Leeds United. . . . 0
AFTER some pasty antipasta from Italy, courtesy of Channel 4, here was the roast beef of old England, United moving up to fourth place in the Premier League with a tasty performance yesterday which will have had the top three peering anxiously in the rear view mirror.
Of the four successive wins which have repaired a damaging start, this was easily the best. It was also, of course, the most satisfying.
One result is small consolation for the crushing disappointment of last season, when Leeds pipped them at the post in the championship, but it was a victory Old Trafford savoured to the full.
United waxed stronger the longer the game went on, their irresistible second-half performance all the more impressive in the light of Alex Ferguson's post-match revelation that Paul Ince, Gary Pallister and Brian McClair were suffering from an unidentified virus.
Ill or not, Ince gave a dynamic display in midfield, fully deserving of the first cap England have promised him in Spain on Wednesday. He and the manager's son, Darren Ferguson, turned the tide after Leeds had made an assertive start, and kept it flowing United's way throughout a second half which should have doubled the score.
Unwilling to expose the inexperienced Jon Newsome to the wiles of Ryan Giggs, Leeds moved Chris Fairclough to right-back, only to discover that United had read their intentions and switched wingers, with Giggs on the right, for once, and Andrei Kanchelskis on the left.
For the champions, it was to be one of those days. The force was with the old enemy who, by the end, were reproducing the withering form of 12 months ago.
Mark Hughes should have had a hat-trick in the closing stages, but shivered a post with one piledriver, saw another well saved by John Lukic and wasted his third chance with a hurried finish. A 20-minute microcosm of his career.
Talking of hat-tricks, Eric Cantona has two to his credit already this season but, hard though he tried, this was not to be Ooh- trois Cantona.
Two acrobatic volleys drew applause, even from the red hordes, but the Frenchman should have done better with a close-range header and was unusually slow to react to an early chance, allowing Pallister to shut him out.
In fairness, Leeds' attacking potential was impaired after only 13 minutes, when Rod Wallace hobbled off with the hamstring trouble which will prevent him joining the England squad for Santander.
Gordon Strachan is no mean substitute, but he lacks Wallace's pace and goalscoring potential, and the injury greatly diminished the threat to United's central defenders.
Hughes, who had a good match, missed chances apart, embarrassed Newsome twice early on, and was so heavily involved that it was surprising he played no part in the opening goal.
Twenty-eight minutes had elapsed when the two wingers combined delightfully, Giggs producing an inviting cross on the run with the outside of his left foot for the Ukrainian to score with a header at the far post. Ecstacy on the terraces. Ooh-bliss Kanchelskis.
Strachan, set up by the industrious Gary Speed, might have equalised after 42 minutes, but had his 12-yard shot blocked by Peter Schmeichel's. Wallace would probably have scored.
It was to be Leeds' last chance of regaining parity. A minute before half-time Lukic made a hash of Denis Irwin's corner from the right, and Steve Bruce made it 2-0 from prodding distance.
It should have been more, but everyone seemed happy enough - even Fergie, who said: 'We've beaten a good side today and it has given us a lot of satisfaction. I've given all the players three days off.'
By the time they report back the midweek internationals will be over and the mystery virus is expected to have cleared in time for Saturday's match at Everton.
Manchester United: Schmeichel; Blackmore, Irwin, Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Kanchelskis, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Martin, Wallace, Walsh (gk).
Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome (Hodge, 68), Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Cantona, Wallace (Strachan, 16), Chapman, McAllister, Speed. Substitute not used: Day (gk).
Referee: P Don (Hanworth Park).
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