Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 18 News List

THE FA CUP: United too strong as the Saints go marching out

YOUNG GUNS: Manchester United’s 18-year-old striker Danny Welbeck got the first and 21-year-old substitute Darron Gibson the third against struggling Southampton

AFP , SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND

Gillingham’s Gary Mulligan, second right, tries to head the ball as Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel, second left, punches it away during their FA Cup third-round match at the Priestfield Stadium in Gillingham, England, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

Sir Alex Ferguson may have said it was “not realistic” for Manchester United to win a unique European and domestic quadruple, but he still believes his squad can compete on four fronts.

United opened their FA Cup campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win away to Championship strugglers Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday.

Goals from youngsters Danny Welbeck and Darron Gibson either side of a controversial Nani penalty maintained Ferguson’s proud record of having never lost a third round tie in his 22-year reign at Old Trafford.

United, well placed in their quest for a third successive Premier League title, are also through to the last 16 of the Champions League and face Derby County in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final tomorrow.

No team has ever won all four trophies in the same season, but Ferguson said: “I think we have a good enough squad to compete in every competition, as long as we do not pick up any injuries. That is the most important thing. Cup football is a knockout situation, so you never know what is going to happen.”

“We have some good young players at the club and these games are an opportunity for them to get some experience under their belts,” he said. “Players like Welbeck and Gibson have shown today [Sunday] they have the confidence and the right temperament.”

United’s next FA Cup opponents are Tottenham Hotspur, whose manager Harry Redknapp was in charge of Portsmouth when the holders defeated Ferguson’s men in a quarter-final at Old Trafford last season.

“It’s a mouth-watering game. Matches between us are always very competitive and we beat them at the same stage last season,” Ferguson said. “Their manager Harry Redknapp was in charge at Portsmouth when they knocked us out in the quarter-finals, so hopefully we can get our own back.”

Ferguson was able to rest star winger Cristiano Ronaldo, while England striker Wayne Rooney was left on the bench until the final 27 minutes.

Teenager Welbeck was not even born when Ferguson lifted the first of his five FA Cups in 1990, but the 18-year-old showed he has ability beyond his years by opening the scoring in the 20th minute.

John O’Shea headed against the underside of the crossbar from a Ryan Giggs corner and Welbeck was quickest to react and nod the rebound into an empty net.

Southampton’s hopes of an upset were all but ended eight minutes before halftime when striker Matt Paterson was shown a straight red card for a reckless two-footed lunge on Nemanja Vidic.

Nani doubled United’s lead from the penalty spot three minutes into the second half after referee Mike Riley harshly adjudged David McGoldrick to have handled the Portugal international’s free-kick.

Victory was secured nine minutes from time when substitute Gibson applied the finish to Rooney’s pinpoint cross to register his first United goal.

Ferguson singled out Welbeck for praise, saying: “Danny did fine. We know about his temperament, he has got quality and is learning all the time.”

Southampton, who upset the odds to beat United in the 1976 FA Cup final, are now second from bottom in the Championship.

They were always likely to struggle against a United team, which also featured Edwin van der Sar, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Anderson and Gary Neville.

Saints manager Jan Poortvliet said his side had been on the wrong end of several bad decisions by Riley.

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