Manchester United's spot-kick prowess came up trumps again as they won the Community Shield 3-1 on penalties after a drab goalless draw against Portsmouth at Wembley on Sunday.
Just three months after United were crowned kings of Europe thanks to a penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final, Sir Alex Ferguson's side lifted another trophy through their ability from the spot. The Premier League champions, who also won the Shield on penalties against Chelsea last season, scored all three of their spot-kicks, while Portsmouth missed three of their four.
But although United left London victorious, there were a few worrying signs for Ferguson after an unconvincing display from his Premier League champions in the annual curtain raiser to the new English season. United had the better of a drab encounter but, only seven days before they begin their title defence against Newcastle, Ferguson must be concerned by his side's lack of cutting edge.
With Wayne Rooney sidelined by a virus and Cristiano Ronaldo recovering from ankle surgery, Ferguson was deprived of his two most influential forwards and it showed as they laboured for long periods against the FA Cup winners. At least Ferguson was able to welcome back Gary Neville, finally fit after a broken ankle, as the right-back wore the captain's armband in his first start since March 2007.
Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp set up his midfield with the intention of stiffling United and they carried out their instructions perfectly in the early stages. Ferguson's attacking trio of Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs and Nani gradually found some momentum after Giggs surged clear down the left and forced David James into action for the first time.
Darren Fletcher should have given United the lead in the 35th minute but somehow contrived to produce an early candidate for miss of the season. Patrice Evra set up the chance when he alertly robbed Glen Johnson as the Portsmouth defender dwelt on the ball. Evra's cross was perfect for Fletcher but the Scotland midfielder completely missed his kick and then compounded the error by inadvertantly clearing the ball.
Nani almost broke the deadlock when he cleverly lifted the ball past Bouba Diop and then lobbed James, only for Sylvain Distin to head clear. Fletcher went even closer soon after half-time when his sublime chip cannoned off the crossbar. Tevez pounded on the rebound but James was quickly back in position to save the Argentinian's header.
England pair struggle
Portsmouth were completely impotent as an attacking force. Peter Crouch's partnership with fellow England international Jermain Defoe will undoubtedly improve but they offered no threat to United centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
In contrast, Tevez was a constant blur of movement and menace. He never stopped probing for an opening and his shot on the turn from the edge of the penalty area brought a superb one-handed stop from James.
Fraizer Campbell, on as a substitute for United, and Tevez both shot over in the closing minutes but it took penalties at the end of 90 minutes to produce a winner.
Lassana Diarra blasted Portmouth's first spot-kick over the bar, then Edwin van der Sar saved Arnold Mvuemba's effort with his legs and Glen Johnson shot wide to ensure United got off to a winning start.