UNITED AS HAPPY AS BURTON
It was a big night for the finances of Burton Albion and their hosts. Never mind the Midlanders being able to run their club for the next five years on their share of the gate money and TV revenue, Manchester United's new owners too needed any help they can get with the mortgage payments now there are not to be any European pay-days in the near future.
A total of 10,500 Burton fans had journeyed up to watch the Brewers, which was fortunate for the Glazers' debt management as there were more gaps in the United sections than in an eight-year-old's smile. Even better news for the American's sizeable bottom line, many of the visitors celebrated their club's most elevated FA Cup campaign by buying Manchester United merchandise in the Old Trafford megastore.
In his programme notes Sir Alex Ferguson wrote that he wasn't looking for an excuse for his team's failure to win the first encounter, but the sand on the Pirelli Stadium patch had been a problem - "tractor marks all over the surface didn't help either". Which was a touch rich coming from the proprietor of one of the worst parks in the Premiership.
Giving the same personnel the chance to atone for their embarrassment 10 days ago, Ferguson picked his team largely from the lower reaches of the squad list, sticking to the side that had almost got stuck in the Burton sand trap. But the occupants of the United bench - Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy - gave clear evidence that the manager had a Plan B.
Plan A, meanwhile, seemed to have been derived from the state of the surface. Initially, the home side did not spend too much time in the way of quick passing. The long ball was United's most potent weapon but it was an effective. Burton's ambition lasted precisely seven minutes. With Gerard Pique's long ball, Kieran Richardson's pace and Louis Saha's finish at the near-post, the possibility of outrageous upset was gone; the Brewers started to droop. Saha's was a quality finish to a quality move. A description which equally fits Giuseppe Rossi's two strikes, Richardson's 20-yard shot and Giggs's shot that followed.
Burton could not be faulted for effort. But in the end the natural order was restored.