Cantona's cool way to the top

QPR 1 Irwin og 63 Manchester United 1 Cantona 90 Attendance: 18,817
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The Independent Online
IF Eric Cantona's moment of madness did indeed cost Manchester United the title last season, he seems determined to make amends this time around, with some cool-headed moments of rather more value to the club.

The scorer of the decisive goal in that epic recent encounter at Newcastle struck again at Loftus Road yesterday in the third minute of injury time - to the noisy displeasure of a deflated Queen's Park Rangers - to bring United the point that lifts them to the top of the table on a goal difference of one.

It was hard not to feel for second-from-bottom Rangers, who had reorganised cleverly after being outplayed in the first half and, with a spirited performance, had taken the lead. As they clung on, however, the once again dashing Ryan Giggs curled a cross to the far post and Cantona, unmarked, stole in to head home. Desperation had been potent motivation for both teams.

"From being in a state of euphoria, we are in a state of anger and depression," said the Rangers manager, Ray Wilkins, who questioned the referee Robbie Hart on why so much time was added on, to be told that his goalkeeper Jurgen Sommer had been slow in retrieving the ball and that the watch was stopped each time. Had he known that happen before? "Only in the Super Bowl," Wilkins said.

It was a cruel fate for Sommer, not the most composed and reliable of goalkeepers but saviour of his side in the first half. After Rangers' first flush, United seized control. With Cantona's passing and Giggs's running they created chance after chance.

The American beat away a Giggs shot, turned aside David Beckham's low shot from Cantona's defence-splitting pass and saved at the feet of Giggs and Brian McClair. In addition, Andy Cole slid the ball inches wide from Giggs's low cross.

Having somehow survived to the break, Rangers regrouped, bringing on Andy Impey to the right flank. His bright running immediately set United back on their heels, with Rangers no longer exposed as ragged and disorganised defensively when themselves forced to backpedal.

Impey himself sent a powerful drive from 20 yards just over and Peter Schmeichel gratefully clutched the ball turned into his arms by Kevin Gallen after Danny Dichio had headed down Ian Holloway's corner.

Alex Ferguson deemed it time to reorganise, bringing on Paul Scholes to try and win the match; instead he was soon asked to save it when Rangers took the lead. With Impey lively, and Trevor Sinclair finally exerting some influence on the right, space opened up on the left where Holloway found Dichio. His curled shot beat Schmeichel and was bound for the net when Denis Irwin headed it on its way.

Roused, United found new energy but it seemed a damaging defeat was their lot when Sommer saved at Cantona's feet and Roy Keane shot wide. Then came Cantona's intervention that prevented one of the most surprising results of the season. United came to Loftus Road on a run of 10 wins in succession and Rangers had won only one in 11.

"The referee was quite justified," insisted Alex Ferguson of the added time. "QPR did waste a lot of time. When you are fighting for your lives with a few minutes in front of you, the natural thing is to waste time. But we never give in. We deserve everything we get." He conceded this was not a good result, however.

Now it is over to Newcastle, at home to West Ham tomorrow, to see how strong are their powers of resilience and recovery.

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