Belfast Telegraph

I’d love to give more games to Michael Owen, says Sir Alex

By Simon Hart

Sir Alex Ferguson admits he has not been able to give Michael Owen the games he deserves after the former England man's two-goal salvo against Leeds last night.

Owen scored twice, with Ryan Giggs adding another in first-half stoppage time as Manchester United romped to a 3-0 Carling Cup third-round win at Elland Road.

It means Owen has now scored an incredible 11 goals from his last 12 starts.

That the run dates back to October 2009 just shows how difficult the 31-year-old has found it to break through at United, a task that is only made harder following the return of Danny Welbeck from a hamstring injury.

“Michael Owen's finishing was fantastic,” said Ferguson in his 1400th game as manager of United. “His goal ratio is unbelievable. We are very pleased with him. “Unfortunately for us he has had one or two injuries. But with me having Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez he is not getting the games he deserves and that is unfortunate.”

Ferguson found a novel way of using Berbatov at the end of last night's game.

The Bulgarian ended up filling it at centre-back alongside Michael Carrick after 19-year-old debutant Ezekiel Fryers limped off near the end, to leave the visitors to coast home with 10-men.

Ferguson also confirmed that whilst Hernandez returned to training today after emerging from the tackle by Ashley Cole on Sunday with only minor bruising, the Mexican will not be considered for the weekend trip to Stoke, when United should be fielding what would be a more recognisable line-up.

As well as Fryers, Ferguson gave 21 year old goalkeeper Ben Amos a run out while in the midfield, well-known but still inexperienced Federico Macheda started alongside Senegalese forward Mame Diouf who was also playing in a wide role

“It was great for the young players to understand the club and for us to see their temperament,” said Ferguson, who introduced French midfielder Paul Pogba and teenage winger Larnell Cole, in addition to Welbeck, once victory was assured.

“The young lads did really well. It was a great experience for them.

“Young Fryers coped very well. The atmosphere at Elland Road is hostile and was not fazed by it.”

“Paul Pogba got a good 45 and young Larnell Cole came on at the end — it's good for them to get taste of the atmosphere and what the first-team is like.”

After defeating United in the FA Cup at Old Trafford in January 2010, when they were still a League One team, at the very least manager Simon Grayson hoped his team could turn in a competitive performance.

Unfortunately, the hosts were never in it once they had failed to capitalise on some early pressure.

“You have to give credit to Manchester United,” he said. “They caused us a lot of problems.

“We gave the ball away too cheaply. Too many individuals over indulged themselves rather than keeping it simple.

“When you do that against top players, they will punish you and we didn't do ourselves justice.”

Grayson, whose team travel to Brighton on Friday evening, may come to rue his decision to field a virtually full strength side, although he accepts some lessons may have been learned.

“Manchester United have the strongest squad they have had for years,” he said. “The whole group played with immense confidence.

“The team they put out tonight could have beaten a host of Premier League sides. It shows the gulf that is between us.

“I made a decision not to make too many changes because I wanted to give Manchester United a game. We didn't do that.”

United dominated possession from the off and after surviving a scare when Berbatov, in his own six-yard box, blocked a Tom Lees header and Ross McCormack’s follow-up, they went in front through Owen.

Berbatov slipped a pass through to Park Ji-sung on the right and he supplied Owen who sidestepped Lees before putting the ball back through the defender’s legs and into the far corner.

Owen, granted far too much space on the edge of the box, duly doubled the advantage, poking the ball high to Andy Lonergan’s right after collecting Diouf’s cross.

After Antonio Valencia had steered wide of an open goal, Giggs, who was playing when Leeds last beat United here in September 2002, salted the wound. Exchanging passes with Park from a corner, he nutmegged Aidy White and then steered a rising shot between Lonergan and the near post.

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