Football / Coca-Cola Cup: McClair's touch of superiority: United stay on course for treble

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The Independent Online
Portsmouth. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

AS IF facing the champions of England and Coca-Cola Cup favourites with a full complement of players was not in itself an awesome enough task, Portsmouth last night lost John Durnin to a second-half sending-off and went out limply as Manchester United's vision of an unique treble hardened on the south coast.

Alex Ferguson's remarkable team now face Sheffield Wednesday in the two-leg semi-final, their third in the competition in four years, and the chance to make up for 1991 when Wednesday, then out of the old Second Division, surprised them and the rest of football in the final by doing what they failed to achieve at Wembley last season.

Last night's opposition from the First Division came up decidedly short, even with a full set of 11, and United ran out comfortable winners. In doing so they extended their run without defeat to 28 games. Next stop for the invincible ones from Old Trafford are Norwich City in the FA Cup on Sunday. Nothing that transpired at Fratton Park would encourage Norfolk expectations.

For this replay Manchester were without Mark Hughes through suspension though Brian McClair once again proved a capable deputy, his simple header in the 28th minute making the difference. In truth the gulf in class was much wider.

Portsmouth gave a debut to Gerry Creaney whose club record transfer from Celtic, pounds 500,000 plus appearance increments that could add another pounds 150,000, was rushed through only yesterday afternoon. The new man showed up well early on, his ability to hold the ball and use it, inviting Paul Walsh to get involved.

It was Walsh's two goals that had earned Pompey their second tilt at United and while his touch and control radiated true quality, this time Steve Bruce and company kept a closer eye on him when he came within range of the posts.

Creaney set up Alan McLoughlin, but Peter Schmeichel had plenty of time to save and later Roy Keane had to clear hurriedly from Creaney at the far post but by then United had gained an irresistible hold on the tie.

Paul Ince's volley just over the crossbar was the sign of things to come and in the 25th minute, after Ryan Giggs had teased the Pompey defenders and found Keane in space, Alan Knight had to spread himself quickly to block Andrei Kanchelskis' close-range attempt. It was a splendid save, but three minutes later United were in front when Giggs's corner was nodded on by Eric Cantona and in by McClair for his fourth goal in 11 starts.

Twice at Old Trafford and on three occasions in the FA Cup at Blackburn, Pompey had shown themselves capable of retrieving a deficit and in the first minute of the second half Durnin caused Schmeichel problems. It proved an isolated threat and even easing up United were seldom in trouble. The Pompey chimes were silenced in the 63rd minute when shortly after a squabble involving Ince, Durnin senselessly lashed out at the player from behind and was dismissed.

Despite the ease of United's authority Ferguson insisted afterwards that the treble is out of reach. 'We can't do it, it's never been done before so why should it be us,' he said. 'You don't get lucky in both cups and the League is our priority.'

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Knight; Symons, Kristensen, Awford, Daniel; Neill, McLoughlin, Durnin, Chamberlain (Powell, h/t); Walsh, Creaney. Substitutes not used: Horne (gk), Dobson.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Ince, Keane, Giggs; Cantona, McClair. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Neville, Dublin.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

(Photograph omitted)