Football: Giggs' fast finishing turns tables on Saints

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The Independent Online
Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Southampton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

WHEN they next produce one of those 'all-time United greats' videos, they will have to find a slot for a waif of a lad called Ryan Giggs. Just as we were beginning to sense a match, and perhaps even another championship, was slipping from the reach of an ominously tense Manchester United, Giggs provided the quality and the temperament to breathe new life into their ambition.

Giggs scored twice in as many minutes in a frenetic finale which frankly had no place in this otherwise thoroughly forgettable encounter. The substitute Nicky Banger had given Southampton an always likely lead with a 78th- minute breakaway and Giggs responded inside four minutes. He might well have had a hat-trick but he is not quite in the business of performing miracles . . . yet.

'When they scored I felt we were struggling,' Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said, 'but we put Giggs in the middle and his two goals were brilliant. He showed excellent composure. Ryan is 19, in four years we'll be able to say what the finished article is.'

United were in need of urgent repairs to their self-belief after mustering only one win in four matches and going out of the FA Cup. It was Southampton, however, who instantly manoeuvred themselves into menacing situations, thanks mainly to the perception of Matthew Le Tissier. His delicacy of touch gave Iain Dowie an early glimpse he presumably did not anticipate and the miscue momentarily eased United's concerns.

Micky Adams made a cleaner connection only to strike his volley straight at Paul Ince. Jason Dodd was next to scorn Le Tissier's vision and Ince turned away in relief when Neil Maddison was similarly wasteful following the United midfield player's error.

The natives at last stirred when Lee Sharpe collided with Ken Monkou and crashlanded on the edge of the Saints penalty area. The referee, Ray Lewis, who spent as much time as the players warming up, arrived on the scene to indicate no offence.

Southampton weathered the brief storm and broke out to subject Peter Schmeichel to an uncomfortable moment. The Danish goalkeeper appeared to have Adams' centre covered, yet lost his footing and was grateful his outstretched arm still managed to gather in the ball. Southampton were rarely as vulnerable throughout a tepid first half, though Richard Hall managed to talk himself into the referee's book after disputing a free-kick.

Eric Cantona, back from World Cup duty with France, combined with Giggs to suggest a spark for United, but the cross from the latter eluded Mark Hughes. Ince delivered a more authentic threat, and Flowers was required to make his first genuine save of the match. Southampton retaliated immediately, yet although Le Tissier turned Steve Bruce inside out, United got back in force.

Gary Pallister joined United's search for inspiration, hammering a long-range shot with some venom if inadequate accuracy. Giggs seemed to have reached the conclusion, not unreasonably, that he was the one player capable of conjuring the necessary magic, but more often than not he was confronted by three opponents.

Hall headed wide for Saints, who then replaced the infuriatingly unpredictable Le Tissier with Banger. As United built up another head of steam, Hughes and Brian McClair glimpsed half- chances from a Giggs corner, but Flowers clutched the ball on his line. Frustration got the better of Hughes and he was booked for a late lunge at Monkou.

United in despair 12 minutes from the end when Banger defied United's offside trap and collected Francis Benali's pass, deceived Pallister and beat Schmeichel with his low shot.

But four minutes later the irrepressible Giggs, supplied by Cantona, equalised with a shot directed just inside the far post. A minute later, he put United ahead. This time Giggs, supported by Hughes, his Welsh international colleague, slipped the ball past a stunned Flowers.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; P Parker, D Irwin, S Bruce, L Sharpe, G Pallister, E Cantona, P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes, R Giggs. Subs not used: A Kanchelskis, M Phelan, L Sealey (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Southampton: T Flowers; J Kenna, M Adams, T Widdrington, R Hall, K Monkou, M Le Tissier (N Banger, 65 min), J Dodd, I Dowie, N Maddison, F Benali. Subs not used: K Moore, I Andrews (gk). Manager: I Branfoot.

Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham).

Goals: Banger (0-1, 78 min); Giggs (1-1, 82 min); Giggs (2-1, 83 min).

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