool 2, Wimbledon 1
Emile Heskey’s brace, at 36 and 54, kept Liverpool in second place as the longshot title challengers. The $11 million dollar man may well be the buy Houllier needed to enhance the more practical chance of an EUFA Champions League qualification.
Wimbledon sub Martin Andreson scored (70) to set up an end to end finish to the game. Liverpool will want to maintain control of leads in games to remain second and to be a real force in Europe.
Arsenal 4, Leeds 0
Thierry Henry tucked the ball away with lots of composure, something Leeds didn’t have at the end of their attacking moves. Utd. slipped further away from the top as Arsenal moved into third place.
Arsenal remained tight at the back and veteran defender Martin Keown made no mistake with a second bite of a corner. His first in a year was the start of the Leeds annihilation. Nwankwo Kanu and Marc Overmars made it 3 and 4, respectively.
Both teams play in the second leg of the UEFA Cup Semi Final tomorrow.
Sheffield 1, Chelsea 0
In the Premier title relegation, clash the difference was Gilles De Bilde. He produced dazzling skill around the Chelsea defense that forced Chelsea goalkeeper Ed de Goey to give away a penalty. Wim Jonk put his spot kick away to give Sheffield a narrow 1-nil win, a belief to escape relegation and team of the week.
Ronoldo in pain
Lazio tied 3-3 with Fiorentina in Serie A. In midweek they beat Inter Milan 2-1 in their first leg of the Coppa Italia. Ronoldo was carted off the field in tears with talk of a recurrence of the knee injury that has plagued his career. He was simply doing his stuff unchallenged when he collapsed.
Now, wasn’t Ronoldo twisting and turning for weeks in training, and didn’t he play in several reserve games before he played in the Cup? Come on, let the kid rehab properly and leave him alone for longer spells if the soccer world is lucky enough to have him back.
His comeback lasted 6 minutes.
€ Barcelona were beaten three nil at Real Oviedo and Real Madrid won 1-0 at Real Zaragoza.
In the Copa Del Rey first leg semis, Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona 3-0 and Real Madrid drew 0-0 with Espanyol. Dark horses Valencia beat Seville 2-1 away. Bayern Munich lost 2-1 away. Bayern Munich lost 2-1 to TSV 1860 Munich in a local clash. Stefan Effanberg may be out with a calf injury. F.C. Porto had a convincing 3-0 win over Rio Ave in the Taca de Portugal.
Monaco won the French league title. Charlton must wait another week for Division 1 promotion. Rangers need one point to win the Scottish Premier.
Don Givens made 11 changes in Ireland’s U21 squad for the next game against Greece, at Newbridge. Home-grown players will be given a chance and Don Givens continues to be a household name.