Football: Cantona steadies United

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The Independent Online
Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 ALEX FERGUSON'S programme notes insisted that his side have not given up on the Premiership in order to concentrate on the European Champions' League.

But two of United's three League defeats preceded European matches, and although they clung on to their 100 per cent home record on Saturday, there was ample evidence that the minds of some of his players were not entirely on the matter in hand.

If the Manchester United manager's own thoughts had not strayed to Wednesday's visit of Barcelona, too, they turned in that direction as soon as the final whistle blew. A groin injury to David May and a knock on the knee for Lee Sharpe mean that selecting a side with the prescribed number of Englishmen to face the Spanish champions will involve another twist of the kaleidoscope.

No less worrying was the fact that only Paul Ince and Gary Pallister, sweeping up amid a lot of untidy defending, flew the English flag with any distinction compared with United's effective foreign contingent. As the West Ham manager Harry Redknapp said afterwards: 'We will never get more opportunities at Old Trafford.' And that despite the fact that, with Tony Cottee a lone figure up front and five men packing midfield, containment was the Londoners' priority.

They would have achieved it, too, but for a momentary aberration in first-half injury time. Alvin Martin, thinking he heard a call from a colleague, deliberately left the ball and Cantona's tap-in was as soft as camembert. But the lead was never secure. Sharpe filled in for May at left-back, and Matthew Rush exposed his defensive limitations throughout the second half.

'We were thankful for three points,' Ferguson said. 'It was a totally untidy performance. I hope the big game on Wednesday will bring the best out of us.'

Goal: Cantona (45) 1-0.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Schmeichel; May (Butt, h-t), Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Cantona, Ince, Sharpe; Kanchelskis, Hughes, Giggs. Subsitutes not used: McClair, Walsh (gk).

West Ham United (4-5-1): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland; Rush, Moncur, Allen, Hutchison, Marsh; Cottee. Substitutes not used: Bishop, Whitbread, Feuer (gk).

Referee: R Gifford (Llanbadrach).