Football: Case of unlucky 13 as United fall back

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Ipswich Town . . . . .2

Manchester United. . .1

UNLUCKY 13 for Manchester United. They had extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches but, at Portman Road yesterday, the sequence ended when, after conceding two goals, their remorseless attacking against a well-organised Ipswich side was not dressed with enough thought to allow them to pull back, or stop Norwich City taking their place at the top of the Premier League.

After many months of frustration - some would say decades - United came to this point in the season having recently looked a contented and properly balanced team. At last it seemed that they were almost free of misgivings and their football of late had reflected confidence and surefootedness on the still long road to the title.

However, yesterday the innovative football of the underestimated Ipswich soon caused doubts to reappear. Where in the previous dozen games United had flowed through midfield and brought out the best of Eric Cantona, yesterday they were frustrated by a side who pegged them in the first half and were prepared to face everything thrown at them in the second.

United had reason to feel in good spirits. Defeating the bottom team in the Premier League in midweek would not normally be anything to whoop about, but sides of such debonair ways as Nottingham Forest are not normally so cast down.

The highlight of that performance had been a fine goal by Ince, who, in the past, has not been everyone's idea of a player, who always lifts the spirits. This season, though, his own spirit has been unquestioned which made it all the more impressive that Ipswich stifled him as well as the dancing feet of Ryan Giggs.

As for Ipswich, a 2-0 win at Tottenham on Wednesday, and this result, have revived hopes of seeing European football next season and acted as a reminder that the East Anglian challenge for the title is still two-fold. They continued to ring the changes tactically and, having acquired the much-travelled Yugoslav-born Vlado Bozinoski, they are more cosmopolitan than ever. United, like most others this season, found them enterprising and not deterred by pressure.

Three times in the first five minutes Clive Baker was scrambling more in hope than anticipation and twice his weak kicking put Ipswich in terrible trouble.

A chip from Mark Hughes was deflected on to the netting behind the crossbar and both Brian McClair and Lee Sharpe missed good chances.

Ipswich simply kept cool and looked to counter, which they did effectively.

United have not been behind in a match since Boxing Day, but the record was in peril when Peter Schmeichel hurriedly turned Bozinoski's shot over the bar before he made an utter mess of his next involvement. Chris Kiwomya's speed was a constant threat to the United defence, and when he pursued a long pass from Boncho Genchev, Schmeichel immediately ran out of the penalty area in a wild attempt to intercept. The goalkeeper's timing was unconvincing and Kiwomya gave him the slip before sliding the ball into an empty goal.

Having himself begun uncertainly, Baker, in the Ipswich goal, must have been relieved to see Schmeichel's discomfort. And, just before half-time, he showed fully restored confidence when cleverly palming away a dangerous shot from Denis Irwin, who was to rue the denial.

No sooner had the second half begun than Kiwomya was smashing a shot against the post and, after 47 minutes, Jason Dozell threaded a pass through the United defence into the path of Frank Yallop, who was moving into the penalty area. Yallop, who had scored his first goal in four years against Spurs, now hit a curling drive past Schmeichel.

United took up residence in the Ipswich half but even Eric Cantona's imagination and Ince's determined midfield thrusting was less than was required.

This was a game United always said would be testing but are any of their remaining matches likely to be anything else? By the time their pressure had brought them a late goal when, from a yard out, Brian McClair stabbed in Cantona's cross, the points had slipped away though it took a last second save on the line by Baker from Hughes to deny them one.

Ipswich Town: C Baker; G Johnson, N Thompson, G Williams, P Whelan, D Linighan, F Yallop, B Genchev (M Stockwell, 88 min), V Bozinoski (Wark, 88 min), J Dozzell, C Kiwomya. Sub not used: C Forrest (gk). Manager: M McGiven.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; P Parker, D Irwin, S Bruce, L Sharpe (A Kanchelskis, 66 min), G Pallister, E Cantona, P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes, R Giggs. Subs not used: M Phelan, L Sealey (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Referee: J Key (Rotherham).

Goals: Kiwomya (1-0, 20 min); Yallop (2-0, 47min); McClair (2-1, 84 min).

----------------------------------------------------------------- FA PREMIER LEAGUE TOP FIVE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Norwich. . . . . 26 14 6 6 40 38 48 Man Utd. . . . . 26 13 8 5 40 21 47 Aston Villa. . . 26 13 8 5 42 29 47 Ipswich. . . . . 26 10 12 4 36 29 42 Blackburn. . . . 26 11 8 7 39 28 41 -----------------------------------------------------------------