Football: Cantona revels in revival

Manchester United 4 Solskjaer 22, Giggs 43, Cantona 82, 90 pen Nottingham Forest 1 Haaland 4 Attendance: 54,984
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The Independent Online
Losing to the best team in Europe is excusable. Losing to a club that may once have been European Champions but now fail to impress even in Nottinghamshire, would have been unforgiveable. So Manchester United fulfilled their obligations at Old Trafford yesterday, though their victory, which put them on top of the Premiership, at least until today, was not always as utterly convincing as the outcome.

European weeks can be rewarding or, as it was for United in Turin, educational and chastening. The experience also told them that against the standards of the European Champions, Juventus, they are not quite as good as they probably thought they were. For a time yesterday they forgot that they are still comfortably good enough to retain their own domestic title.

Returning to face a Forest side deprived of the seriously injured Steve Stone and again without their leading scorers, Kevin Campbell and Bryan Roy, it seemed that they were being offered some balm for sore egos. The assumption immediately proved dubious when, after little more than three minutes, a long and apparently innocuous ball into the penalty area by Stuart Pearce caused far more distress among the United defence than it should, and Alf Inge Haaland was left beating a bemused Peter Schmeichel.

That United's defence may soon be bolstered by the addition of Miguel Nadal, the Spanish international, now seems in doubt. His club Barcelona yesterday issued a statement saying that Nadal would not be going anywhere, but Alex Ferguson the Manchester United manager, countered. "As far as I am aware negotiations for the transfer have not broken down," he said.

If United had learned in Italy that playing Cantona alone up front was a waste of his creativity, using him in a deeper role yesterday with Ole Solskjaer ahead was not the instant remedy. For 20 minutes Forest submerged them both in tight, effective marking, but when they did finally surface it was at the prompting of Nicky Butt who found Cantona with an enterprising pass from midfield and at the same time pointed to the unmarked Solskjaer whose quickly taken shot easily beat Mark Crossley.

United's use of Ryan Giggs where he causes most damage, out on the left wing, was instrumental in forcing Forest to spread their defence as Poborsky became an increasing threat on the far right. When, after 42 minutes, Poborsky dropped a centre perfectly in the area, it was Giggs who headed it home.

The replacement of Butt by Brian McClair shortly before half-time added some powerful midfield thrust. After 54 minutes Solskjaer's perceptive forward pass to Giggs ended with Crossley tipping away the shot.

The excellent Solskjaer was replaced by Andy Cole. It was an ironic situation. Last season Alex Ferguson had finally dropped the ineffective Cole against Forest - United won 5-0. If Forest were spared another thrashing, they were not able to resist Cantona's skills.

Eight minutes from the end a quickly taken free-kick by Giggs was stopped and controlled superbly by the Frenchman who drove in a shot off the far post. Cantona's performance deserved to be capped and was when, two minutes into injury time, Poborsky was brought down by Chris Bart-Williams and Cantona rapped in the fourth goal from the penalty spot.