Football: Cole sees off the challenge of naive Heskey

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The Independent Online
Manchester United 2 Leicester City 0

FOR THE movers, shakers and modernisers within club football it has been a good few days in Manchester. In the week of his 13th anniversary at the club, Sir Alex Ferguson's side finally appear to have wriggled out of the FA Cup in favour of that lucrative working holiday in Brazil. Even luckless Manchester City came into a few bob.

In the sideshow which is football, meanwhile, there was also good news. On Saturday evening both Manchester teams were leading the top two divisions in the country. Despite having been doubled booked since September, United returned to the top of the Premier League with only their third win in seven league fixtures. There was also good news for the rest of the country as the search for a striker with the wherewithal and wit to unsettle Scotland appears to be over.

On a bright, but bitter Saturday Andy Cole strode the edge of the Leicester box like an indolent leopard released unwillingly from captivity for an afternoon walk. An extraordinarily athletic bicycle kick from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's header showed the measure of the beast. The ball was floating at head level before being dispatched with a stylish off-the-shoulder number whose aesthetic value was matched only by its technical precision.

It was a goal that Cole undoubtedly deserved, but United at the time of its scoring did not and the Old Trafford crowd awoke with a startled roar. The Leicester fans' refrain of "you only sing when you're winning" was not so much a taunt as an observation.

Cole's recent strong performances, topped by a second strike on Saturday to secure the result, will not erase all the doubts over his perceived lack of touch and his low goals-to-chances ratio, but his pace, directness and invention could be weapons shrewdly wielded against the Scots.

Of his colleagues, Roy Keane was playing in a deep position and well within himself, his retreat from midfield leaving the centre circle a good deal less cut-throat than the average Leicester boardroom.

The United captain seemed strangely unwilling to wrest control from Leicester's fiveman committee in which Neil Lennon was outstanding. One fine tackle curtailed a surging run from the said Irishman, while Lennon also interrupted the rhythm of some of Dwight Yorke's fancier footwork.

Martin O'Neill duly talked up his own England forward's chances, but in truth Emile Heskey looked naive in comparison to Cole. Too often he considered his job done when he laid the ball off, his failure to consider the ball after next leaving his colleagues short of options. Next Saturday and the following Wednesday England will need to keep all theirs open.

Goals: Cole (30) 1-0; Cole (83) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-3-3) Bosnich; Silvestre, Higginbotham (May, 79), Stam, P Neville (Berg 83); Scholes, Keane, Giggs; Solskjaer, Yorke, Cole. Substitutes not used: Cruyff, Greening, Van der Gouw (gk)

Leicester City (3-5-2) Flowers; Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart; Impey, Savage, Izzet, Lennon, Guppy; Cottee (Walsh, 79), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Gilchrist, Oakes, Zagorakis, Arphexad (gk)

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Man of the match: Cole.

Attendance: 55,191.