Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . .1
STAN COLLYMORE, whose experience of top-level football before last night amounted to two substitute appearances for Crystal Palace, announced his arrival in the Premiership with an equaliser of awesome quality as Nottingham Forest held Manchester United at the City Ground.
To be fair, at times it was a case of the Double winners containing their newly promoted hosts. With the Dutch international Bryan Roy playing through the middle with Collymore, in what is likely to be as pacey a striking partnership as any in the division, United often lived dangerously and deserved no more than the point they gained from an exhilarating game.
A year ago today, United scaled the Premiership summit and have remained in residence every since. Lest they were ever in any doubt as to how hard it will be for them to retain the title for a second successive year, Forest disabused them of such notions.
Many teams, especially one newly promoted, might have folded in the face of a goal as breathtaking as that scored by Andrei Kanchelskis midway through the first half. In the context of the maulings suffered by Leicester and Crystal Palace, Forest's supporters may have feared the worst. Instead, Collymore struck back instantly, and frequently caused havoc with his willingness to charge at the heart of the champions' defence.
United, for their part, will be relieved to welcome back Eric Cantona after Saturday's eagerly awaited visit to Tottenham. Without the enigma's variations, Alex Ferguson's side are merely mortal. Ryan Giggs, evidently less than amused when he was substituted shortly after half- time, is missing him more than most.
The fixture had an unmistakable subtext - Roy versus Roy - which resulted in a rapturous welcome for Bryan of that ilk and churlish chants of 'Judas' for Keane. The Irishman's reappearance on the stage he once strutted as Brian Clough's capture from Cobh was delayed until the second half, whereupon he was booed relentlessly.
Eventually - inevitably - Keane became the fourth and last player to be cautioned after an injudicious challenge on Lars Bohinen, himself on as substitute. Although the evening had begun portentously with yellow cards waved at Des Lyttle (dissent) and Roy (encroachment) inside two minutes, the undercurrent of hostility remained largely below the surface.
The teams were too busy attacking and counter-attacking for that. While United moved the ball around with greater precision and imagination, Forest matched them blow for blow, making their intentions plain in the face of adversity after falling behind in the 22nd minute.
Lee Sharpe's floated cross from the left picked out Kanchelskis, who was lurking unmarked beyond the far post. His instinctive angled volley tore past Mark Crossley from 12 yards.
Collymore, who had already adopted a shoot-on- sight policy, was having none of that. Making nonsense of suggestions that he might miss the match because of an ankle injury, he seized upon a back-header by Roy and burned off Gary Pallister before drilling a low shot between the startled Peter Schmeichel and his left-hand upright. It is a sight to which Premiership goalkeepers are going to have to become accustomed.
Having established a tit- for-tat pattern, both sides had chances to record their second victory of the season after the interval. Brian McClair sent a drive narrowly wide and Paul Ince another crashing against the woodwork for the visitors, while Ian Woan once raced deep into United territory from his own half to force a sprawling save from Schmeichel. Roy, following up, was denied his second goal since a summer transfer from Foggia by further heroics from the giant Dane.
Colin Cooper, up for a corner, saw a header hacked off the line by Denis Irwin, yet Forest's best opportunity came when Collymore raced clear. David May came in to tackle, only to be contemptuously brushed aside, and it took all the expertise of Schmeichel to narrow the angle and preserve a point for United.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Phillips, Gemmill, Woan; Roy (Bohinen, 81), Collymore. Substitutes not used: Lee, Rigby (gk).
Manchester United (4-5-1): Schmeichel; May, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Ince, McClair, Sharpe, Giggs (Keane, 54); Hughes. Substitutes not used: Parker, Pilkington (gk).
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).