Football: Cantona in danger of tainting his talent

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Swindon Town . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

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

FOR once Alex Ferguson kept his own counsel and allowed the Manchester miscreant to claim all the unsavoury headlines for himself. Eric Cantona had put his foot in it, horribly and viciously into the chest of John Moncur, and his manager wanted no invitation to do the same.

In recent weeks Ferguson has invented some remarkable excuses for his players when they have misbehaved and, in the process, revealed an appalling lack of judgement and understanding.

If there was an excuse for Cantona's aberration at the County Ground, Ferguson was not willing to share it, but how could there be? Applying studs to a prostrate opponent demanded the red card, his first in English football. That it came from the pocket of Brian Hill, the referee in control of his first United game for 18 months after Ferguson took exception to his jurisdiction, lent the moment an added piquancy.

Earlier, Cantona had upset Brian Kilcline and Lawrie Sanchez and brought back to mind the FA Cup tie against Norwich when clashes with two players went unpunished. Match of the Day replayed those incidents while also providing a showcase for his skills. It could have been the closing credits to Beauty and the Beast, and the Frenchman ought to learn and fast because a rare talent is being sullied.

He can see avenues opening up where others find only blind alleys. He has the touch and the accuracy to then bring that vision to fruition. A prime example came when he played in Mark Hughes with a quick, incisive pass and on to the cross came Roy Keane to score United's first.

We next saw Hughes reacting angrily with supporters whom he claimed had thrust forward menacingly as he collided with the touchline boardings. It was a niggly contest all round, one United will want to forget in a hurry.

Top versus bottom it may have been, but there was little on this occasion to choose between them. Swindon revealed fighting qualities that have not always been apparent in their relegation struggle and succeeded in shaking the pedestal.

One goal up but from the 64th minute one man down, United also lost their flimsy hold on the game and you sensed the inevitability of a second Swindon equaliser. When it came it highlighted United's weakness, which is a tendency to stop and smell the roses in the back garden when they think the spadework has been done.

They have shipped silly goals before and will do so again. While their striking rate is so good, however, the odd slip in concentration need not hold them back from the treble. But Cantona is crucial in that regard and he will be badly missed during his three-match ban which includes the visit to Blackburn Rovers and the FA Cup semi- final with Oldham Athletic.

On Sunday they must face Aston Villa in the Coca-Cola Cup final without Peter Schmeichel, who has also seen red in recent weeks. At least United are giving the others a chance now.

Goals: Keane (13) 0-1; Nijholt (36) 1-1; Ince (62) 1-2; Fjortoft (83) 2-2.

Swindon Town (4-4-2): Digby; Whitbread, Kilcline, Taylor, Horlock (Ling, 79); Summerbee, Moncur, Sanchez, Nijholt; McAvennie (Scott, 71), Fjortoft. Substitute not used: Hammond (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; McClair, Ince, Keane, Giggs; Hughes, Cantona. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Phelan, Dublin.

Referee: B Hill (Kettering).