Football: Sublime subtlety of Giggs

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The Independent Online
Queen's Park Rangers. . .2

Wilson pen 44, Ferdinand 65

Manchester United. . . . 3

Kanchelskis 18, Cantona 45, Giggs 59

Attendance: 21,267

THE more they win, the hungrier they get. That is the remarkable thing about Manchester United. In a superb match yesterday, watched by the new England manager, they had some nasty moments against Queen's Park Rangers, but produced enough sublime ones of their own to extend their unbeaten run to 30 games and keep their 13-point lead at the top of the Premiership.

Even by United's exalted standards, their three goals were outstanding. And they included one from Ryan Giggs that was surely as good as any he has scored. But there was something else characteristic about United's performance in that there was as much, if not more, excitement in their own penalty area as there was created by them in the opposition's.

For long periods QPR looked out of the game, but in the end they could easily have drawn or even won had it not been for their profligacy and for Peter Schmeichel. His saves, and his need to make them, are as much a part of the United experience as a Cantona flip or a Giggs bodyswerve.

And then there is Schmeichel's distribution, which is so good it makes him about as creative as some team's midfield players. It was his throw-out to Andrei Kanchelskis, standing some 10 yards inside the QPR half, that helped give United a 15th-minute lead. Kanchelskis set off for goal and, as QPR struggled to recover, he jinked round two challenges before guiding the ball into the corner of the net.

Having caused United some problems early on, QPR reverted to a more familiar role in which they played plenty of attractive football in midfield, but without it leading anywhere in particular. United began to play with a bit of a swagger and had the game well under control until the 44th minute when the referee, but few others, saw a push by Steve Bruce on Gary Penrice, and Clive Wilson scored from the penalty.

United were back in front almost immediately, however, through Eric Cantona. The Frenchman had been playing deep for the most part, but now, unnoticed by QPR defenders, he turned up at the far post to head in Denis Irwin's cross.

Ryan Giggs, meanwhile, was having a relatively quiet game. He had to wait until the 34th minute for a decent run down the left, seizing on Gary Pallister's angled ball, cutting inside, but hitting a shot with insufficient power to trouble Jan Stejskal.

But in the 61st minute, Giggs ripped QPR apart with a scintillating goal. Seizing on a loose pass midway inside the QPR half, he laid all the Giggs gifts before us: pace, balance, ball control. A swerve to the right, a swerve to the left, and a shot into the corner of the net that Stejskal got a hand to but could not stop.

United seemed to have it wrapped up. But within four minutes QPR had pulled the goal back when Les Ferdinand, returning to the side after injury, scored with a classy shot, low past Schmeichel from 20 yards. QPR were back in it, Schmeichel then having to produce a wonderful stop from a Ferdinand header. And when Ferdinand was presented with the ball right in front of goal after Penrice had capitalised on a slip by Pallister on the byline, the odds were heavily on an equaliser. But his shot went way over the bar.

Just because United were under the cosh didn't stop them trying to create chances. And when in the closing seconds Cantona beat three QPR defenders on a magical run it looked as if he was about to out-Giggs Giggs. But the shot went fractionally wide.

(Photograph omitted)

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