LEEDS UNITED 0, MAN UNITED 3.
Michael Owen sent a timely reminder that he does not intend to be Manchester United’s forgotten man as he helped steer his side into the last 16 of the Carling Cup.
It hardly seemed striker Owen had been away – this was his first appearance of the season 37 days into the campaign – as he produced a masterclass in finishing scoring two goals in little over half an hour.
Owen found the net with two classic predatory strikes as he proved he has not lost his killer touch in front of goal, even though he has slipped well down the order at Old Trafford.
Yet the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and England striker admitted he felt under pressure at Elland Road.
He explained: “When you aren’t often in the side, if you play badly, you have a long time to stew on it.
“If you are playing every three days, however, you can afford a bad game here as there will be another game to come.
“When you don’t play regularly you know there may be a long time until the next game and people will criticise you. It puts pressure on you.
“I have played many big games, but I feel nervous in these ones because so much is at stake for me.”
Owen in not unduly worried by his lack of match time adding other squad players are similarly affected.
He pointed out Sir Alex Ferguson has yet to rotate his squad as most weeks there has only been one game. From now onwards, however, there are two fixtures most week and this is the time Ferguson starts to rotate his squad.
Owen believes he will soon get more game time, though he admits he faces stiff competition as he is up against Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Danny Welbeck for one or two striking spots.
He also added that, at the age of 31, he hopes to still have several years left in the game, ideally at United.
And with 37-year-old Ryan Giggs also finding the net in the opening half, United’s makeshift side had victory wrapped up before the break against disappointing Championship opposition.
It was all change as United had a completely different line up which kicked off against Chelsea two days earlier.
But despite putting square pegs into round holes, Ferguson came up with a winning formula.
There were still six full internationals in the starting line up, though Michael Carrick was a stand in central defender and Antonio Valencia a temporary right back while strikers Federico Macheda and Mame Diouf operated out wide.
There were starts for youngsters Manchester lads Ben Amos and Ezekiel Fryers while Owen, Giggs, Berbatov, and Ji-Sung Park provided experience.
United made a hesitant start and could have fallen behind early on as Tom Lees and Darren O’Dea both had efforts cleared off the line.
The breakthrough came in the 14th minute when Berbatov and Park linked well to set up Owen who cheekily rolled the ball past keeper Andrew Lonergan.
They doubled their advantage in the 33rd minute when Diouf square the ball from the right touchline and Owen, standing on the edge of the box, fired home an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Valencia ought to have added a third goal when Valencia somehow contrived to shoot wide from six yards when it looked as though he could not miss.
The third goal came in stoppage time when Leeds were undone by a well executed short-corner as Giggs cut in from the left and bent a shot high into the roof of the net.
United had the luxury of being able to take off Giggs at the break as he was replaced by talented teenager Paul Pogba as the Frenchman was handed his senior debut.
Owen was desperately unlucky not to complete his hat trick 11 minutes after the restart when Berbatov set him up as he saw his chip float just wide.
There was a surprise return with 20 minutes left for Danny Welbeck who had made a speedy recovery from the hamstring injury sustained in the opening home league game of the season against Spurs.
United were also able to give a run out to Larnell Cole, another of their exciting young players who is also from Manchester, in the last 18 minutes.
The second half drifted along somewhat aimlessly and without purpose which was hardly surprising bearing mind United had victory sewn up after 45 minutes. They were able to coast as Leed didn’t have the craft and guile to force their way back into the game.
United were even able to repel Leeds for the last eight minutes when they were reduced to 10 men when Fryers limped off with all three substitutes used.