Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
THEY may have let the Champions' League lucre slip through their fingers, but United are in no mood to surrender domestic supremacy, and a stirring fightback saw them transform a two-goal deficit into their most satisfying victory of the season at Maine Road yesterday.
Roy Keane supplied a finish of roof-raising drama with the 87th- minute winner, but the hero of the hour for the red legions was the man Alex Ferguson calls 'Mon Genius'.
Eric Cantona made headlines for all the wrong reasons last week. Here, his performance was again no better than fitful, but this time he provided handsome atonement by scoring twice to set the stage for Keane's grand finale.
City have only themselves to blame for letting slip a winning position after attempting to sit on the 2-0 lead furnished by Niall Quinn's trusty forehead. The result was that the second half resembled a David and Goliath cup tie, with the boys in blue defending under withering pressure from opponents who accepted the initiative and put it to good use.
Ferguson had never won at Maine Road, and for a long time it seemed that he would be denied again. There were shades of Istanbul about the first half, with United too tentative for too long. Against Galatasaray they had been anaemic in attack. This time, it was the defence found wanting, failing culpably to combat Quinn's familiar threat in the air.
The runaway League leaders had begun well enough, passing the ball around nicely for Keane to demand back-to-back saves from Tony Coton early on. It bore all the hallmarks of another routine win, until a breakaway midway through the first half turned the match on its head.
City, charging out, found themselves three on three, and the crowd groaned their disappointment when Mike Sheron appeared to have chosen the negative option in pulling out to the right instead of striking for goal. He was right; they were grateful.
A textbook cross from the inside- right channel picked out Quinn and, with Paul Parker inexplicably standing off him, the Irish totem headed the ball back whence it came, across Peter Schmeichel and into the far corner.
City were inspired, United nonplussed. Quinn and Steve McMahon would have widened the margin almost immediately but for Schmeichel's smart interventions. Quinn did so after 33 minutes when he glanced in McMahon's cross from the left at the near post, embarrassing Gary Pallister in the process.
Cantona was disappearing ever deeper into midfield anonymity, Mark Hughes and the wingers were well held by City's sweeper-orientated defence. United were in trouble, or so it seemed.
Cometh the hour, cometh l'homme. A misplaced header from Michel Vonk allowed Ferguson's genius to run on and beat Coton and, after 52 minutes, the champions were up and running.
Andrei Kanchelskis should have made it 2-2, but shot too close to Coton, who made a good save, plunging to his left. Kanchelskis, promoted at the expense of Ryan Giggs, promptly gave way to the more celebrated Welshman and, within a minute of his introduction, the fans' favourite had set up the equaliser with his first touch.
Giggs's first-time cross from the right could scarcely have been more inviting, and Cantona responded with eager alacrity, running in at the far post. Two-two, and United were irresistible now. Coton and the thick blue line protecting him held somehow until there were just three minutes left, when Denis Irwin's left-wing cross evaded Hughes in reaching the far post, where Keane thumped it in, gleefully, from no more than three yards.
After the crescent of Turkey, City and their 'Blue Moon' was just the tonic United needed. Eleven points clear again, they are glad, indeed, to be home. 'Galatasaray was only one day in the history of this club,' the bullish Ferguson said. 'Everyone was talking about us slipping but we are not going to let it affect us at all.'
Manchester City (3-4-1-2): Coton; Vonk, Curle, Kernaghan; Edghill, Flitcroft, McMahon, Phelan; Sheron; White, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Lomas, Griffiths, Dibble (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Pallister, Bruce, Irwin; Kanchelskis (Giggs, 77), Keane, Ince, Sharpe; Hughes, Cantona. Substitutes not used: Robson, Sealey (gk).
Referee: R Hart (Darlington).
Photograph, page 31
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