Cantona's waltz time

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The Independent Online
IT WILL go down as David Beckham's well-struck shot that salvaged a point for Manchester United yesterday after Dennis Wise had given stubborn Chelsea the lead, but the inspiration was Eric Cantona, warming to the third anniversary of his arrival at Old Trafford.

Those were the positives for United. The negatives were another chance- spurning performance by Andy Cole and the prospect of seeing Newcastle United slipping from their grasp at the top of the Premiership.

Most of the Cantona repertoire was on view, including a studs-high booking and even a feet-first foray into the crowd, though the FA can relax; his momentum had carried him harmlessly over an advertising hoarding. Crucially, however, what was missing was a winning goal, with Cole - substituted soon after - again the chief culprit. Newcastle United can go seven points clear at the top of the table with victory at Wimbledon today.

Sometimes when a couple of your family elders are having a row - traditional at this time of year - it helps to get out and visit places that hold fond memories. Old Trafford might not seem a particularly pleasing alternative to the battle of Stamford Bridge involving Ken Bates and Matthew Harding - the one absent ill, the other in the directors' box - but Chelsea clearly take comfort in their record here. They have now lost only twice in 21 visits.

Although they were without the injured Ruud Gullit, Gavin Peacock and Terry Phelan yesterday, United's absentees were felt more deeply. Peter Schmeichel's absence meant a full Premiership debut for Kevin Pilkington with Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Gary Pallister also out.

Frequently it showed. Chelsea, played three central defenders and wing- backs, passed the ball with patience and composure, and didn't allow United to get up a head of steam. Probably since less was expected of them away from home, not least in terms of adding to their meagre goal tally of 14, Chelsea contained United with surprising ease.

In a listless first half, United's threat was muted. Lee Sharpe was wide with one decent chance and Paul Scholes forced Kharin into a good save with a header and that was about it. Chelsea were hardly more penetrating. Pilkington saved at Gareth Hall's feet and David Lee flashed a shot across goal. They were clearly hoping to contain and get lucky.

Which they duly did. Soon after Steve Bruce had headed wide from eight yards, Sharpe attempted a back-pass without spotting the nippy John Spencer. Pilkington saved his shot but Wise was alert to the rebound and steered home.

Actually, the goal helped United. Now Old Trafford was angrily aroused and the players followed suit. Cantona's caution came from a mistimed tackle on Eddie Newton and frustration was fuelled when an apparent handball by the excellent Andy Myers in the penalty area went unpunished and Wise scrambled Bruce's header off the line.

Then, after Cole had miscontrolled Gary Neville's low cross, the ball broke to Beckham and he coolly and precisely drove into Kharin's top corner from the edge of the area. Now the real United stood up and a winner should have followed.

Cantona sent Beckham clear but the shot was straight at Kharin. Then Cantona found Sharpe free for a low cross which Cole, glaringly, glanced wide from a few yards out.

Cole? More like nutty slack. United have their Frenchman back near his best; now they need the pounds 7m man.