Such absence of adventure and accuracy, between a pair of sides used to sharing hatfuls, should change tonight in their FA Cup semi-final replay at Maine Road. Particularly for United, who with the probable restoration of Andrei Kanchelskis and Roy Keane will present a far more imposing face.
Denied by the suspensions of the exuberant Ukrainian and the relentlessly diligent Irishman, United failed to exploit properly Wembley's noted space, a 1-1 draw necessitating tonight's rematch.
With two of his most important internationals back in the frame (but still no Eric Cantona), Alex Ferguson can field a team capable of providing more consistent support to Mark Hughes, the awe-inspiring Welshman who, for two hours at Wembley, was the sole Red to carry the fight to Joe Royle's determined Latics. Hughes will certainly be grateful for the chances created by Keane's box-to-box industry and Kanchelskis' directness down the flanks, an area treated with caution by Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe in the first meeting.
Kanchelskis' return for what Ferguson terms 'another tough game' is all the more vital as Giggs may not start, the Welsh winger having aggravated an ankle complaint at Wembley. A crowded Old Trafford treatment table also includes Hughes, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce and Brian McClair, although all are expected to recover from knocks.
Oldham will have Steve Redmond back from suspension (although it seems difficult for Royle to break up a central defence who performed so manfully on Sunday) but many neutrals, plus some of Boundary Park's own support, feel that their chances of reaching the final ended with Hughes' athletic equaliser. The bookies, mindful of United's 1990 replay win over Oldham, make the Reds' 4-6 favourites to progress with their opponents an insulting 9-2. (Hills even report two confident, wealthy United supporters staking bets of pounds 11,000 and pounds 5,000 at 10-11 for Fergie's furies to lift the elegant old pot itself).
But Oldham fans can point to the Latics' gradual improvement against their vaunted neighbours this season: 5-2 and 3-2 Premiership defeats followed by Sunday's shared honours. Certainly no one outside Old Trafford would begrudge the respected Royle a proper day in the sun at Wembley.Reuse content