Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
BRAMALL LANE witnessed all the virtuosity and volatility of Mark Hughes in yesterday's third-round tie. The Manchester United striker kept the champions on course for an unprecedented treble with a winner of consummate quality, only to tarnish the memory by being sent off for a wild foul with two minutes remaining.
Hughes, who faces a two-match suspension, will now miss the Cup favourites' visit to Norwich in the fourth round. He could have few complaints, even if by kicking David Tuttle from behind he was exacting redress for a particularly bad tackle by the Sheffield defender earlier in a fractious and disappointingly flair-free contest.
As Gerald Ashby reached for the combination of yellow and red cards - the Welshman had been cautioned during the first half for a foul on the combative Chris Kamara - Hughes was already on his way to the dressing-room. His action left the referee no option, though Hughes will doubtless reflect on Mr Ashby's failure to penalise Tuttle in the 72nd minute, an aberration which merely allowed resentment to fester.
The shame was that Hughes had risen above the mediocrity around him to create and execute an exquisite goal after 62 minutes. Twenty- four hours after Torvill and Dean had left Sheffield united in awe as their blades etched a sweet symmetry on the ice, he danced across the pitch from the right wing to the inside-left channel, cutting his way through the Blades' defence with a succession of quickfire one-twos.
The first exchange was with Eric Cantona, the next two with Paul Ince, before Hughes unleashed an angled shot from 12 yards which entered the net via the outstretched left hand of Alan Kelly and an upright.
Sheffield's followers in a surprisingly low crowd of 22,019 - nearly a third below capacity - had hoped that Cup history might repeat itself. It did: Manchester's success duplicated the scoreline from the clubs' quarter-final meeting in 1990, when they went on to take the trophy, and avenged their fifth-round defeat to Dave Bassett's side during last year's run to the semi-finals.
Manchester were uncharacteristically cautious during the first half, when Bassett, tongue only slightly in cheek, felt that the visitors had looked more like one of his teams with their long balls out of defence. Despite territorial supremacy and the subtle promptings of Glyn Hodges, who for once overshadowed Cantona, his own forwards seldom looked capable of scoring.
The first real opportunity fell to Sheffield in the 42nd minute, when Dennis Irwin kicked a Jostein Flo header off the line. Manchester reciprocated three minutes later, when Ryan Giggs seized upon Carl Bradshaw's weak headed clearance. Giggs drove straight at Kelly's legs, with Roy Keane screaming for a pass, which appeared likely to epitomise the entire afternoon.
Hughes's 11th goal of the season - a 'perfect six' in the context of so much imperfection - laid that fear to rest. Although Mitch Ward and Flo both came close during Sheffield's retaliation, Manchester were edging towards a comfortable if slender victory when Hughes lunged at Tuttle with a style that owed more to Barney Rubble than Christopher Dean.
The only mystery was that Ashby considered the offence worth a second yellow card, rather than the red on its own that it plainly merited.
Alex Ferguson could hardly condone his player's behaviour, but was justified in pointing to the mitigating circumstances. 'Tuttle went right through him and the ref did nothing about it,' he complained. 'They gave Mark a lot of abuse, and I think he will be terribly disappointed by the lack of protection he got out there.'
Sheffield United (4-3-3): Kelly; Bradshaw, Tuttle, Beesley, Gage; Hoyland (Scott, 71), Kamara, Hodges; Ward (Nilsen, 80), Flo, Whitehouse. Substitute not used: Muggleton (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs; Cantona, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Robson, McClair, Sealey (gk).
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).
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