Football: Ferguson's faith rewarded by Cantona's class

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Southampton. . . . . .1

Manchester United. . .3

AT THIS rate Manchester United will win the championship by more than the 10-point margin they managed last time. In only the third Saturday of the embryonic Premiership, Alex Ferguson was already sounding all too familiar.

Showing a remarkable eagerness to go through the post-match ritual with reporters he began: 'Obviously it's nice to win away from home,' as though it was a novel experience. In fact, it is three out of three on United's travels. At this early stage the crown looks to be in same keeping.

Ferguson had not dallied long with his team in the dressing-room. There would have been praise for the all-round excellence and vitality of the performance, commendation for the three goalscorers. Probably a rap over the knuckles for Paul Ince for his childish spat with Matthew Le Tissier that looked as if it would bring England's summer captain a red card. But after that what else is there to say to the side that has everything?

The initial breathtaking onslaught must have revived memories for Tim Flowers of his 5-1 debut drubbing for the Saints at Old Trafford in 1986. Ryan Giggs might have scored after 15 seconds, Lee Sharpe did so after four minutes, Mark Hughes missed with two good chances from an identical angle.

Throughout the champions displayed an easy confidence, control and understanding. Returning after injury to direct the flow of traffic and seek out the easiest route to goal was Eric Cantona whose gifts are such that he can make even a great team greater and he had a hand in all three goals.

Team selections were never a straightforward matter for the manager. But with Bryan Robson, Brian McClair and Andrei Kanchelskis not starting this match, the numbers game at Old Trafford nowadays is even more complicated. Yet as far as Cantona is concerned there is no decision to make.

'I just feel he is capable of doing something of class to win you the game,' said Ferguson, and his goal was no better example, a brushstroke of genius taking the ball delicately over Flowers.

'I said to Ryan Giggs later that when you can apply that accuracy and precision then you know you are a truly great player,' added Ferguson. 'When he drew back his foot I just knew it was going in.'

Neil Maddison's early equaliser briefly raised Southampton hopes but though spirited contributors to an eventful game they finished well beaten; their consolation that many more teams will be turned over in this fashion.

Their other consolation, of course, is Le Tissier. When he was not picking arguments with opponents and officials he represented as big an individual threat to United as they will face. The thought persists: Gazza or no Gazza against Poland, why not Le Tissier for England?

Goals: Sharp (5) 0-1; Maddison (13) 1-1; Cantona (16) 1-2; Irwin (49) 1-3.

Southampton (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Moore (Charlton, 68), Monkou, Benali; Cockerill (Banger, 56), Bartlett, Maddison, Adams; Le Tissier, Dowie. Substitute not used: Andrews (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Giggs (McClair, 65), Keane (Kanchelskis, 73), Ince, Sharpe; Cantona, Hughes. Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).

Referee: A Gunn (Sussex).