IN the end, Manchester United ran out the easy winners everyone expected them to be. Millwall ended this FA Cup final with the paltry total of one shot on goal. United had well in excess of 20. It was that sort of game.
United were never in trouble at any stage of the afternoon, even if Robbie Ryan left Cristiano Ronaldo on the seat of his shorts after two minutes just to set the tone.
But if Millwall thought the fancy-dan Premiership players were going to be cowed, they reckoned without Roy Keane. When he and Dennis Wise crunched into their much-awaited first tackle, it was the Corkman who came away with the ball. He laid it off out to Ryan Giggs, whose cross to the front post found Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman's header spiralled wide but the first warning shot had been fired. There were four minutes on the clock.
But the walkover took its time in coming. Ronaldo was enjoying himself here and there, one behind-the-foot cross just falling clear of Paul Scholes and a mazy, tricky 20th-minute run ended only when Dennis Wise scythed him down. He got up to put the resultant 30-yard freekick just to the left of Andy Marshall's left-hand post.
United had the bit between their teeth now. Darren Fletcher produced a clever back-heel to Giggs whose cross was only just cut out before it reached Scholes on the penalty spot. The corner conceded was only cleared out as far as Keane on the edge of the box. He took one touch to set it up for himself before lashing a sweet shot towards the top corner. Marshall only just got to it to tip over what would have been an excellent goal.
But Millwall were being as resolute as you'd expect of them. Lining up with four at the back and five across midfield with just Neil Harris up front on his own, they had no real ambition beyond getting a toe in here and a tackle in there. They did manage to forage upfield in the 23rd minute and from a short corner were unfortunate not to nick a lead when Tim Howard wobbled on a cross.
But that was strictly a once-off. United resumed their relentless pressure.
Ronaldo was a cut above the rest of the players on the park and looked the most likely to open the scoring. On 35 minutes, Gary Neville swung in a cross from the right which Van Nistelrooy flicked on as far as the Portuguese teenager whose excellent first touch took him clear of Matt Lawrence but Marshall saved his shot. It was an ominous portent.
Sure enough, five minutes later, the goal came. It was Ronaldo himself who took a short corner to Fletcher who worked it to Giggs. As the Millwall defence pushed out to the Welshman, he slipped it right to Keane who fed it further on to Neville on the right-hand side of the box.
Neville's cross floated over the static Millwall defence to find Ronaldo steal in at the back post.
It was the lead United deserved and they took it to half-time with them. It was hard to escape the sense that the second half would be about little more than how many United would run up.
Indeed, they began the second period much as they'd finished the first. First Fletcher ? an increasing influence as the game progressed ? slalomed his way through five tackles but could only produce a toe-poke at the end of it. Then a flowing move involving six United players ended with Scholes drawing a strong, one-handed save out of Marshall.
Marshall's goal couldn't hold out much longer. On 63 minutes, Giggs received on the run out on the right having wandered over from his own wing. He skinned Ryan and bore down on goal and it needed Doug Livermore to slide in and stop him. Sadly for him, Livermore didn't manage to get any of the ball.
Referee Jeff Winter pointed to the spot. Van Nistelrooy stuck the penalty high into the net.
The third goal came not long after. Good work again from Giggs saw him skin Marvin Elliot and feed an acute ball in behind the Millwall defence. Van Nistelrooy, lurking in what television replays later showed was an offside position, slid home their third goal.
The game was over now and both sides played out the final minutes at little more than a stroll. There was a worrisome moment as the clock ran dead when Keane stayed on the ground after clashing knees with Paul Ifill.
It took a while for him to get up but he managed it in the end.
All that was left for him was to go up and lift the trophy, giving him his fourth FA Cup win.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, two Henrik Larsson goals brought Celtic from behind Dunfermline to win the Scottish Cup. Larsson, playing in his final competitive game for the club, scored twice in the second half after Andrius Skerla had given Dunfirmline a 1-0 half-time lead. Stilian Petrov scored in the second half to leave it 3-1 at the end.