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Saturday, 22 December, 2001, 17:02 GMT
United hit Saints for six
Ruud van Nistelrooy turns to Roy Keane to celebrate his second goal against Southampton
Van Nistelrooy turns to celebrate his second goal
Manchester United 6-1 Southampton

Ruud van Nistelrooy caught Southampton stone cold with the fastest Premiership goal of the season and went on to complete his first hat-trick for Manchester United.

The champions continued their ominous return to top form by hitting Gordon Strachan for six on a return to Old Trafford.

Van Nistelrooy showed all the predatory instincts that prompted United to pay 19m for his services as he fired United ahead after just 31 seconds.

The Dutchman was alert as Southampton defenders froze to Paul Scholes' diagonal cross-field ball from the left, dragging the ball down to fire a right-foot shot across goalkeeper Paul Jones.

His goal beat the season's previous quickest strike, Dion Dublin's 51-second effort for Aston Villa against West Ham on 5 December.

Van Nistelrooy's second on 33 minutes was a typical poacher's goal.

We've given ourselves an uphill fight. Teams like Newcastle, Leeds, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea will never ever have a better chance of winning the league
Sir Alex Ferguson

Southampton failed to deal with Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer's corner and as the ball pinged around the box van Nistelrooy reacted, showing good body strength and awareness to pull the ball down and finish from six yards out.

The game was effectively ended as a contest on 40 minutes when Solkskjaer lost his marker Paul Telfer and volleyed Nicky Butt's right-winger home from 12 yards.

Southampton's best chance of getting back into the game came in the ten minutes following van Nistelrooy's opener.

Passing the ball confidently and crisply, Saints created two good chances as United's defence showed the slackness and nerves that has bedevilled them at times this season.

  An afternoon of goals
31 seconds: Van Nistelrooy opens the scoring
33 mins: Van Nistelrooy nets his second
40 mins: Ole-Gunnar Solksjaer makes it 3-0
53 mins: Van Nistelrooy completes his hat-trick
54 mins: Marian Pahars pulls one back for Saints
72 mins: Roy Keane makes it 5-1
78 mins: Phil Neville joins the party, 6-1

Just three minutes after United had taken the lead, Chris Marsden's left-wing cross found Telfer completely unmarked, only for the former Coventry midfielder to plant a free header woefully wide from eight yards.

Southampton had an even better chance five minutes later when Paul Williams' long ball out of defence found James Beattie breaking clear of a square back line.

But with Fabien Barthez stranded Beattie's attempted lob was badly overhit and sailed over the bar.

Van Nistelrooy began the second-half as he did the first, completing his hat-trick eight minutes after the restart.

Scholes' pass sliced Southampton apart down the middle and van Nistelrooy timed his run to perfection and coolly tucked the ball past Jones with the outside of his right foot.

United showed some Christmas spirit by handing Southampton a goal a minute later.

I have told the player to put that one away. It's a day when we have all made bad choices, players, managers, all of us
Gordon Strachan

Fabien Barthez's poor clearance was mis-controlled by Juan Sebastian Veron, allowing Telfer to nick the ball and cross for the unmarked Marian Pahars to score.

The goal sparked some fight into Southampton and Barthez atoned for his error with a brilliant save from Beattie's snapshot, and the Saints striker curled a left-foot shot a foot wide seconds later.

That prompted United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to inject Ryan Giggs and David Beckham from the bench in place of Veron and Solkskjaer.

Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy
The ploy worked to perfection as Giggs pass again opened up the fragile centre of Southampton's defence for Roy Keane to drive on and bury United's fifth on 72 minutes.

United added a sixth on 78 minutes when Phillip Neville picked his way in from the right flank and took advantage as defenders backed off to drill in a left-foot shot from 18 yards.

If the five-goal margin of defeat was harsh on Southampton, it demonstrated United's awesome finishing power.

Man Utd: Barthez, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Blanc, Silvestre, Veron (Beckham 65), Keane (Wallwork 82), Butt, Scholes, Solskjaer (Giggs 65), Van Nistelrooy.

Subs Not Used: Carroll, Irwin.

Booked: Scholes.

Goals: Van Nistelrooy 1, 34, Solskjaer 41, van Nistelrooy 54, Keane 72, Phil Neville 78.

Southampton: Jones, Dodd, Williams, Lundekvam, Bridge, Telfer, Davies (Ormerod 59), Svensson (Delap 81), Marsden, Pahars, Beattie.

Subs Not Used: Moss, El Khalej, Petrescu.

Booked: Davies.

Goals: Pahars 55.

Att: 67,638

Ref: S Dunn (Bristol).

BBC Sport's Peter Slater
"The champions hit the Saints for six"
Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson
"Some of the football today was absolutely excellent"
See also:

22 Dec 01 |  Eng Prem
Ipswich stun Spurs
22 Dec 01 |  Eng Prem
Di Canio rescues Hammers
22 Dec 01 |  Eng Prem
Reyna snatches precious win
Links to more Eng Prem stories are at the foot of the page.


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