Sir Alex Ferguson was absent – the official cover a scouting trip to watch Valencia, Manchester United’s next Champions League opponents – but it mattered little to the shadow side at Glandford Park. United’s fringe players overcame a shaky start and a Scunthorpe United goal, to score five and progress in the Carling Cup, thanks to a Michael Owen brace.
Assistant manager Mike Phelan oversaw the squad in Ferguson’s absence, only the third game the United manager has ever missed while in charge at Old Trafford. But Ferguson had little cause for concern with United eventually running out comfortable winners in Lincolnshire.
Owen’s double, a first goal in professional football for Chris Smalling, Darron Gibson’s classy finish and Park Ji-Sung ensured a positive result for Phelan on his big night. With Rio Ferdinand completing 90 minutes, Smalling outstanding at the back and Bébé performing brightly in a 15 minute cameo, the assistant has many positives to report back when Ferguson returns to Manchester.
“Rio’s done well, but I thought also Michael Owen did exceptionally well. He showed what a top, top player he is and he contributed to everything tonight – he covered the ground really well,” said Phelan, who spent much of the night gazing into space while looking pensive.
“We have a young player in Chris Smalling who did well, then there were Kiko Macheda and Chicharito, and we introduced Bébé as well. The keeper (Tomasz Kuszczak) did exceptionally well. He dealt with everything that came his way.”
But United’s shadow team began on the back foot, with Championship minnows Scunthorpe taking the game to its more illustrious opponents in the compact Glandford Park. Indeed, Kuszczak was called into action early with Josh Wright and Martyn Woolford going close, and Tomasz Kuszczak forced to save from Eddie Nolan’s long-range shot.
United’s 4-3-3 system, which pushed Javier Hernández and Federico Macheda into unfamiliar wide positions, played into the home side’s hands, with Scunthorpe exploiting space on United’s flanks during the first period. The unthinkable, a home goal, was in fact much deserved as Wright lashed home from 25 yards after Woolford’s run on 19 minutes.
The lead and any thoughts of a cup upset lasted barely five minutes when Gibson lobbed the Scunthorpe ‘keeper after Smalling’s raking long pass. The Irishman, who’d begun the game in sloppy fashion by losing possession more than once, scored his second goal of the season.
With Scunthorpe playing attractive attacking football United was able to open up the home side almost at will, with Park finding Smalling and the defender smartly finishing on the volley ten minutes before the break.
Goals three, four and five followed shortly after the interval with Owen released by Macheda to score his fourth Carling Cup goal in as many starts for United in the tournament. The striker, largely ignored for anything but the least important matches, is quickly falling down the ranks at United.
Park lashed home United’s fourth from the edge of the area before Owen tapped home the South Korean’s drive to complete the scoring. Woolford’s late consolation for the home side was little more than Scunthorpe deserved for a spirited display.
Although United’s shape crammed more square pegs into round holes than is usual, with Rafael da Silva joining Hernandez and Macheda out of position, width finally came in the form of late substitutes Gabriel Obertan and Bébé. The £7.4 million Portuguese forward looked bright running with the ball, beating two men and striking a blocked goal-bound shot with his first taste of action.
“The scoreline gave us the opportunity to give Bébé a little look at what Manchester United’s all about. I thought he responded very well,” Phelan told MUTV.
“There were fleeting moments of pace and power, and he got a little bit excited now and again. But it’s important that players like him get these opportunities.”
Even better than Bébé, Smalling showed some of the talent that prompted United to seal a £10 million deal for the defender in January. The 6’ 4″ centre-back looked composed on the ball and dominant in the air against the Championship side, in a man-of-the-match performance.
Incredibly the official award went to Kuszczak, who made 19 saves on the night but flapped at several crosses and spilled more than one shot. That, Tomasz, is why you don’t play every week.
“Since he’s come in, he’s become sharper every day,” said Smalling of Bébé’s début.
“He’s really improving and working on his fitness. Tonight he really caused their full-back problems, coming in from the wing, and hopefully we’ll see him produce that kind of form in many games to come.”
United fans will concur.
United – 433 – Kuszczak; Ferdinand, Brown, Smalling, Rafael Da Silva; Anderson, Park Ji-Sung (Bebe 74), Gibson; Owen, Hernandez (Obertan 68), Macheda
Man-of-the-Match: Chris Smalling
Possession: Scunthorpe 51% – 49% United
Attempts: 29 – 13
On target: 19 – 12
Corners: 9 – 5
Fouls: 5 – 8