Manchester United. .1
THE first day of the Premier League was always going to be difficult for Manchester United. In the last week, they have been reminded repeatedly that last season was a golden opportunity missed in their 26-year quest to bring the championship back to Old Trafford, and nothing short of a convincing victory at Bramall Lane was likely to allow them respite from gloomy prophets.
It was not to be. Sheffield United, with a better record than Alex Ferguson's side in the second half of last season, were a goal ahead after five minutes of the first half and two ahead by the same point of the second half. United responded positively and cut the deficit with just under half an hour remaining, but their fightback was not sufficient to win a point. They play Everton at Old Trafford on Wednesday with the pressure of expectancy already weighing on them.
Brian Deane scored both goals for Sheffield United, pleasantly rounding off a week in which the former Doncaster Rovers striker has been asked to wear a Santa Claus suit and to sign a new two- year contract. He fulfilled both demands with equal willingness, especially since the latter is reported to have raised his wages to a level appropriate for a player valued at pounds 3m.
The former was an example of Dave Bassett's sense of humour. Reasoning that it seems to take his side until Christmas to get their act together, Bassett decided to bring the festivites forward. So far, the ploy is working.
Graham Taylor, the England manager, was among those who witnessed Deane's goals, although neither required the player to perform other than routine tasks. He was barely four yards from the Manchester goal and unattended when Clayton Blackmore obligingly deflected Carl Bradshaw's throw from the right on to his head. His second goal was from the penalty spot.
Taylor may have been more impressed with Deane's contribution to the move that led to the penalty award, which was brief but decisive. Darting from the left towards centre field, he dragged Steve Bruce out of position just enough to create a hole in the United defence, through which John Gannon found Alan Cork breaking goal-side of Gary Pallister. The lunge that followed was clumsy and the penalty beyond doubt.
Deane must enjoy opening days. This was the fourth in a row in which he has been on the score sheet. If referee Brian Hill's decision in this instance was fair enough, it was hardly likely to improve Ferguson's opinion of the official following his denial of United's appeals when Simon Tracey, the Sheffield goalkeeper, cut down Ryan Giggs inside the area when the game was 19 minutes old. Ferguson, in a furious mood at the post-match press conference, plans to lodge a protest against Hill and may even request that he is not given charge of any further United matches.
Had play not been waved on at this point it is conceivable that the contest might have unfolded differently, although the visitors had other chances to draw level in the first half against a side who were then allowing them generous space going forward. However, they might also have found themselves trailing 2-0 at half-time.
Peter Schmeichel and Pallister, neither of whom seemed entirely comfortable with the new back- pass rule, misunderstood each other's intentions when no real danger threatened, with the end result that Pallister had a post to thank for avoiding the embarrassment of a headed own-goal.
Once they were 2-0 behind, United naturally attacked with greater urgency and Sheffield were forced to play most of the final half-hour in their own half after Hughes had controlled Schmeichel's wind-assisted kick, held off the challenge of McLeary and slotted a low shot into Tracey's left-hand corner.
Ferguson, having been forced to replace Paul Ince with Mike Phelan in the eighth minute after the former had collided with Tracey, sent on Dion Dublin for the final 20 minutes, withdrawing Andrei Kanchelskis. Ferguson's wisdom in paying pounds 1m to Cambridge United for Dublin has been questioned and no one was more surprised than the player himself when he was asked to leave the biff-bang world of the Abbey Stadium for the rarified atmosphere of Old Trafford.
Yesterday offered little to go on, although Dublin did test Tracey with a low drive, the closest, ultimately, that United came to winning a point.
Sheffield United: S Tracey; K Gage, D Barnes, J Gannon (C Hartfield, 87 min), P Beesley, A McLeary, C Bradshaw, M Lake, A Cork, B Deane, G Hodges (I Bryson, 69 min). Manager: D Bassett.
Manchester United: P Schmeichel; D Irwin, C Blackmore, S Bruce, D Ferguson, G Pallister, A Kanchelskis (D Dublin, 69 min), P Ince (M Phelan, 8 min), B McClair, M Hughes, R Giggs. Manager: A Ferguson.
Referee: B Hill (Kettering).
Goals: Deane (5 min, 1-0); Deane, pen (49 min, 2-0); Hughes (61 min, 2-1).Reuse content