Beckham is half-way to paradise

Wimbledon 0 Manchester United 3 Cantona 25, Irwin 58, Beckham 90 Attendance: 25,786
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The Independent Online
Realistically, Wimbledon had no chance at brimful and boiling over Selhurst Park yesterday. Realistically, they might have even considered themselves lucky to be on the same pitch. And in the end that was the way the score appeared, but it took an amazing goal from David Beckham, scored right at the death from the half-way line, to give United that really convincing margin.

Wimbledon's modest pre- season boast was that this summer for the first time in 10 years they did not have to sell any of their senior players in order to survive until winter. It was not the sort of achievement that would have meant very much to Manchester United, who had hardly thought twice about selling Steve Bruce, Paul Parker and Lee Sharpe and expensively fortifying themselves with Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff. United and Wimbledon epitomise the different worlds contained within the Premiership these days, and they sometimes bring about strange results when they collide. Not that there seemed much chance of that yesterday.

United's overwhelming performance against Newcastle in the Charity Shield had made a mockery of sporting chance, and Wimbledon were in line for some further mocking, but you can never underestimate the Dons' ability to debunk pre-conceived ideas, even against United who usually deflate even their audacity.

That familiar ability to make life difficult for anyone ensured that Wimbledon denied United any thoughts of cruising into immediate control. Far from it. For a quarter of an hour United hardly raised an attack of any serious content. Eric Cantona rarely got possession as Vinnie Jones contolled midfield and Cruyff, replacing the injured Ryan Giggs on the left wing, was left to stew in Barcelona-like sun.

Though Marcus Gayle often worried United's central defence, it was not the sort of prolonged trouble that inspired the thought that perhaps United's slow beginnings could bring about a surprising end. So it was that after 25 minutes, in only their second consequential attack, United scored.

Cantona's confidence and control was decisive but it was a strong run down the right side by Roy Keane, playing his last match before a knee operation, that at last broke Jones's hold. Keane's driven centre was half-cleared and Nicky Butt took advantage to offer Cantona possession just inside the penalty area. He had no second thoughts, forcing a typically accurate shot beyond Neil Sullivan.

Although Butt took little further part, looking decidedly the worse for the heat, United lifted their game and Cruyff began to show his potential by moving into a central attacking role, which is where, no doubt, he will eventually play permanently.

Of enduring value is Denis Irwin whose appetite for the occasional sprint from his own half down the right edge is undiminished. After nearly an hour he savoured the chance to do just that, running on to a pass from Keane and slamming in a shot from a difficult angle. It was more than United really deserved but with Cruyff gaining confidence and linking promisingly with Cantona, and Wimbledon eschewing good oppor- tunities, there was no doubting who were the millionaires.

As for Beckham, he will never forget the day when, in one of those casual moments of a game already won, he looked up from the half-way line, speculated on dropping his shot over Sullivan's head and was as amazed as anyone to see the ball dip under the crossbar.