United troubled by defence of their realm
Manchester United will be happy enough if their unerring ability to glean wins on off-days necessitates stocking up on another crate of silver polish come the end of the season. But Saturday's performance will have provided ammunition for those who feel that the well-oiled machine requires some urgent fine-tuning.
Apart from the World Club Championship, their recent deficiencies have gone largely unpunished. But as Alex Ferguson will testify, the case for United's defence has been indefensible at times. So it was again here and for 20 uneasy minutes it threatened to hand Derby the game before Dwight Yorke, 75 days and 24,000 miles since his last domestic goal, ended a personal winter of discontent by completing his hat-trick.
Even so, this was the second successive home match that Ferguson has felt compelled to reshuffle his defensive pack after finding a joker or two. Mickael Silvestre was banished from centre-half to left-back. Gary Neville took his place and brother Phil switched from left to right. Within 60 seconds Branko Strupar had scored for Derby.
"We need to eradicate some of the things we're doing in defence because we're taking unnecessary chances and there's some slack play," Ferguson smouldered. For someone not given to openly criticising his side, that is as close to a public flogging as will be heard during Ferguson's remaining days in office.
Certainly the chinks in United's armour will have been noted by the Fiorentina coach Giovanni Trapattoni as he prepares for a Champions League tete-a-tete with Ferguson at Old Trafford on Wednesday. At least Italian minds will be occupied with the knowledge that Yorke is somewhere near his best again. The Trinidadian bolstered his personal collection of match balls with a quick one-two shortly after Strupar's equaliser.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Bosnich, G Neville, Berg, Silvestre, P Neville, Beckham, Keane (Wallwork 75), Scholes, Fortune (Butt 71), Yorke, Solskjaer. Subs Not Used: Van Der Gouw, Sheringham, Giggs. Goals: Yorke 12, 70, 72.
DERBY COUNTY: Poom, Laursen, Carbonari, Elliott, Dorigo (Sturridge 74), Delap, Eranio, Johnson, Schnoor (Strupar 46), Christie, Kinkladze. Subs Not Used: Oakes, Prior, Jackson. Booked: Johnson, Dorigo. Goals: Strupar 66.
Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).