By Dermot Clarke
The kick-off at Old Trafford was delayed for 45 minutes because of floodlight failure, but when it did begin, Manchester United played as if they were attempting to finish it on schedule. The shell-shocked opposition, West Ham, had to wait almost 20 minutes before they could launch what could be termed an attack on the home goal and it was evident early on that West Ham would be heading back to London wishing that the power failure was of a more permanent nature.
When Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Manchester United ends, his purchase of Dwight Yorke could well be considered as his most astute. Not only has Yorke’s own contribution been tremendous, but he has helped bring Andy Cole to a level approaching justification for the dent he put in the United coffers upon his purchase.
Rio Ferdinand, the skillful Hammers central defender must have been dreading encountering this lethal dual strike-force, particularly as he is partnered by one of the weaker centerbacks in premiership history. Neil Ruddock has gone almost a full career without having his many inadequacies fully recognized. He ball-watches, his timing is poor, his heading is weak, yet his ego and attitude have kept him in the top level for far too long. He probably gave himself the nickname “Razor,” but he’s about as sharp as Forrest Gump after a weekend binge.
Andy Cole got two. It could have been five. Yorke got one, could have been three. Gunnar Solskj’r came on and scored his 10th of the season, an amazing total when you consider the amount of playing time afforded to the “baby faced assassin” from Norway this term. Frank Lampard junior scored a consolation goal in the final minutes, but the 4-1 scoreline hardly justified United’s dominance. The win moves them to within two points of joint leaders Aston Villa and Chelsea.
West Ham can exact some solace from the day, though. Joe Cole, the much-touted 17-year-old, proved that all the hype wasn’t just Cockney claptrap when he entered the fray at the start of the second half. There are few bigger stages than Old Trafford, but the nippy youngster showed little fear and a lucrative career beckons for the kid who is as East End as the Old Vic itself.
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In other games, Villa struggled to a draw against Middlesboro, while a Dan Petrescu goal secured the points for Chelsea away to Newcastle. Another goal-fest at Highbury saw Liverpool gain a 0-0 draw with Arsenal.
Niall Quinn stole a point for his side Sunderland in the final minute of a pulsating tie at Loftus Road. With Sutherland reduced to 10 men, Quinn’s goal stretched his side’s advantage at the top to nine points, their nearest challengers, Ipswich, having been beaten.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s old buddies Ray Houghton and John Aldridge may after all be granted their testimonial by the FAI. Their fellow teammates, supporting them, contended that when the FAI changed the required cap accumulation from 50 to 75, the two boys had already reached the old 50 figure. Confusing, but so is the FAI.
In Ireland the only competition left with a semblance of romance about it, the FAI Cup, got under way, but the prospective humdinger between the two Ringsend clubs, Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne, failed to live up to billing. The Hoops, once the high kings of soccer in Ireland, are enduring a barren spell at present. Rovers, now tenants at Tolka Park to landlords Shelbourne, were drawn at “home,” but Cup receipts won’t be paying the rent this season as Shels overcame their rivals easily, 3-0. The reward: another “away” tie at Bohemians in the next round. No real shocks though, non-leaguers Belgrove, Rockmount and the Boys in Blue themselves, Garda, can be proud of their efforts as they forced replays against loftier opposition.
Second Round Draw
Bohemians vs. Shelbourne
St. Pats vs. UCD/Rockmount
St. Mary’s vs. Kilkenny City
Galway Utd./Drogheda Utd. vs. HFE
Sligo Rvs. vs. Garda/Cobh Ramblers
Derry City vs. Dundalk/Limerick
Cork City vs. Belgrove/Finn Harps
Ties to be played the week ending Feb. 7