Football: Cantona cuts Newcastle's advantage

RACE FOR THE PREMIERSHIP: Schmeichel shuts out leaders as Frenchman inflicts first home defeat and closes gap to a point

Football

GLENN MOORE

Newcastle United 0 Manchester United 1

They are still top, and with a game in hand, but Newcastle United are no longer favourites. Instead it is Manchester United who appear the stronger as the tape approaches.

Last night they showed resilience and quality to shatter Newcastle's perfect home record and register their ninth successive victory, six in the Premiership.

While Eric Cantona, showing his customary sense of occasion, scored the only goal, Peter Schmeichel was the key player. He denied Newcastle over and over again during a first half in which they threatened to bury their challengers.

In the event the chances, most of which fell to Les Ferdinand, were wasted. Manchester United were not so profligate, Cantona finishing with deadly accuracy after 51 minutes. The goal changed the match irrevocably, raising questions about Newcastle's self-belief.

"I have told them if we win our game in hand we will be four points clear," Kevin Keegan said. "That is a great position to be in. If they want to know who is the best team in the country they only have to look at the tape of the first half. I did not want half-time to come. I could have watched it for 90 minutes."

Despite his brave words, Keegan's eyes looked hollow. Alex Ferguson also looked drained - but his eyes were bright with satisfaction.

Ferguson admitted he "could not wait for half-time". He added: "They were the far better side in the first half and Schmeichel made some great saves. In the second half we imposed ourselves like a Manchester United side should. We got the ball down and played.

"It is going to be an incredible finish. It gives us a chance which we did not seem to have a few weeks ago."

Keegan had given David Batty an unexpected debut in midfield. It was a bold move - he had not played a first-team game for six weeks - but a seemingly negative one.

It did not take long to dispel that misconception. Within five minutes Newcastle could have been two up and they continued to pound at their visitors for the duration of the first half.

The man responsible was Faustino Asprilla, who was making his St James' Park bow. Asprilla's arrival has been questioned but, judging by the ovation he received last night, there are no doubters on Tyneside.

Within five minutes there could have been none anywhere else, either. The Colombian settled quicker than anyone and his touch and movement was exceptional. Had Ferdinand been as sharp, Newcastle would have won. Twice he was denied in one-on-one situations by Schmeichel, first as he ran on to Asprilla's flick-on, then after Peter Beardsley and Asprilla had combined.

Next to stretch Schmeichel was Beardsley, shooting dangerously from 20 yards. Again the Dane was equal to the challenge. Then Robert Lee found Ferdinand and Manchester United just scrambled the ball away for a corner.

On Lee's return from injury, Newcastle had reverted to a flat back four. With Lee and Batty sitting deep in front of them, Cantona struggled to find space and Manchester United, whose need for the win was greater, were unable to build attacks. They did not break from their half for 13 minutes, then a Ryan Giggs cross caused momentary uncertainty.

It was a brief respite. Cantona survived a penalty appeal for handball, Gary Neville escaped another one for pushing Asprilla, and his brother Philip and Nicky Butt were both booked for fouling the Colombian.

Throughout Steve Bruce, deprived of his normal partner, Gary Pallister, through a recurrence of his back injury, manfully struggled to hold the fort. "Gary Neville was nervous to start with but Bruce was unbelievable," Ferguson said. In time Gary Neville gave stout assistance, but not before Ferdinand had missed another chance on 22 minutes.

Asprilla was brought down and Philippe Albert crashed the free-kick, from 25 yards, against the bar. From the rebound Asprilla nodded down to Ferdinand who, five yards out, volleyed over the bar. He has now scored twice in eight games - a bad time to lose form

Beardsley went close, several crosses flashed by Schmeichel's goal but, as half-time approached, the home support began to wonder whether their heroes would pay for their profligacy. Keegan thought the same: "In football, if you do not take your chances against a quality side there is always the danger they will nick one."

So it proved. Six minutes into the second half Andy Cole, who had been warmly received on his return, twisted and turned on the edge of the area before finding Philip Neville on the left. The teenager crossed perfectly to the far post where Cantona, who had escaped John Beresford, volleyed in. "He has scored a lot of important goals for us," Ferguson added.

The home side and their supporters were stunned. Both took a while to recover, during which Cole rasped a shot across the goal, Butt volleyed over, and Philip Neville shot wide when a cross seemed certain to result in a second goal.

Eventually Newcastle regained their poise and the "Toon Army" its voice. Albert headed over, Steve Howey shot wide, then Ferdinand brought another save from Schmeichel with a close-range header. But that was the only chance Newcastle created in the area and Manchester United looked the more likely scorers on the break. With Batty tiring and Lee unsure whether to defend or push forward, Roy Keane was dominant in midfield.

Newcastle persevered, but the belief had gone from the side. After this defeat, their second to Manchester United in 10 weeks, it will take all of Kevin Keegan's motivational powers to revive it.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Barton, Howey, Albert, Beresford; Beardsley, Lee, Batty, Ginola; Ferdinand, Asprilla. Substitutes not used: Watson, Clark, Gillespie.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Irwin, Bruce, G Neville, P Neville; Sharpe, Keane, Butt, Giggs; Cantona, Cole. Substitutes not used: May, Scholes, Beckham.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Forest's quest, page 22

TITLE CHASERS

Premiership top three

P W D L F A Pts GD

Newcastle 28 19 4 5 52 26 61 +26

Man Utd 29 18 6 5 56 29 60 +27

Liverpool 28 16 7 5 56 24 55 +32

Remaining fixtures

NEWCASTLE: 18 Mar: West Ham (h). 23 Mar: Arsenal (a). 1 Apr: Liverpool (a). 6 Apr: QPR (h). 8 Apr: Blackburn (a). 13 Apr: Aston Villa (h). 17 Apr: Southampton (h). 27 Apr: Leeds Utd (a). 4 May: Tottenham (h). To be arranged: Nottm Forest (a).

MANCHESTER UNITED: 16 Mar: QPR (a). 24 Mar: Tottenham (h). 30 Mar: Arsenal (h). 6 Apr: Manchester City (a). 8 Apr: Coventry (h). 13 Apr: Southampton (a). 17 Apr: Leeds Utd (h). 27 Apr: Nottingham Forest (h). 4 May: Middlesbrough (a).

LIVERPOOL: 13 Mar: Wimbledon (h). 16 Mar: Chelsea (h). 19 Mar: Arsenal (a). 23 Mar: Nottingham Forest (a). 1 Apr: Newcastle (h). 6 Apr: Coventry (a). 8 Apr: West Ham (h). 13 Apr: Everton (a). 27 Apr: Middlesbrough (h). 4 May: Manchester City (a).

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little