Football: Champions summon sweet shades of '67

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

NOT even the biggest poopers of all could spoil this party: Manchester United yesterday concluded their championship season as all champions should, with a victory, and with Bryan Robson applying the perfect coup de grace for his one and only goal of a memorable year.

So a race that nine days ago looked destined to go to the wire became a stroll, the margin of victory over Aston Villa a comfortable 10 points.

There was additional comfort in the laying of two ghosts. United's final statistics (won 24, drawn 12, lost 6) were a carbon copy of the 1967 title- winners' and their final points total, 84, surpassed Leeds' tally of last year when they stole the title from under United's noses.

The afternoon began under grey clouds but eventually the sun came out to shine on United's parade and no matter how much muscle tried to spoil things, this was their day and Selhurst Park their home from home as the red and black hordes turned a corner of south London into a Manchester suburb.

The colours were a semi-appropriate commentary on Crystal Palace's relegation. It is Palace's embarrassment that their tenants, Wimbledon, remain among the elite and yesterday the have-nots enjoyed their best attendance for 58 years. The figure of 30,115 (all but a few thousand shouting for United) beat their previous crowd record which was for the Amateur Cup visit of HMS Victory.

Six days on from when they first put hands on the Premier League trophy, spirits were still running wild on the terraces and the failure of a minority to stay off the pitch at the end prevented the cup from receiving a lap of honour with the team.

It was the only false step in a celebration which began with Robson leading out the champions. Ryan Giggs was on the bench. Surely this was taking the mickey?

If Alex Ferguson reckoned he would be risking his most precious talent by throwing him on from the start, he had calculated correctly. Only four seconds had passed when Vinnie Jones was a little late and a trifle high on Paul Ince.

When they needed to, United traded snarl for snarl, drawing praise from Ferguson for their 'professional attitude' and amid the huge volume of derisive voices Jones was almost an outcast in his own backyard.

In footballing terms United were streets ahead, particularly when Giggs came on for the second half. He, Eric Cantona and Lee Sharpe all indulged in their party tricks and United came close several times before Ince put them ahead with his third goal in successive games, a 64th-minute volley that was helped by a deflection on its way to the net.

Six minutes later Steve Bruce's free-kick found Robson onside and he had time to pick his spot before disappearing beneath a blanket of red shirts. With eight minutes remaining Dean Holdsworth scored his 19th goal of the season from a corner.

Ferguson is planning a city parade next weekend, but meanwhile Robson was revelling in his goal. 'The lads had been ribbing me about being the only midfield player not to score this season,' he said, 'so I had to put that one away.'

Wimbledon: Segers, Barton, McAllister, Jones, Scales, Fitzgerald, Ardley (Joseph, 70), Earle, Fashanu, Holdsworth, Clarke. Substitutes not used: Sanchez, Kee (gk).

Manchester United: Schmeichel, Parker, Irwin (Giggs, h/t), Bruce, Sharpe, Pallister, Robson, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Cantona. Substitutes not used: Dublin, Sealey (gk).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).

MEXICO became the first nation to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals, when they beat Canada 2-1 in Toronto last night to win the Concacaf zone. Canada play off against the Oceania region winner and a South American team for one place.

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