Record away win by United
BY Ian Hawkey ( The Times )
NO LUCKY charms for Big Ron Atkinson yesterday. The Premiership's top club inflicted on the one at the bottom something far worse than the new Nottingham Forest manager can have feared possible. After a lively opening seven minutes in which Manchester United scored twice and Forest once, we were back in familiar territory. Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole struck two each. And then the Ole Gunnar Solskaer late show surpassed itself.
For Cole, back in England's thinking, the timing was sweet. For Solskjaer, it was remarkable, even for the man who makes a habit of turning up at parties unfashionably late and still having a ball. He replaced Yorke 19 minutes from the end, and had completed his hat-trick by the first minute of stoppage time, the first slotted in from a Gary Neville cross, the second from some distance after Dave Beasant had charged one effort down. Losing by 6-1, Forest then completely collapsed, Solskjaer adding two more from good service by Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. "They murdered us," said Atkinson. The margin set a Premiership record for an away win.
"Four goals for a substitute," mused Alex Ferguson, the United manager, "I don't think that's happened before, either. He's a terrific sub: he picks up the pace of the game straight away." Atkinson wondered what might have happened had Solskjaer been on the field throughout. Ferguson did not. "Ole understands he's up against two fantastically in-form strikers in Yorke and Cole," added the Scot.
Nevertheless, by the end of his short afternoon's work, Solskjaer's tally of goals for the season had leapt to 15. Even Cole may now be feeling the Norwegian's breath on the back of his neck. He has only got 17, after all.
Yorke now has 21 and, in truth, it was that celebrated duo who had left Forest so bedraggled by the time Solskjaer arrived. Act One had been almost as dramatic as the finale, United going ahead almost as soon as the warm-ups were over.
The first David Beckham corner of the day evaded everybody until Roy Keane retrieved it wide on the right, laid back the ball to Scholes, whose centre landed kindly for Yorke to side-foot in from six yards.
Yet while Yorke was at his slippery, evasive best, Forest also bore signs of the team with the most generous rearguard in the Premiership. One of Atkinson's principal tasks has been to give them more steel. Carlton Palmer, making his home debut, was greeted with this tribute the match-day programme from his manager: "I don't want shrinking violets in my team. I want strong characters and Carlton fits into that category."
How tough is Palmer? Well, on a chilly afternoon by the Trent, he had been the only man to conduct the pre-match warm-ups clad only in a T-shirt.
It was as defiant as Forest got, bar a super equaliser in the sixth minute, Alan Rogers's strike completing a one-two of which Yorke and Cole would have been proud. Rogers had picked up a fluffed clearance by Ronny Johnsen, Jean-Claude Darcheville read his colleague's run perfectly and the finale was emphatic, Schmeichel beaten by Rogers's low shot. Game on for Forest? Barely. Directly from the restart, United were ahead again, Cole zipping clear and angling his low shot home.
Cole's running would continue to bother Forest, and Beasant made two first-half saves at his feet. After quarter of an hour, he blocked efforts fired at him in quick succession by Yorke and Cole, and he stretched up well to catch a looping header from Yorke. That one followed a cross from Jesper Blomqvist, who, with Phil Neville, was allowed great freedom down the left.
Cole pushed one wide from a Beckham through ball, but Forest at this stage were still alert. When the industrious Rogers intercepted a square, crossfield pass from Scholes, his radar picked up Darcheville. Again, the striker played a return ball and Rogers advanced on goal, electing to cross, low, left to right. Pierre Van Hooijdonk met it and Schmeichel made a smart save.
"Forest had about six chances altogether," noted Ferguson "and how many teams have done that against us? At half-time I thought it could be one of those silly games where you throw it away." Steve Stone almost wrong-footed Schmeichel with a neat back-heel; Dougie Freedman's first touch let him down one-on-one with the United keeper and Andy Johnson unleashed a long-range drive which clipped the United crossbar.
But once United's third arrived, shortly after the interval, the die had been cast. Scholes had already rapped Beasant's crossbar from 20 yards, and Forest were struggling to clear when Yorke spied half a yard and drove. Beasant parried Yorke's shot, but first to the loose ball was Cole, who jabbed home efficiently.
Atkinson tinkered, pushing Palmer up into midfield, bringing Jesper Mattsson in defence. It made no odds, though the manner in which Forest conceded the fourth may have finally broken their hearts. Blomqvist wriggled his way to the byline and pulled the ball back as far as Jon Olav Hjelde. The Norwegian stuck out a foot, diverting on to a post, whereupon Yorke swept in, capitalising on a fortunate rebound.
After that, it was all Solskjaer - and party time.
Nottingham Forest: Beasant, Harkes, Rogers, Armstrong (Porfirio 74),
Palmer, Hjelde, Gemmill (Mattsson 57), Johnson, Stone, Van
Hooijdonk, Darcheville (Freedman 25).
Goal: Rogers 6.
Manchester United: Schmeichel, G Neville, Johnsen, Stam, P Neville,
Beckham, Keane (Solskjaer 71), Scholes, Blomqvist (Butt 75), Cole,
Yorke (Curtis 71).
Goals: Yorke 2, Cole 7, 49, Yorke 66, Solskjaer 80, 87, 90, 90.
Referee: P Alcock (Halstead).