Football / Charity Shield: Cantona lifts the occasion: Champions flourish on French flair in a Wembley spectacle which outshone its modest promise: Joe Lovejoy reports from Wembley

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Leeds United. . .4

Liverpool . . . .3

FOR the brewers who gave us a dog taking its constitutional across the ceiling it was just another phenomenon. A Charity Shield to remember? Small beer.

Traditionally, the defending champions and FA Cup holders plod through a meaningless match, forgotten half-way through the retreat round the North Circular, and again the omens had not been good.

Leeds United and Liverpool had billed it as 'just another training game', of minimal significance. 'Neither of us saw it as the end all and be all,' was how Howard Wilkinson put it - the cliche presumably inverted out of deference to the Tennents mutt.

Fortunately, the players took the opposite attitude. Lifted by the venue and the anti-Manchester United alliance (the crowd, that is - not an alternative title for the Premier League), they made it a vibrant spectacle, brim-full of goalmouth incident. Leeds won 4-3, but it could easily have gone the other way, Liverpool shading it in terms of chances, but losing because they had no one as proficient as Eric Cantona in front of goal.

The Frenchman scored just three times in his first 15 League appearances and, despite enjoying cult status at Elland Road, he was little more than a peripheral figure as Leeds won the title, but he is said to have benefited greatly from Wilkinson's arduous pre- season regime, and certainly looked both fitter and sharper in plundering a fragile Liverpool defence for the first hat-trick of his career.

If he can sustain form and enthusiasm when summer friendlies give way to mid-winter slog, he will be a snip at pounds 900,000 - a quarter of what Blackburn Rovers have paid for the less gifted Alan Shearer.

In Leeds terms, Shearer could be an Allan Clarke, Cantona a Duncan McKenzie, but if the Parisian applies himself he should be much the better player. As ever with the flair merchants, it is a question of attitude rather than aptitude.

Cantona? Wilkinson smiles. 'He's better now than he was six months ago. He has benefited from pre-season training, but he's still learning.' Learning what? The language, for one thing. 'When I say nice things to him, he understands me very well. When I suggest he works harder, he finds it more difficult.' C'est la vie.

The far-from-terrible enfant's every touch was greeted with enough ooh-aahs for another series of Up Pompeii], but Rod Wallace was no less impressive, teasing and turning the experimental three-man defence with which Liverpool intend to persevere, despite the discouraging concession of four goals.

Wallace's confident, elusive running and effective distribution will have been a crumb of comfort for Graham Taylor, who saw six of the seven goals, and most of the honours, claimed by 'foreigners'.

Taylor will also have noted, somewhat ruefully, that Mark Wright, apparently on the verge of amputation when he dropped out of the European Championship, was fully restored, without the operation said to be vital to his well- being. To add insult to controversial injury, he was playing the pivotal role in a three-man defence - a job not a million miles from the one Taylor had envisaged for him in Sweden.

In the absence of Rob Jones, another England absentee, Liverpool have embraced a 3-5-2 formation which Graeme Souness likens to that used by Arsenal, among others.

True, there are obvious similarities, but he neglected to mention a fundamental difference. George Graham deploys three centre- halves but, by pushing his full- backs into midfield, he has five players whose instincts are defensive. Liverpool are playing with two forwards, Dean Saunders and Mark Walters, in the wing-back positions, allowing the opposition to pour down the flanks virtually unimpeded before falling upon an undermanned defence.

The return of Jones and Steve Nicol should go a long way towards remedying the problem, an early return to an orthodox back four a fair bet.

Leeds had difficulties of their own in defence, where the inexperienced Jon Newsome was turned and passed with dispiriting ease by Walters, but here, too, relief is at hand. Mel Sterland, for whom Newsome is deputising, has manifest shortcomings as a marker, but the surging runs which are his forte lift such pressure by forcing his winger back, into the role of auxiliary defender.

Inventive attacking, defensive frailty and Bruce Grobbelaar's enduring, and endearing, eccentricity combined to make it a better match than we had any right to expect in such withering heat and humidity.

Just another training game? They were pulling our pilsener.

Goals: Cantona (26) 1-0; Rush (33) 1-1; Dorigo (43) 2-1; Saunders (65) 2-2; Cantona (77) 3-2; Cantona (87) 4-2; Strachan og (89) 4-3.

Leeds United: Lukic; Newsome (Strachan 84), Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Cantona, Wallace, Chapman (Hodge, 79), McAllister, Speed.

Liverpool: Grobbelaar; Tanner, Burrows, Marsh (Hutchison, 72), Whelan, Wright, Saunders, Stewart, Rush, Rosenthal (Kozma, 83), Walters.

Referee: D Elleray (Middlesex).

(Photograph omitted)

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