Football: Cantona ignites United

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Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Wimbledon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

ERIC CANTONA may be a flawed footballing virtuoso, but no one can doubt his genius for grabbing attention. Last night he returned to the Manchester United team after a three-match suspension and provided the spark that lifted the champions to their third win of the season.

More hype surrounds the Frenchman alone than some Endsleigh League divisions get in their entirety and this match will have added to the legend. Most of United's best moves flowed through him and, almost inevitably, he was the scorer of a goal that was later embellished by strikes in the last 10 minutes from Brian McClair and Ryan Giggs.

United's manager, Alex Ferguson, had bemoaned the lack of excitement his team had produced this season and had looked to Cantona's return to add fantasy to football. This he provided, dropping back to orchestrate proceedings with a succession of passes. His through ball to McClair after 16 minutes that was threaded between half the Wimbledon team was worth the admission price alone.

This general also carries a revolver, however, and it was the Frenchman who opened the scoring after 39 minutes. Giggs, back to near his best with the promptings of the man he regards as a role model, bewildered three Wimbledon players with a run down the left and then crossed to the far post. Cantona rose, seemed to hover, and then thumped a powerful header past Hans Segers.

Injury-stricken Wimbledon, who could have taken the lead after seven minutes when Marcus Gayle had a free header, offered determined resistance in the second half. But with Cantona haughtily controlling the middle, more United goals were always likely.

They came in the 81st and 85th minutes, first McClair hammering in a shot from 20 yards and then Giggs finishing off a quickfire interchange of passes.

'It was good team performance,' Ferguson said, 'but Cantona provides the extra dimension. He adds an assurance and an aura that only great players have.'

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; May, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, McClair, Sharpe, Giggs; Cantona, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Butt, Dublin, Pilkington (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Segers; Barton, Fitzgerald, Elkins, Kimble; Ardley, Talboys, Jones, Gayle; Castledine (Clarke, 65), Harford. Substitutes not used: Perry, Sullivan (gk).

Referee: T Holbrook (Walsall).

Paul Ince, who missed the match with a sore knee, has been withdrawn from the England squad to play the United States at Wembley next Wednesday.