Manchester United 2 Charlton 0

Tuesday 20th April 2004
Old Trafford, Manchester

Manchester United went within a point of Chelsea in the race for second place in the Premiership. After a less than inspiring performance at Old Trafford, United are now surely favourites to claim automatic qualification to the Champions League next season particularly as they take on Chelsea at Old Trafford in a few weeks time.

Fortunately, this game turned out to be without incident. There have been massive rumours in the English press that terrorists were planning to attack the United stadium. There were 10 arrests in the UK the day before the game, and greater security checks on those entering the ground every single one of the 67,000 people was frisked by police. United, and the Police, won't confirm Old Trafford was at threat, but have promised heightened security for the rest of the season. United could well be at risk, being a team with a global following, and for being the best team in a game dominated by the western world (And not the Middle East). Football was banned in Afghanistan when the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden were in charge there.

Sir Alex chose a strange starting eleven. He opted for the usual defence, but with Phil Neville standing in for John O'Shea at left-back, and a relatively inexperienced midfield of Bellion, Fletcher, Butt and Djemba-Djemba. Thankfully, Tim Howard has finally returned from his mental recovery period, and Ruud van Nistelrooy started only his fifth game alongside Louis Saha.

The game was a scrappy affair, but United were just as aggressive if not more as Charlton, and fought for the ball with a conviction that was missing in their last game. It was testament to United's rediscovered strength in defence that they not only notched up a clean sheet, but that the only real chance Charlton could talk of was a turned-down penalty appeal. However, the Referee chose to book the diving Charlton player instead.

United looked strong in defence, and sharp in attack. Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha will almost certainly blossom into a fine strike partnership. Ruud was creating space and chances with great positional play, and looked like he was desperate to score goals he hasn't scored in the premiership since February!

You got the feeling that United were definitely going to score the only question was when. Then, after 28 minutes, and after several United attacks had been let down by poor finishing, Bellion charged down the left wing and crossed the ball low into the Charlton box. The ball went straight into the path of a marauding Louis Saha, who took only one touch to slam the ball into the net from six yards out.

Charlton, to their credit, continued to attack United, and to play nice passing football, but they never had the cutting edge that all the best teams have.

Five minutes after Gary Neville's tackle which led to the penalty appeals the United right back was found in space by Saha at the other end of the pitch. Neville made the shot look like a formality as he rifled the ball into the corner of the net for his second goal in three games! Charlton brought on two more strikers, but could only hit the post as United began to control the ball with good possession. The game fizzled out with United's defence showing composure and cleverness on the ball, instead of just hoofing the ball upfield, and giving away possession.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Brown, Silvestre, Phil Neville, Fletcher (Ronaldo 83), Butt (Keane 74), Djemba-Djemba, Bellion, Saha (Giggs 65), van Nistelrooy. Subs not used: Carroll, O'Shea.

Charlton: Kiely, Young, Fortune, Powell (Perry 83), Konchesky, Jensen, Stuart (Di Canio 74), Holland, Hreidarsson, Johansson (Euell 63), Bartlett. Subs not used: Royce, Cole. Booked: Konchesky

Attendance: 67,477

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).