Football: Giggs and Cantona are united in celebration

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The Independent Online
Coventry City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

NOW it's official. Ryan Giggs is no longer British football's most talented teenager. But like Manchester United's position in relation to the rest of the Premiership it is, as Eric Cantona could explain to his colleagues, merely a case of plus ca change.

Giggs celebrates his 20th birthday today, completing a heady 48 hours for anniversaries among the the champions. At Coventry it was Cantona, a year to the day after he came over the Pennines like some refugee seeking footballing asylum, who headed the goal which leaves United with the kind of lead that ought to be referred to the Monopolies Commission.

Indeed, if any team now stand between Alex Ferguson's side and a second successive title, it is United themselves. The one, tenuous hope for those in distant pursuit is that complacency might set in at Old Trafford. Fat chance with Alex Ferguson's gritty Glaswegian work ethic driving them on; he is doubtless looking for six more points to insure against relegation.

Nor are injuries, which undermined Ron Atkinson's Reds cruelly after they had started 1985-86 with 13 wins and two draws, likely to be a factor. This victory, United's 14th in 17 starts, was achieved without Roy Keane and with Paul Ince less than fully fit, yet Brian McClair and Bryan Robson were not even summoned from the bench.

Phil Neal, the new Coventry manager, recalled that when United won by the same score at Coventry last Easter, he told Ferguson that once they laid the ghosts of the 1960s they were capable of a sustained run of five or six titles. As one who won eight championship medals with Liverpool, the former England coach would seem to be a reliable witness.

'They've got the mental strength,' he said. 'I can see it in them like I could see it at Anfield.' Koppites might not take kindly to such comparisons and anyway, what about United's European Cup exit? That, Neal explained, had been a 'hiccup' - as a devotee of 'English football' (no apologies to Giggs and Cantona), he was encouraged that the domestic game could still produce such a force.

Curiously, given such a glowing reference, it had not been one of United's more dominant performances, but then winning when below par is supposedly a champions' trait. Ferguson, who felt United had 'turned it on' at the crucial time, summed up the match fairly. 'Coventry probably had the clearer chances,' he said, 'though we probably played the better football.'

From a similar analysis, Neal deduced that United remain both 'beatable' and 'catchable'. Beatable, maybe, as a spirited Coventry might have proved but for four world-class saves by Peter Schmeichel, the last in the dying seconds when he touched Chris Marsden's point-blank shot on to the bar.

Just as Peter Atherton's clearance had struck a corner flag and rebounded for Giggs to initiate Cantona's goal, the ball fell obligingly for United. Even fortune looks to be on their side this time. Catchable? Surely not.

Goal: Cantona (60) 0-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Atherton, Rennie, Babb, Morgan; Flynn, Boland (Marsden, 82), Darby, Ndlovu; Quinn (J Williams, 82), Wegerle. Substitute not used: Gould (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Giggs, Ferguson, Ince, Sharpe; Hughes, Cantona. Substitutes not used: McClair, Robson, Sealey (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).