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21 Sep 2011

Michael Owen marked his first action of the season with a brace as Manchester United sauntered into the Carling Cup fourth round at the expense of Leeds.

The visitors, despite sporting 11 changes to the side that beat Chelsea at the weekend, were excellent.

Owen opened the scoring with a scuffed shot after good work by Dimitar Berbatov before lashing in a second.

Ryan Giggs made it 3-0 with a fine run and shot before half-time and that was enough to secure their progress.

It continues Manchester United's remarkable start to the season, the result at Elland Road making it seven victories and a draw from their eight matches so far this campaign, including the Community Shield.

And the nature of the win was all the more impressive given Sir Alex Ferguson reshuffled his entire team - not that the changes affected their rhythm at all.

A makeshift defence marshalled by Michael Carrick and young debutant Ezekiel Fryers was assured, a midfield flanked by Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf full of running and an attack led by Owen and Berbatov a constant threat.

The outcome might have been different had Leeds converted a fine chance early on, when Berbatov cleared off the line twice in quick succession - first from Tom Lees's header from a corner and then from Ross McCormack's follow-up.

But as it was that was the closest Leeds came to causing an upset.

Owen was their tormentor-in-chief, scuffing a left-foot shot home to open the scoring from Park Ji-sung's pass after Berbatov's sublime through-ball and then drilling a beauty into the top corner from just inside the area to make it 2-0.

Regarded by some as a nuisance, the Carling Cup must rank as one of Owen's favourite competitions - that brace representing his fifth and sixth goals in six Carling Cup games under Ferguson.

Leeds continued to battle gamely - with Adam Clayton particularly impressive in midfield for the hosts.

The boys in red always looked likely to cause problems, however, and Giggs continued the "valuable veterans" theme before half-time with an excellent goal, surging in from the left, nutmegging Robert Snodgrass and firing a rising finish past home keeper Andy Lonergan.

As a result the second half was far less competitive than the first, with Manchester United happy to sit on their lead and Leeds less keen to mix it up with Friday's league encounter against Brighton surely weighing heavily on their minds.

Owen remained a threat, chipping narrowly wide just before the hour mark and then having a goalbound shot from substitute Danny Welbeck's cross deflected wide.

However, the latter stages of the match were more memorable for the debuts given to Paul Pogba and Larnell Cole, and the centre-half pairing that finished the match for the visitors - Carrick paired with Berbatov after Fryers' exit through injury left them with 10 men for the final 10 minutes.

It was a move that only served to underline Manchester United's comfort level in a match which had its sting drawn almost entirely in the first half, the reigning Premier League champions cruising into the fourth round and Leeds left to concentrate on their promotion push.

The only black spot of the night from Manchester United, in fact, was the chanting by their supporters of songs referencing the night in Istanbul when two Leeds fans were killed in violent scenes - chants that did neither themselves nor their club any credit whatsoever.


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