The vultures may have been circling at Aldershot hoping a Carling Cup giantkilling could lead to talk of a crisis at United. However, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side swiftly sent out a message that it’s business as usual after the derby day disaster by cruising into the fifth round with a convincing 3-0 triumph.
Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen pressed their claims by making the most of rare starts with goals in the first half before Antonio Valencia’s outstanding long-range drive ended the match as a contest. A mixture of youth and experience accounted for the Shots as easily as Leeds had been disposed of in the previous round to illustrate the strength in depth at the manager’s disposal.
The Reds quickly slipped into gear with Tom Cleverley firing over the bar on his return from injury when Berbatov touched a Mame Biram Diouf header back to him. Nemanja Vidic picked up a yellow card for a clumsy foul on Alex Rodman but United were soon ahead after quarter of an hour. Ji-sung Park played an incisive one-two with Cleverley and nudged an instant pass to Berbatov, who took one touch before swivelling to sweep past Aldershot goalkeeper Ross Worner.
Berbatov should have had a clear penalty when he was felled by Luke Guttridge inside the box as Sir Alex’s side threatened to overwhelm the League Two team. Fabio’s shot deflected wide, Berbatov’s dangerous header into the six-yard box was cleared and United forced seven corners inside the first 25 minutes.
But, to their credit, Town rallied and traded goal attempts with their illustrious opponents for a spell – even if Ben Amos was only worked by one effort, from top scorer Danny Hylton. As if to emphasis the obvious gulf in quality, Owen doubled the lead to quieten the capacity crowd. After picking out Berbatov with a raking pass, the number seven showed his thirst for goals by arriving in the box on cue to convert the Bulgarian’s inviting assist, despite Worner getting a touch to the shot.
The second half started in a similar vein as Valencia collected a Cleverley pass and hit a stunning drive with whip and bend that crashed high into the net over Worner’s despairing dive. Berbatov was working harder than anybody and, after feeling aggrieved when having another penalty appeal waved away, as Aaron Morris handled, he stormed through when linking up with Park and dragged his finish wide when really deserving another goal.
Paul Pogba was introduced, for Cleverley, and soon had a shot well wide before Ravel Morrison and Michael Keane, for his debut, also came on for a taste of the action. United kept pressing but Park drilled wide when picked out from a corner by Owen and only a fine Darren Jones tackle thwarted Morrison following an exquisite exchange of flicks with Berbatov. Park’s dynamic solo run ended with referee Peter Walton pulling play back for a free-kick on the edge of the box with Berbatov’s set-piece pushed away by Worner as the Shots continued the process of damage limitation.
The game finished with a flurry of threats – Valencia spurned a glorious late chance after bursting through and Guttridge hammered a shot wide as the hosts sought a consolation goal that would at least have cheered their support. Guttridge also brought a flying save out of Amos in the closing stages with the keeper showing his concentration when it mattered most. There was to be no joy for Aldershot – nor for those hoping United’s weekend misery would be prolonged any longer.
Glory Glory ManUnited!