Football: Edgy United hold their nerve

DAVE HADFIELD

Manchester United 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0

A fifth vital goal in as many matches from Eric Cantona took Manchester United three points clear of Newcastle at the head of the Premiership.

Cantona's 50th-minute strike was worthy of breaking the deadlock in a game of much goalmouth action. Taking the ball in a far less threatening position than those from which lesser mortals had missed, the Frenchman first ran at the defence, but then seemed to be drifting towards the left bank of the penalty area with nothing very dramatic on his mind.

Having reached the angle that suited him, however, he pulled his left foot shot back past Ian Walker and low into the far corner.

Spurs had a valid complaint that they should have been awarded a corner immediately before the goal and not all their players had got themselves back into play when Philip Neville's clearance reached Cantona.

"I don't think Manchester United will have too many problems winning the title. You never get any decisions against them here," said the disgruntled Spurs manager, Gerry Francis.

"I was disappointed to hear that stuff," Alex Ferguson, the United manager, responded. "I can understand him being disappointed, but his players stopped playing and ours did the correct thing by carrying on. It was a performance of magnificence from Cantona. Everyone is chasing us now."

The goal came after a breathless first half during which both sides failed to take inviting chances. United began with an edginess that suggested they were all too aware that Spurs, who beat them 4-1 at White Hart Lane earlier this season, could upset their plans.

Peter Schmeichel had to leap to save Teddy Sheringham's fierce shot and then the same player's header from the corner flashed past the post.

The best chance of Tottenham's torrid first quarter fell to Chris Armstrong, when Steve Bruce inexplicably allowed Ruel Fox's lob to go past him. Armstrong was left free to run through at Schmeichel, but when he looked up there was the goalkeeper looming above him, and he could only shoot weakly into his upraised arms.

As United started to come into the game, Andy Cole, with what is coming to seem a cruel inevitability, missed an even better chance. Cole had helped to create the opening, battling to win a ball in midfield, but when Ryan Giggs' cleverly laid pass reached him on the penalty spot, he failed to make clean contact and pushed it at Walker.

Giggs later chipped on to the roof of the net, but the continuing threat of Tottenham was acknowledged by the way United changed their formation by putting three centre-backs in operation before half-time.

Of those three, David May can have rarely played a better game for United, working overtime against a Spurs attack revolving around Sheringham that was never less than dangerous.

Cole, taking his non-scoring run to five to match Cantona's more positive record, was replaced in the 72nd minute, while Giggs' frustration continued when he could not produce an end result to match his approach work by putting a stab past the post and hitting the bar from David Beckham's cross.

Sheringham remained irrepressible to the end, bringing Schmeichel into urgent action once more to tip over a dipping header and then forcing him to dive at his feet in injury time.

Goal: Cantona (51) 1-0.

Manchester United: (4-4-2) Schmeichel; G Neville, Bruce, May, P Neville (Beckham, 63); Giggs, Butt, Keane, Sharpe; Cole (McClair, 72), Cantona. Substitute not used: Scholes.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2) Walker; Austin, Campbell, Mabbutt (Nethercott, 50), Wilson; Fox, Dozzell, Howells, Sinton; Armstrong, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Edinburgh, Thorstvedt (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Bookings: Manchester United: Keane, Butt. Tottenham: Mabbutt.

Man of the match: May. Attendance: 50,157.

Premiership top three

P W D L F A Pts GD

Man Utd 32 20 7 5 59 30 67 +29

Newcastle 30 20 4 6 55 28 64 +27

Liverpool 31 17 8 6 60 27 59 +33

Remaining fixtures

NEWCASTLE: 4 Apr: Liverpool (a). 6 Apr: QPR (h). 8 Apr: Blackburn (a). 14 Apr: Aston Villa (h). 17 Apr: Southampton (h). 29 Apr: Leeds Utd (a). 2 May Nottm Forest (a). 5 May: Tottenham (h).

MANCHESTER UNITED: 6 Apr: Manchester City (a). 8 Apr: Coventry (h). 13 Apr: Southampton (a). 17 Apr: Leeds Utd (h). 28 Apr: Nottingham Forest (h). 5 May: Middlesbrough (a).

LIVERPOOL: 4 Apr: Newcastle (h). 6 Apr: Coventry (a). 8 Apr: West Ham (h). 16 Apr: Everton (a). 27 Apr: Middlesbrough (h). 1 May: Arsenal (a). 5 May: Manchester City (a).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin