Monday, April 18, 2005

Ooops...They Did It Again

Newcastle 1-4 Man Utd: FT Report
Bitter rivals Manchester United and Arsenal will return to the Millennium Stadium on May 21 to put their seasons on the line in a mouth-watering FA Cup final.
Ronaldo celebrates after making it four (CliveMason/GettyImages)
Ferguson happy with players' response
Twenty-four hours after Arsene Wenger's men had set up a confrontation that will fill Soho Square with eager anticipation and total dread in equal measure, holders United booked their Cardiff return with an easy 4-1 win over hapless, Intertoto Cup-bound Newcastle.
Given the bad blood that boils between the men of Highbury and Old Trafford, it is a clash that will not need any hype, leaving the loser, as it will, literally potless.
Ferguson will relish the build-up as much as he enjoyed a seventh straight semi-final win, none of which have been as easy as this.
Last weekend's appalling display at Norwich predictably had the critics sharpening their knives.
Talk swirling round Old Trafford all week has been of a club in crisis. It should have been no surprise therefore that by half-time United had booked another Cup final appearance.
The Red Devils were helped massively by a Newcastle side ejected by the same scoreline from the UEFA Cup on Thursday and who were so bad in the first 20 minutes here they would not have looked out of place in the Conference.
From the first whistle, United exploited gaping holes in the Newcastle defence, with Roy Keane biting into challenges and Cristiano Ronaldo at his beguiling best, although he did also place a major early blot on his copybook.
He quickly made an impact on proceedings, but for all the wrong reasons as he tumbled over under pressure from Steven Taylor as he charged onto Ruud van Nistelrooy's sixth-minute through ball.
Referee Mike Riley, who is not totally unused to giving United penalties, blew his whistle immediately, leaving the vast majority of the crowd to believe he had ordered Ferguson's men another. Instead, the official deservedly flashed a yellow card in Ronaldo's face, as TV replays backed Riley's view the youngster had taken a dive.
It proved to be the last time anyone had reason to criticise Ronaldo, who from that point on, limited his trickery, produced the two crosses which saw Ferguson's men seize control and then finished off a one-sided romp 12 minutes from time.
Like his young team-mate, van Nistelrooy had served notice he was up for the contest, scrapping for possession, muscling his way round Taylor and Jean-Alain Boumsong and generally causing a major nuisance of himself.
All the big Dutchman needed was a goal. And, to Ferguson's obvious glee, after eight long games and 19 minutes, the longest drought of a 124-goal United career came to an end.
Van Nistelrooy did need a bit of good fortune as Boumsong slipped attempting to reach Ronaldo's low ball. But after that, it was typical precision, deftly steering the ball beyond Shay Given in a manner United fans have become so accustomed to.
The goal did bring an improvement from the Magpies, although that was not too hard. Laurent Robert took aim with two free-kicks but produced the worst from his extensive repertoire and Alan Shearer got a boot in the face as he steered a brave header goalwards.
Wayne Rooney skips past Amdy Faye (MikeHewitt/GettyImages)
It was the red shirts who were dominant, though, and when Paul Scholes rose to meet Ronaldo's powerful near post cross and flash a header into the far corner, it was no more than the holders deserved.
The renewed conviction coursing through Newcastle veins at the start of the second half was quickly quelled when Wayne Rooney led a counter-attack which ended with Scholes presenting van Nistelrooy with an opportunity to tap his 14th of the season into an empty net.
Shola Ameobi pulled one back almost immediately but it was United who looked more like adding to their lead than the Magpies decreasing it.
And, after Given had denied van Nistelrooy, Scholes, Ronaldo and the outstanding Gabriel Heinze, the Red Devils finally grabbed a fourth, Van Nistelrooy teeing up Ronaldo for the simplest of finishes.
Ferguson delighted with United response
Sir Alex Ferguson is convinced Manchester United were stung into FA Cup semi-final glory by the avalanche of criticism which engulfed them in the wake of last week's nightmare at Norwich.
'Last Saturday, quite rightly, the players were criticised,' said the long-serving Scot. 'They let a lot of people down - including themselves - with a performance that was not acceptable.
'Players do not like criticism and maybe that had something to do with what happened today. We needed to remind everyone just what Manchester United is all about.
'I never had any doubt they would come back. The ability in the squad is fantastic. But you have to work in life. No-one knocks at your door and gives you money. You have to go out and earn it.
'We have six matches to complete before we get to the final,' he said. 'We want to be second in the league but we are dependent on Arsenal dropping points to do that. But if we do win our six matches, we can still do it.'
Meanwhile, Graeme Souness admitted the traumas of recent weeks had caught up with his Newcastle side.
Souness blamed the disappointment of a UEFA Cup quarter-final loss to Sporting Lisbon last Thursday plus the absence of Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer, who were serving suspensions for their infamous punch-up against Aston Villa.
'We played a very good United team today,' said Souness. 'We've played two games and travelled to Lisbon since they last played and, given our suspensions and injuries, it was always going to be a difficult afternoon's work for us.
'We'd have liked to have played with everybody fit and rested and that wasn't the case today.
'But I can't be critical of any of my players. We've been bashed up physically and mentally on Thursday night and after that sometimes it takes you 45 minutes of football to get your legs going.'
Souness revealed that Frenchman Laurent Robert, who played despite maintaining in midweek that Souness had taken the team backwards, had said sorry to his team-mates, although intriguingly he was uncertain whether he had been included in that apology.
'He (Robert) was, we felt, the best man for the job today,' said Souness. 'He has apologised to the players. I can't remember whether I was in the group. I might have been.
'But today and on Thursday we were exposed. Again we had two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old on the pitch. We had that on Thursday trying to win a European quarter-final and we had that today.
'A couple of things didn't go for us but we have to live with that. Right now I'm feeling sorry for all my players, supporters as well.
'We've got seven hard games left and somehow we have to regroup,' said Souness. 'I don't think it's psychological at this stage. If you're winning, you don't feel the tiredness. In the first-half at times we looked a tired team and maybe in the second-half as well towards the end.
'We've somehow got to find the energy and the togetherness for Wednesday night. Norwich are still fighting for their lives and we'll have a hard game.
'We have to strengthen. We are a big football club and we are looking to stay in big competitions right to the end of the season. If you're doing that, games come thick and fast. Don't worry, we'll be back for a semi-final.'


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