Manchester United 2 Norwich City 1

Last updated : 21 August 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Manchester United may be missing many of their big guns, but their still considerably talented firepower proved too much for Premiership new boys Norwich City at Old Trafford.

French winger David Bellion registered United's first goal of the campaign in the first half and summer signing Alan Smith added a stunning second shortly after the interval.

Norwich scored 15 minutes from time through substitute Paul McVeigh, but in reality the winning margin should have been larger than just one goal.

With Ruud van Nistelrooy, Louis Saha, Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand missing for United, three points and not dazzling football is more important for the Reds over the next few weeks.

They began cautiously, probing Norwich with pin-prick football rather than attempting to rip off the Canaries wings.

John O'Shea, Ryan Giggs and Smith all had half chances in an opening half hour when Norwich looked comfortable against their big name opponents.

It was Norwich who had the clearest chance of the opening 30 minutes thanks to a moment of genius from David Bentley.

The England Under-21 midfielder, on a season's loan from Arsenal, picked the ball up 30 yards from goal and hit a ferocious right-foot shot which crashed down off the underside of the bar with United goalkeeper Tim Howard well beaten.

But, as Norwich cursed their bad luck, United surged upfield to score just seconds later.

Giggs' cross from the left side of the Norwich box was superbly headed on by Smith and Bellion, running in unmarked on the far post, scored with a right-foot half volley from six yards.

Bellion was denied a second goal in the 36th minute when his crisp low shot from the right corner of the penalty area was turned behind by Norwich goalkeeper Robert Green at full stretch.

If Bellion's goal was well worked, Smith's first Premiership strike for United five minutes into the second half was brilliantly executed.

Gary Neville's cross was met by Giggs on the left side of the Norwich box. His cushioned header fell for Smith and United's £7million summer signing from Leeds United chested the ball down superbly, before hitting a ferocious left-foot shot over his shoulder which went into the net off the far post.

Smith produced another stroke of genius on the hour when he threaded a glorious long pass into the Norwich box where Paul Scholes did well to get a boot to the ball, only to see his effort well saved by Green.

Despite United's superiority, Norwich never gave in.

Darren Huckerby twice beat United's stand in centre-half Roy Keane, only to see one effort cleared by O'Shea and another flash into the sidenetting.

But Norwich were thrown an important lifeline in the 75th minute.

Midfielder Damien Francis flicked the ball on to new signing from Spurs, debutant Gary Doherty.

Although his shot was charged down by Keane, McVeigh picked up the rebound on the right side of the United box, beat O'Shea and fired in a right-foot shot from 12 yards which was parried into his own net by Howard.

United came back strongly in the closing stages.

Green produced a magnificent point-blank save to keep out United substitute Kieran Richardson's acrobatic close-range shot from a Giggs cross.

Portuguese Olympic returnee Cristiano Ronaldo's late cameo performance after coming on as a substitute ended with him firing in a blistering shot which was well saved by Green.

However, United had done just enough to earn three much-needed points and head into their Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Bucharest in good heart.