Charity remains at home

 

The FA Charity Shield stayed at Old Trafford yesterday without Manchester United dropping any obvious hints that the Premiership championship will eventually end up in the same familiar surroundings for the fifth time in six years.

That, after all, would be giving the game away. Instead Alex Ferguson's long-reigning champions began the new English season by beating the FA Cup holders in a manner that nobody will want to see repeated when the World Cup reaches its climax in Paris next July.

It was another of those mildly-interesting leg-stretchers which the Shield so often provides: having ended at 1-1 after 90 minutes, United won a penalty shoot-out 4-2, courtesy of a save by Peter Schmeichel and a shot over the bar from Roberto Di Matteo which recalled another Italian, Roberto Baggio, whose miss against Brazil decided the 1994 World Cup final.

The goals in open play arrived within four minutes of one another early in the second half, when Mark Hughes headed Chelsea into the lead only for Ronny Johnsen to respond in similar fashion for United.

Their principal effect was to rouse the game from its summer torpor and add a competitive edge which up to that point had been seen only in the odd flying boot or elbow.

Until Dan Petrescu - who had been suffering from a stomach bug - came on for the second half, Ruud Gullit, the Chelsea manager, opted for a back four rather than a sweeper system; not that this diminished either Frank Leboeuf's powers of perception or Steve Clarke's speed of interception.

With Frank Sinclair seldom outwitted by the guile of Gianfranco Zola - much more of an overall presence yesterday than he had been in the Cup final - Chelsea's defence gave Ed de Goey, the Dutch goalkeeper signed from Feyenoord for £2.25 million, a gentle introduction to English football.

When De Goey was beaten after managing to get only a vain hand to Johnsen's header the main fault, if any, lay in his defence's rare failure to deal with an orthodox threat at a corner.

Gustavo Poyet, who has arrived at Stamford Bridge on a free transfer from Real Zaragoza, may not conform to the popular image of a Uruguayan footballer; all skill and sinew with the ability to inflict actual bodily harm if need be.

He is built more like a north European, is powerful in the air, and after initiating the most incisive attacking movement of the first 45 minutes missed his shot when Zola's precise low ball from the left invited him to put Chelsea ahead shortly before half time.

Unlike de Goey, Poyet was soon given a rough idea of what lay ahead over the coming months. Just past the quarter hour, he received Roy Keane's boot in his left ear. Ferguson has made Keane captain following the retirement of Eric Cantona and does not expect the Irishman to lose his abrasiveness. He need have no fears.

At least Keane did not begin the season with a yellow card. Others were less fortunate and included Teddy Sheringham, who was booked shortly before half time for laying out Clarke with an elbow, an incident which set Dennis Wise off on one of his yapping fits and produced the game's only sour moments.

Sheringham will never replace Cantona in the Manchester United team, that would be asking too much, but his ability to use the ball intelligently and bring other people into attacks was immediately apparent and might have brought United a goal after five minutes had Paul Scholes - sent clear by the Tottenham man's pass - composed himself before shooting straight at De Goey.

A pity, from United's point of view, that Ole Solskjaer's injury is denying the Norwegian the opportunity to strike up an early understanding with Sheringham. Yesterday Andy Cole, so often the despair of Cantona, sometimes had similar difficulty finding Sheringham's wavelength.

With Ryan Giggs looking as if he shared the not unpopular view that the season has begun a fortnight too soon, Manchester United's football was for a long time distinguished by little except by Gary Pallister's consistent defending.

Hughes's goal, nodded in at the far post after Zola had worked a short corner with Wise before producing a centre which Schmeichel could do little about, persuaded United to raise the tempo of their game, but once Johnsen had brought the scores level from Giggs's corner the football relaxed once more.

Eventually Ferguson, having left David Beckham on the bench, brought him on with Jordi Cruyff, taking off Sheringham and Giggs. Beckham looked sharper than much of what had gone before even if his shirt did bear the name `Beckam'.

Chelsea: de Goey, Leboeuf, Clarke, Poyet, M. Hughes (Vialli 76), Wise, Di Matteo, Granville, Sinclair, Zola, Morris (Petrescu 46). Subs Not Used: Gullit, Hitchcock, P Hughes, Nicholls, Clement. Booked: Sinclair, Wise, Petrescu. Goals: M Hughes 52. Manchester United: Schmeichel, Irwin, Johnsen, Pallister, Butt, Cole, Sheringham (Cruyff 72), Giggs (Beckham 72), P Neville, Keane, Scholes. Subs Not Used: G Neville, McClair, Poborsky, Van Der Gouw, Thornley. Booked: Sheringham. Goals: Johnsen 57. Att: 73,63 6.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).