Football: Cole soothes United's nerves

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The Independent Online
Manchester United 2 LKS Lodz 0

IT WAS not the stuff of Old Trafford legend but, with his players still shaking the summer rust from their limbs, Alex Ferguson was happy enough with Manchester United's start to their latest European campaign.

Last night's performance, against a LKS Lodz side lacking in both ambition and ability, promised more goals than it delivered, but the two it did provide ought to be sufficient to ease United into the lucrative Champions' League.

As important as the goals, scored by Ryan Giggs after 15 minutes and Andy Cole after 80, was the clean sheet which ensured the Polish champions left with little succour for the second leg of this qualifying tie in 13 days' time. Had it not been for poor crossing, careless finishing and a goalkeeper who lived up to the memory of Jan Tomaszweski, Lodz would be travelling home with no hope at all. As it is they can still dream but United, while rarely playing with fluency, were so manifestly superior they are unlikely to be surprised in Poland.

"I'm happy with the performance and very pleased with the result," said Alex Ferguson. "I thought it would end 1-0 which would have been frustrating. The second goal was very important. Now we are just looking for a sensible performance over there."

Marek Dziuba, the LKS coach, said: "1-0 would have been better but it is not all over." But the former Polish international added: "We could score the two goals but really we need three and that is a monumental task. Manchester United are such a strong side I would be happy to be able to call on their reserves for my team."

Despite that reserve strength, United were unchanged from Sunday's Charity Shield debacle, a decision which, to judge from a local paper survey, was supported by the fans. The Poles included their Nigerian, Omodiagbe Darlington, who had passed a late fitness test in time to give the commentators a brief respite from both the unpronounceable names and indistinguishable shaven heads of his team-mates.

United's own baldy, Jaap Stam, was the focus of attention after his uncertain display at Wembley and, though he had little opportunity to show his pedigree, Ferguson was pleased with both his performance and the way he dovetailed with Ronny Johnsen. In front of him Roy Keane slipped quickly into the groove with a foul after 30 seconds before a solid display as midfield anchor. In attack Paul Scholes and Cole showed they still need time to establish their fledgling partnership, though each looked slick individually.

Some quick-footed trickery by Scholes led to a booking for Darlington after just six minutes, then Cole brought the first of many solid saves from Boguslaw Wyparlo before setting up Giggs, who should have scored but delayed long enough for Wyparlo to save. Rafal Pawlak just got in front of Scholes as he sought to pocket the rebound.

Giggs, drifting in from the wing, then drilled a 25-yard shot wide before moving onto Scholes' knock-down from Gary Neville's long pass, stepping past a stumbling defender and sliding the ball past Wyparlo.

Cole brought a fine save from Wyparlo five minutes later before Lodz finally managed a shot after a harsh handball decision against Johnsen. Not that Peter Schmeichel was worried as Rafal Niznik ballooned the free- kick well over the bar. As if to underline the contrasting strengths of the side, Schmeichel was making his 24th European appearance for United while Lodz were playing their fifth. Schmeichel is now level-third with Paddy Crerand in the club's standings, behind Bill Foulkes and Bobby Charlton.

Though Nicky Butt, who has played 23 European ties in his short career - more than George Best or Denis Law - was then booked, United maintained control and, after 33 minutes, only an athletic clearance by Grzegorz Krysiak denied Stam a goal.

Such dogged defending, and the composed handling of the 23-year-old Wyparlo - who will surely be headed west, perhaps to the Premiership, within a couple of years - kept United out to the break and beyond. This gave the Poles the confidence to mount a few attacks of their own, and Dzidoslaw Zuberek finally brought a save from Schmeichel on the hour.

United rushed back into attack but a little more cautiously. Cole twice went close, once denied by Wyparlo, once miskicking in front of goal. The incessant pressure reaped a series of free-kicks but neither Denis Irwin, Beckham nor Stam could even find the target, let alone beat the goalkeeper.

Then, with nerves fraying, the outstanding Giggs released Irwin down the left. He reached the byline and crossed to the far post, where Cole belied talk of Dwight Yorke or Patrick Kluivert usurping his place with a cool headed finish.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs; Scholes (Solskjaer. 80), Cole. Substitutes not used: May, Sheringham, P Neville, Cruyff, Berg, Culkin.

LKS Lodz (3-5-2): Wyparlo; Pawlak, Bendkowski, Krysiak; Zuberek (Paszulewicz, 71), Wyciszkiewicz, Niznik (Crabone, 55), Kos, Cebula; Wieszczycki, Darlington. Substitutes not used: Slawuta, Bugaj, Carbone, Jakubowski, Piotr, Pluciennik.

Referee: A Ouzounov (Bulgaria).

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