Football: Battling United ready to collect: Champions' victory marred as injury rules Schmeichel out of FA Cup final

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The Independent Online
Ipswich Town . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

UNITED and their followers left East Anglia in celebratory mood last night - with one notable exception. Peter Schmeichel injured his ankle ligaments in an accident Alex Ferguson blamed on the Portman Road pitch, and is out for the rest of the season, including the FA Cup final.

Denmark's goalkeeper was suspended for the Coca-Cola Cup final, and headed for home yesterday pained by both injury and the prospect of missing out on two finals in as many months. Gary Walsh, who substituted yesterday, will keep his place in the last two League games, at home to Southampton and Coventry, and against Chelsea at Wembley in preference to Les Sealey, who played in the Coca-Cola defeat by Aston Villa.

As Schmeichel hobbled away, the red legions were getting into party mood, with a good-natured pitch invasion and cries of 'Champions'. A little premature, perhaps. But only a little. It could be all over tonight, when United will retain their title without kicking a ball, if Blackburn Rovers fail to win at Coventry. Even if they do win, it will serve only to delay the inevitable. United's all-conquering class of '94 need only one point from the two home fixtures to emulate the Busby Babes, who won the title in 1956 and 1957.

Scrapping bravely, the relegation candidates made more of a fight of it yesterday than might have been expected of a team now 10 games without a win. However, United survived another goalkeeping howler by Schmeichel to win with something to spare, leaving Ipswich deep in the mire, in need of something from their last match, at Blackburn on Saturday.

Their prospects of avoiding defeat are scarcely enhanced by an injury of their own, Phil Whelan breaking an ankle in falling when his studs appeared to become entangled in grass which Ferguson thought was 'far too long'.

The United manager said: 'The pitch was terrible. There were always going to be injuries on it.' Apart from Schmeichel, he rated half his team doubtful for Wednesday.

Long or not, Ipswich began well enough on their thick green carpet, and were not unduly flattered after 19 minutes when Schmeichel spilled a straightforward 20-yarder from Ian Marshall to present Chris Kiwomya with the simplest of tap-ins.

The not-so-great Dane has been sufficiently fallible of late for United to accept it with little more than a shrug when he staggered off after 28 minutes, having come into painful, but entirely accidental, collision with Kiwomya.

United, though, were harassed, and in need of a lift. Not for the first time, inspiration came from their foreign legion, Andrei Kanchelskis' inviting cross from the right enabling Cantona to head in his 23rd goal of the season at the far post.

One nod sufficed to transform the game. Suddenly it was Ipswich who were fretting, their discomfort acute from the 47th minute, when Giggs stabbed in Roy Keane's right- wing centre at close range.

Denis Irwin rattled a post with a 25-yard free-kick, Kanchelskis, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes all went close, and the margin could easily have been doubled in a one- sided second half.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Forrest; Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Whelan (Genchev, 63); Milton, Williams, Palmer, Johnson (Youds, 43); Marshall, Kiwomya. Substitute not used: Baker (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel (Walsh, 28); Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs (Sharpe, 83); Cantona, Hughes. Substitute not used: McClair.

Referee: A Gunn (Burgess Hill).

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE PREMIERSHIP TITLE RACE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Man Utd 40 26 10 4 78 38 88 Blackburn 40 25 8 7 62 34 83 REMAINING FIXTURES: Manchester United: 4 May Southampton (H); 8 May Coventry (H). Blackburn Rovers: today Coventry (A); 8 May Ipswich (H). -----------------------------------------------------------------

Football, pages 30 and 31