United stroll at The Valley
By Mark Kendall. Last Updated: 01/05/05 5:47pm
Manchester United made light of their recent goalscoring problems by cruising to a comprehensive 4-0 win over Charlton Athletic at The Valley.
The visitors were dominant throughout and two goals in either half barely did justice to their complete superiority.
Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney all got their name on the scoresheet as Charlton - goalkeeping debutant Stephan Andersen apart - offered little more than token resistance.
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Rooney latched on to a flicked header from Alan Smith and nicked the ball around Andersen but his flicked cross was just too high for Fletcher, who could not direct his header into the unguarded net.
Charlton then had an even better chance to hit the front with their clearest chance of the afternoon. Francis Jeffers expertly took down a long ball on his chest and cut inside Rio Ferdinand, but Roy Carroll stood up well and made a good save down low to his right.
Rooney served notice of his intent to try his luck from range at every opportunity by flashing a rasping drive narrowly wide after easily sidestepping Talal El Karkouri on seven minutes.
Another Rooney effort from distance eventually resulted in Andersen making the first, and arguably best, of his saves from Alan Smith.
The former Leeds United striker, without a goal to his name since December, turned Murphy and fired in a shot from no more than six yards that appeared destined to find the net until Andersen reacted miraculously to palm the ball up and over the bar.
The Danish custodian was at it again on 24 minutes, with Scholes this time left holding his head in disbelief.
A ball from Rooney was not cut out by El Karkouri and found the run of Scholes, who had embarked on a trademark burst from midfield.
The former England international had time to steady himself as he closed on goal, but saw his shot tipped around the post by Andersen.
However, his impeccable copybook was blotted just past the half hour mark, as United finally made the breakthrough their unrelenting pressure had threatened.
In space once again, Rooney collected a half-cleared corner outside the box and was allowed to engineer space to hammer in another shot that Andersen - hampered by a slight deflection off El Karkouri - spilled at the feet of Scholes, who tucked home from close range.
The flame-haired midfielder was, though, lucky to remain on the pitch moments later as he demonstrated the other renowned - if slightly less desireable - side of his game with an ugly mistimed lunge on Dennis Rommedahl.
There was no doubt the challenge was a two-footed one, but referee Dermot Gallagher opted for leniency and showed only a yellow card.
Andersen made another fine contribution to keep the advantage at one when he palmed away Rooney's effort from a Smith cross, but the lead was doubled just before the interval.
Rooney was inevitably at the heart of the move and skipped into the box before pulling back for Scholes, who showed equal composure to spin and lay the ball into the path of Fletcher on the edge of the box and a crisp side-foot finish from the Scot found the bottom corner.
The visitors showed no inclination to take their foot off the pedal in the second period and almost added a third just two minutes after the restart.
A clever Scholes flick released Rooney, who strode away but saw his shot came back off the upright and bounced to safety.
Such was United's dominance, there never seemed any real prospect of Charlton finding their way back into the game, but any notion of a comeback was extinguished on 62 minutes, as Smith brought his barren run in front of goal to an end.
El Karkouri was at fault as he hesitated before attempting to clear a bouncing ball and Smith needed no second invitation to nip in and showed no sign of nervousness, as he confidently clipped past Andersen.
With both players having been booked, Sir Alex Ferguson opted to withdraw Scholes and Roy Keane, but it did not disrupt his team's rhythm, as a fourth goal arrived five minutes later.
Kleberson - who had been introduced for Scholes - played the killer ball after some delightful one-touch passing to release Rooney, who showed quality and composure to dink coolly over the advancing Andersen and into the bottom corner.
Punch-drunk and utterly outclassed, Charlton and their fans could have been forgiven for thinking things could hardly get any worse, but they did six minutes from time.
Substitute Chris Perry had only been on the field for 17 minutes, but his crude pulling back of Wes Brown saw Gallagher reach for his red card, although Quinton Fortune could not inflict further misery from the resulting free kick.
In truth, the visitors were never tested, as they clinched their first away win since February, but Ferguson will be hoping his team's goal-scoring touch has now returned, with second place in the league and the FA Cup still very much in their sights.
Click here for Charlton v Manchester United player ratings.
|Charlton Athletic||Team Statistics||Manchester United|
|0||1st Half Goals||2|
|3||Shots on Target||9|
|2||Shots off Target||7|
Barclays Premier League
|13||West Ham United||4||4|
|16||Queens Park Rangers||4||3|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||4||2|