Elland Road provides no test for Turin

Leeds United 0 Manchester United 4
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The Independent Online
Eric Cantona stood before the Elland Road Kop, up close and personal, savouring the final goal in a victory as emphatic as that recorded by the "other" Old Trafford team at Lord's.

It was not cricket, and on another day the Manchester United captain's action might have been construed as dangerously provocative. After all, when he last struck such a pose before Leeds' most partisan followers, they were his adoring public.

Faced by football's most famous erection, the upturned Cantona collar, their mood was more resigned than riotous. Such wrath as they could muster was reserved for the Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson.

In seasons past, Manchester United may have been seduced into believing that if they could subdue the Leeds legions, then becalming Champions' League venues ought to be within their compass. Alex Ferguson, chastened by the failures of Barcelona and Gothenberg, will disabuse his men of such notions.

"It'll be different on Wednesday, make no mistake about that," the United manager said, looking forward to the visit to the holders, Juventus. "They're a very powerful side but there's plenty in our favour. We've got lots of players of good temperament."

Ferguson is cautiously confident that his revamped team are better equipped for Europe than in recent years. Yet he acknowledged that a "question mark" remains over their ability to adapt tactically to Continental opponents: "In the past we've failed in that department."

This glorified training exercise was no guide to their prospects. Where Juventus are likely to be flexible and incisive, Leeds were as ponderous as in their Wembley shambles of six months ago. The Double winners ran amok, Cantona's quick brain feeding the fast feet all around him.

The Frenchman, the antithesis of the target man in his lone frontrunner's role, lured defenders out of position before picking out colleagues who had poured into the gaps. Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff, both bought for the pounds 4.5m that Lee Sharpe cost Leeds, soon found his wavelength.

The pacy Poborsky, for whom the phrase "bad hair day" might have been invented, subjected Ian Harte to one. Cruyff belied reports that he was unsuited to the rigours of the Premiership, contributing assertively to a display reminiscent of the Total Football his father once orchestrated.

The Czech created a goal at the start of each half and came off to unprecedented applause from the Leeds fans. Amid a stream of near misses by Manchester, among them a scuffed Cantona penalty at 1-0, Nigel Martyn made two outstanding saves. Peter Schmeichel was undisturbed until the 89th minute, by which time Leeds' nemesis had set up a devastating third before applying the coup de grace himself.

Cantona's task now is to exert a similar influence on the European stage. Although suspended for the 4-0 capitulation in Catalonia in 1994 (which followed a similarly encouraging win over table-topping Newcastle), he has a tendency to go missing on such occasions.

Many Leeds supporters were doing likewise long before the end. Their team's "tactics", hump and hope as opposed to pass and move, were as dated as they were rigid. Ian Rush, starved of service and support, finished the afternoon looking like a man who wished he had accepted Sheffield United's offer. Five games have not produced a goal by a striker; seven of the last 10 at their once-impregnable fortress have been lost.

Wilkinson, reputedly rebuffed by six transfer targets last week, evidently retains boardroom backing. However, Leeds' new owners may have to balance their desire to bankroll his rebuilding plans against a need to ensure that any successor does not find the coffers empty. Locally, he has always received the benefit of the doubt over his most controversial deal. Cantona's regal return may have finally changed all that.

Goals: Martyn og (2) 0-1; Butt (48) 0-2; Poborsky (77) 0-3; Cantona (90) 0-4.

Leeds United (4-5-1): Martyn; Kelly, Wetherall, Jobson, Harte; Wallace (Hateley, 56), Ford (Radebe, 56), Palmer, Bowyer (Gray, 56), Sharpe; Rush. Substitutes not used: Couzens, Beeney (gk).

Manchester United (4-5-1): Schmeichel; G Neville, May, Johnsen, Irwin; Poborsky (Solskjaer, 83), Beckham (McClair, 77), Butt, Giggs, Cruyff (Cole, 67); Cantona. Substitutes not used: Scholes, Van der Gouw (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe, Cornwall). Bookings: Leeds United: Wetherall. Manchester United: G Neville.

Man of the match: Cantona. Attendance: 39,694.