Last updated : 23 January 2003 By Editor

The Worthington Cup has been brewing up nicely all season and now it has
conjured up a potentially intoxicating final on March 2. Goals from the superb
Paul Scholes, twice, and Ruud van Nistelrooy carried Manchester United to
Cardiff where they will meet Liverpool.

Rovers battled hard, as befits the holders, and even took the lead through
Andy Cole but United are too irresistible a force at the moment, particularly
with Scholes in such classy form.

To the delight of the hugely voluble mass of United fans in the Darwen End,
Scholes was terrific, striking twice in the first half as well as contributing a
typically prodigious, selfless shift in United's engine room.

Blackburn have developed so impressively under Graeme Souness that it had
been little surprise when Tugay, seizing on Wes Brown's loose ball, clipped in
a pass that led to Cole's goal. The Turk, a major obstacle on England's road
to Euro 2004, had weighed up the situation so well, espying Cole's dash and
then feeding the forward.

As Brown tried in vain to close Cole down, the former United striker lifted the
ball sweetly over the advancing Fabien Barthez. It was an outstanding goal by
Cole, his 19th in 19 League Cup ties, but United's response reflected why
they make such formidable opponents.

They never give up. Inspired by the goals of Scholes, the running of Beckham
and Neville and leadership of Roy Keane, United took control of the game and
earlier in the second half could have been 3-1 up but for Friedel's splendid
reaction save to deny Ryan Giggs.

United merely moved up a gear again. Giggs brought another save from
Friedel but then, extraordinarily, United's Welshman was involved in a heated
exchange with his manager, Ferguson. Scarcely had the finger-wagging
finished then United were ahead, Keane releasing Van Nistelrooy.

As Rovers screamed for offside, Van Nistelrooy ran on, his break curtailed
only by the illegal challenge of Friedel, who would have been dismissed had
the United striker not been heading slightly away from goal. Inevitable further
punishment came Blackburn's way when Van Nistelrooy fired in the penalty.
Cardiff awaits.


Paul Scholes is in a delirious phase where nothing can block his path and
here last night he cleared Manchester United's route to the Worthington Cup
final, in which they will face Liverpool on March 2.

Were it not for Scholes' searing form, however, this game could have
remained under the sway of Andy Cole, his old team-mate, and of the
Worthington Cup holders.

Rovers are a side of greater distinction than a mundane position in the
Premiership table would suggest and the presence of Cole on the payroll
points to their aspirations. His opening goal against his former employers here
could lazily be termed an act of revenge, but it is more accurate to say that a
forward who roots out so many chances was bound to snap one up in a match
with United sooner or later.

Although Blackburn had defeated Sir Alex Ferguson's side 1-0 in the
Premiership last month, they would never have supposed a slender
advantage could be trusted to bear the weight of their ambitions. There was
no lethargy to the visitors here and their potential to harm Blackburn never
dropped from view for long.

Even before his goals, Scholes shimmered with menace as he linked with
Ryan Giggs and Van Nistelrooy, the partnership in attack. There were obvious
avenues, too, down which United could aim their talents. Jay McEveley, 17,
has been feted with rightful praise for his confidence when in possession, but
United simply bore in mind that he is an inexperienced full-back who receives
too little cover.

This competition is almost becoming fashionable and its appeal for United is
enhanced after a trophyless season. Any item of silverware has allure at
present. It will have come to Ferguson's attention, as well, that he has
neglected to collect the League Cup for 11 years. It looked as if that task had
been underlined on his "To Do" list.


A competition that the leading clubs of the Barclaycard Premiership once
treated with disdain has suddenly taken on a more familiar appearance.
Manchester United will play Liverpool in the Worthington Cup final in Cardiff
on March 2 after prevailing against Blackburn Rovers in an absorbing semi-
final, second leg at Ewood Park last night.

The result should have come as no surprise to Sir Alex Ferguson or the club's
legion of fans. Under his management, United have played in 17 domestic
cup semi-finals and never been beaten.

Ferguson's side retain an interest in four competitions, but it is the nature of
United's assault on the Worthington Cup that has helped to raise the profile of
the tournament. "We are delighted to be going back," Ferguson said,
reflecting that it is four years since United contested a final of any status. "I
know people have always looked at the League Cup as an extra to blood
young players, but the format this year, with teams in Europe getting a bye to
the third round, has encouraged them to have a go."

Maybe Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager, who is consistent in
claiming that cups are a distraction to avoiding relegation, may view things
differently. His team, brimming with enterprise, began as if they could repeat
their efforts of last season and return to the Millennium Stadium for another

It was frantic but controlled stuff. On numerous occasions in the past, though,
United have demonstrated that they are at their most potent when their pride
is hurt and they swept to a deserved victory on the strength of Scholes's
predatory powers.

Doubtless the mutual hatred between Mancunian and Scouser will emerge
from some of the more extreme supporters in the Welsh capital. For the
neutrals watching at home, it may be time to put the kettle on and savour the
prospect of a classic contest between two of the domestic superpowers that
might restore the name of the competition to unimagined heights.


It has become one of the immutable laws of football: never bet against
Manchester United in a domestic semi-final. By breezing past Blackburn after
the Worthington Cup holders had led through Andy Cole against his former
club, United took their unbeaten record in such fixtures under Sir Alex
Ferguson's managership to 17 and deservedly advanced to face Liverpool in
a heavyweight final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 2 March.

Currently in the form of his life, Paul Scholes scored twice to put United in
front by the break and equal his season's-best tally of 14. Ruud van
Nistelrooy, having been brought down by Brad Friedel in an incident which
should have resulted in the Blackburn goalkeeper's dismissal, rose to convert
the 77th-minute penalty for his 22nd goal of a season that is still replete with
promise for United.

In his programme notes, Souness had declared it inconceivable that a game
between Blackburn and United could finish goalless. It did not take long for
him to be proved right, though he must have been alarmed at the way his side
were unable to hold a lead and had their defence dragged around Ewood
Park in the process.