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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Scholes sinks Rovers
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand congratulates goalkeeper Ricardo for his penalty save
Ricardo went from villain to hero
Man Utd 3-1 Blackburn

Manchester United maintained their position at the top of the Premiership table with a pulsating victory over Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford.

The irrepressible Ruud van Nistelrooy opened the scoring for United, but Rovers' riposte was swift with Henning Berg heading an equaliser.

Paul Scholes then scored either side of half time to seal the points for United, who were forced to endure some nervy moments when substitute goalkeeper Ricardo conceded and then saved a penalty.

However, United should have scored more goals and were only denied by the brilliance of Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

And Sir Alex Ferguson's men may come to rue a handful of missed opportunities with Arsenal winning 2-0 at Middlesbrough to retain their better goal difference as the title race goes to the wire.

Ferguson rang the changes from the midweek draw with Arsenal, with one eye on the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, at the centre of the elbowing controversy involving Sol Campbell, and Roy Keane were dropped to the substitutes' bench, paving the way for David Beckham to return to United's midfield.

Despite the momentum being firmly behind United on their current form, it was the visitors who started more sharply.

Andy Cole fired an early warning to his former employers, flashing a header just wide of the United goal with Fabien Barthez stranded.

KEY MOMENTS
20 mins: Van Nistelrooy puts United ahead
24 mins: Berg restores parity for Rovers
42 mins: Scholes fires United into the lead
47 mins: Ricardo saves Dunn's penalty
61 mins: Scholes joins United's 100 club

The effervescent Damien Duff, said to be one of United's summer targets, kept the hosts' rearguard busy with his darting runs.

But for all Rovers' pressure, it was United who took the lead with a quick counter-attack.

A four-man move involving Quinton Fortune, Paul Scholes, Beckham and Van Nistelrooy resulted in the Dutchman scoring his 38th goal of the season.

Yet Blackburn are a team for the big occasion and proved their competitive credentials by restoring parity soon after United's opener.

Beckham hacked down Vratislav Gresko on the edge of United's area and should have received a caution for his rash challenge.

But retribution followed when David Dunn's free-kick evaded Barthez and former United defender Berg headed into an empty net.

There was an excellent rhythm to the game and United re-established a grip on proceedings as half-time approached.

Ruud van Nistelrooy heads home the opener
Van Nistelrooy heads his 38th goal of the season

Scholes released Phil Neville with a clever pass and the left-back made an energetic 30-yard burst to the by-line.

Craig Short could only divert Neville's cross into the path of Scholes, who smashed the ball into the back of the net.

After the interval, Barthez was replaced by Ricardo and the Spanish goalkeeper's first contribution was to concede a penalty after bringing down Cole in the area.

But he made immediate amends by brilliantly turning away Dunn's penalty.

Sensing that they had earned a lucky reprieve, United stepped up a gear and were galvanised by the introduction of Keane for Nicky Butt.

Ryan Giggs retrieved the ball to blunt a Rovers attack and set off on a mazy run.

His simple pass found van Nistelrooy, who fed the ball to the onrushing Scholes to apply an emphatic finish.


Man Utd: Barthez (Ricardo 45), Phil Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre, Beckham, Butt (Keane 54), Scholes, Fortune, Giggs (Solskjaer 83), van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Gary Neville, Forlan.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Berg (Taylor 64), Short, Gresko, Dunn, Tugay, Flitcroft, Duff (Sukur 66), Cole, Yorke.
Subs Not Used: Kelly, Grabbi, Todd.

Attendance: 67,626

Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Five Live's Simon Brotherton
"Man Utd show no sign of flagging"


Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson
"This is a major result for us"



MANCHESTER UNITED

BLACKBURN ROVERS

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