Football: Champions fluff their chances

Leicester City 0 Manchester United 0 Attendance: 21,221
Click to follow
The Independent Online
There are goalless draws of the nil-nil desperandum variety, where nothing is ventured and nothing gained. Then there are rare, open and chance-strewn ones like this where the result stretches credulity. Both sides at Filbert Street yesterday ventured much - three times Leicester might have taken a lead in the first 15 minutes, three times thereafter United hit a post - and there was some gain.

The point each, though ending their 100 per cent records, keeps both unbeaten and atop the embryonic Premiership table. Leicester can be pleased with their rewards from a difficult start that has also seen them beat Aston Villa and Liverpool, while the champions, having let in a worse- than-usual 45 goals last season, are the only team who have not yet conceded this time.

Much of that is due to Peter Schmeichel, who, though aided by some poor finishing, seemed to use every part of arms and legs to keep Leicester at bay. How daunting it must be for a striker to be confronted by that goal-filling frame. "World class," said Alex Ferguson, the United manager. "When he's like that, he never looks as if he's going to be beaten."

Otherwise Ferguson, who gave a debut - which proved a rocky one - to Henning Berg, his pounds 5 million signing from Blackburn, in defence and first starts of the season to David Beckham and Gary Neville, was not best pleased. Only Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs satisfied his standards. "The rest were average," he said.

In the absence of the injured Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole, Ferguson conceded that United lack a cutting edge, despite the three strikes and not in. He said: "We had plenty of possession without looking like winning the game. We are still searching for penetration."

Martin O'Neill's Coca-Cola Cup winners have not allowed their tricky start to the season to disturb the rhythm they established upon their return to the Premiership last season. Given United's weakness up front, they might have been even more ambitious by sending more men forward late on but by then their harrying style had taken its toll. O'Neill admitted: "We stuck manfully to it, but we ran out of steam at the end. In fact, a goodly time before the end."

But how freshly they began. When the two teams met here in May, Leicester were two goals ahead in 20 minutes. This time they might have gone one better, with Emile Heskey presented with a trio of early chances.

From Berg's poor control, Neil Lennon found Muzzy Izzet, whose low cut- back Heskey turned just over the bar. Soon after, the talented 19-year- old Stuart Campbell won the ball from Keane, fed Ian Marshall and, from his through ball, Heskey shot low only for Schmeichel to save with his legs.

Moments later, Heskey was in the clear again, from Pontus Kaamark's chip, but his volley was weakly directed to Schmeichel. Added to a penalty appeal turned down later in the half, when the excellent Matt Elliott's header hit Teddy Sheringham's hand, it was breathless stuff.

It had seemed as if matters were worsening for United when Jordi Cruyff, pressed into service as leader of the attack, had to leave the field with an ankle injury. Actually, they improved. With Paul Scholes replacing him, United suddenly looked more inventive.

They might have had the lead when Scholes neatly chested the ball down to Giggs and, after his swift run and low cross, met the ball cutely, only for it to drift wide of a post. They should certainly have had one when Scholes dived to head another cross from Giggs, Kasey Keller parried and Sheringham seemed sure to score, only to stab the rebound on to a post.

Seconds into the second half, another good run by Giggs ended with him caressing a low shot against Keller's right post. Scholes struck the same spot later on after being supplied by Sheringham.

Leicester were not now the force they were, though in wider terms they have certainly become one. Neither are United yet the force they were, though you sense they will be.

Comments