Football / Coca-Cola Cup: Robson turns tide for United: Hughes volleys holders through

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Manchester United. . .1

Brighton . . . . . . .0

(United win 2-1 on aggregate)

THE progress of the holders may have been less than majestic, but Manchester United must have been happy last night to settle for a place in the third round of the Coca-Cola Cup and the safe rehabilitation of their captain, Bryan Robson.

Old Trafford welcomed back Robson to strains of 'Simply The Best' and it required the great man's perception to change the course of the tie, in which Brighton had threatened to take command. Robson's spectacular, marauding days may be over, but his control, uncanny judgement, and, above all, his sheer presence, remain powerful weaponry.

Fourteen minutes into the match, Robson employed his left foot like a sand wedge, his chip inviting Brian McClair to leap at the near post. The Scot was unlucky with his header, the ball coming back off the bar, but Mark Hughes followed up to volley home.

Until that moment, United had been in some discomfort and were thankful for Peter Schmeichel's reflexes. The Danish international saved from Andy Kennedy's header after Matthew Edwards and John Crumplin combined effectively on the right. Edwards again supplied Kennedy in the 13th minute, but Schmeichel beat out his shot. Clive Walker seized on the rebound, but somehow the goalkeeper deflected the ball away.

Robson's timely intervention should have been the prelude to a festival of goals, but United scorned chances and their Second Division opponents demonstrated admirable resistance.

Ryan Giggs was particularly profligate, Steve Bruce particularly unfortunate. Bruce, always a threat from set plays, had a shot and then a header cleared off the line, and also planted a header on to the crossbar during a torrid first-half spell in the Brighton penalty area.

Giggs should have chipped Brighton's stranded goalkeeper, Mark Beeney, and twice failed to deliver the final ball on time to imploring colleagues. Hughes, one of the frustrated, enjoyed better service from McClair after 36 minutes, but the Welshman's glancing header was a little too fine and drifted beyond the far post.

Paul Parker, also restored to United's team, was instantly at ease in his right-back role, with neither his pace nor his positional sense impaired by lengthy inactivity. Parker's tenacity carried him to the edge of Brighton's area early in the second half, only for his cross to let him down. Andrei Kanchelskis was more penetrative and Paul Ince's volley just cleared the bar.

Brighton responded with similar purpose. Unluckily for them, Walker was on the end of a centre which demanded a taller target, but the incident revived Brighton's spirits and United were grateful for Bruce's expertise in defence.

Schmeichel, too, had to be alert to advance beyond his territory and halt Kennedy's run. In the 67th minute Schmeichel again rescued United, tipping away a shot from Walker. Brighton, however, were relieved when Hughes lashed a shot against the post and then bungled the loose ball over the bar.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Kanchelskis, Pallister, Robson, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Ferguson, Blackmore.

Brighton: Beeney; Chivers, Chapman, Wilkins, McCarthy, Foster, Crumplin, Edwards (Funnell, 85), Kennedy, Codner, Walker. Substitute not used: Wilkinson.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).