Football / FA Premiership: Foreign legion save United

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Coventry City. . . . .0

Manchester United. . .1

Cantona 60

Attendance: 17,020

ERIC CANTONA probably could not cross the road without a flourish, so it was little surprise when he marked a year with Manchester United by scoring the winner on an otherwise unremarkable afternoon for the champions. A deft headed flick from a Denis Irwin cross mid-way through the second-half kept the juggernaut rolling - a run of 28 points from the last 30 leaving them 14 points clear this morning.

But it was another member of the Old Trafford foreign legion, Peter Schmeichel, who played the biggest hand in denying a Coventry side eagerly belying their status as rank underdogs. The Danish goalkeeper made three instinctive saves of the highest quality, and Coventry twice struck the woodwork - the second time in the final minute - to suggest that even the big man upstairs is a United supporter.

Phil Neal, making his home debut since being confirmed as Coventry's manager, said ruefully: 'I was pleased with the football and the chances we created. It should have been a happier ending than it was.'

It would have been but for Schmeichel. Coventry created a succession of good chances, but the keeper was in implacable mood. He thrust up a hand to block Mick Quinn's shot at point-blank range and turned round a rising drive from the burly striker at the near post. In the second-half, Sean Flynn's snap shot looked unstoppable until Schmeichel shot out his left hand on the goal-line.

Chris Marsden, a late replacement for the home side, thudded a volley against the underside of the bar in the dying seconds, while Peter Ndlovu had also struck the outside of the post not long after United had scored.

A subdued United manager, Alex Ferguson, admitted: 'I couldn't see a goal coming for us. We had two chances and scored from one of them. But when a cross comes in Eric is always in the danger area.'

United required some more luck to find the opener. Peter Atherton's clearance came back off a corner flag to allow Irwin to cross. It was perfectly weighted, clearing the home defence, for the Frenchman to ghost in and head down and across the stranded Steve Ogrizovic.

'We have never found it easy to come here,' said Ferguson, who was missing Keane and Robson through injury, although he restored Giggs to the starting line-up for the first time in four matches. But he and United were not the freewheeling force we have come to expect, yet with Cantona inside they have ingredient X. Since his purchase from Leeds, United have now won 31 of 42 league games.