Football: Ferguson's guessing game continues

Manchester United 1 Leeds United 0

Many teams are difficult to quantify, but Manchester United are harder than most. This time last year they were dreadful and yet still managed to win the "double" - so where their sudden emergence on Liverpool's shoulder at the top of the Premiership puts them is anyone's guess.

Certainly this match gave no clues whatsoever. One glorious move - and that was it. An assassin would have gloried in the icy efficiency of it all, the rest of us fought a losing battle against the cold and wondered whether we were watching a good team on an off day or an indifferent one picking off poor opposition.

Even Alex Ferguson drew most comfort from the three points rather than the performance, describing it as a dour struggle. "After eight minutes I thought there was going to be a lot of goals," he said, but he joined in the general mystification as to why the spark arrived but the flame refused to burst into life.

"The important aspect was not conceding a goal. We have given far too many away this season, bad ones, soft ones, crazy ones, but they all count. Until we get consistent defending we are not going to win championships. It was important for my team to learn you can win games 1-0."

Even the one goal was a penalty although the unsatisfactory nature of that was compensated for by the move that led to it. Leeds have assigned Lucas Radebe to man mark Eric Cantona, and if anyone wants a lesson in how to turn a cage into rampant freedom then the study of the Frenchman's part should be compulsory.

A deft dummy and flick from him gave Ryan Giggs space on the left and then Cantona ran Radebe dizzy in getting just enough space to become the wall which the Welsh winger played off before Gary Kelly brought him down. Cantona had missed a penalty at Elland Road earlier this season, but this time he rolled it into the corner, Nigel Martyn diving left as the ball went in the opposite direction.

"The best part was Cantona's movement," Ferguson said. "He shook off his marker twice, made two different runs and then checked off to the side to allow Giggs to play a one-two with him. That was brilliant, fantastic piece of football."

Regrettably it was the only element of fantasy all afternoon. Leeds looked comfortable at the back, but were so laboured in attack you suspect they could have played until next Christmas and still not got a goal. Put one with the wit and skill to do the unexpected in midfield and they could be a decent side, but unfortunately Gary McAllister is playing for Coventry these days.

Instead supporters are hoping Tony Yeboah will manufacture some inspiration farther up the field, but judging from the Ghanaian's condition that could be a long wait. The Leeds kit these days includes voluminous shorts that drown most of the team, but in his case are stretched as tight as a drum skin. His thighs and rear have increased like the national debt.

George Graham, who has had to endure Yeboah's sniping via the tabloids that he ought to be in the team, was not exactly tactful. "He looks overweight, just a little bit," he said in the exaggerated tone you would expect him to use to describe Bernard Manning. "He needs games because he is really unfit."

The Leeds manager was saving his diplomacy for another question. Had Cantona flicked a boot out at Radebe in an instant that left the defender needing treatment and the away fans sighing? "I didn't see anything," he replied. "I'm sure it must have been an accident." The rest of us were not so convinced.

Goal: Cantona pen (8) 1-0.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; G Neville, May, Johnsen, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes (Butt, h-t), Giggs; Cantona; Solskjaer (Cole, 75). Substitutes not used: McClair, Poborsky, Van der Gouw (gk).

Leeds United (4-1-4-1): Martyn; Kelly, Halle, Palmer, Dorigo; Radebe; Rush, Jackson, Bowyer, Deane; Yeboah (Gray, 70). Substitutes not used: Beeney (gk), Harte, Beesley, Ford.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill). Booking: Leeds: Yeboah.

Man of the match: Palmer. Attendance: 55,256.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on