BY GLENN MOORE
Manchester United 1
Manchester United gained a victory as valuable as it was fortunate last night, to regain the Premiership lead. The champions had been bogged down for 79 minutes in atrocious conditions at Selhurst Park, when the game was transformed by the controversial sending-off of Alan Kimble for encroaching at a free-kick. This was followed five minutes later by a goal for Steve Bruce which must rank as the luckiest the Manchester United captain has ever scored.
Hans Segers had come out to gather a hopeful ball from the right when it stuck in the mud a foot in front of him. Bruce ran in and poked the ball past the stranded goalkeeper.
Wimbledon complained bitterly that the ball had been kicked out of Segers' hands, and their manager, Joe Kinnear, was also dismissed by the Darlington referee, Robbie Hart.
It is the fifth time United have led the table this season, but if it is to be the first time they have done so for more than a few days, Blackburn will have to lose to Arsenal tonight.
The venue was heavy with unhappy memories for United, it being less than two months since Eric Cantona leapt into the crowd here after being sent off against Crystal Palace. The champions were given an unfortunate reminder of that night earlier this week, when Paul Ince joined Cantona in being charged with assault by the local police.
Since the incident was provoked by a stream of racist invective at Cantona, it was apposite that last night's match was preceded by a demonstration on behalf of the Kick Racism out of Football campaign.
Cantona, who is suspended, did not appear to be present, but Ince was and he played. With Andrei Kanchelskis preparing to play for Russia against Czechoslovakia and Roy Keane injured, Alex Ferguson's options were limited.
Not that Kinnear will have felt much sympathy for his opposite number; Wimbledon had eight players out including Efan Ekoku, Robbie Earle and Andy Thorn. They thus resorted to a five-man defence with Warren Barton, their new England international, at right-back.
However, it was Wimbledon who created the better first-half chances, although their first opportunity followed a United error, when Denis Irwin unaccountably gave a throw-in straight to Dean Holdsworth. He went past Peter Schmeichel but, from a tight angle, was unable to squeeze the ball in.
Four minutes later, Barton nodded down a Holdsworth cross and Jon Goodman's volley was blocked. Then another dangerous cross, from Barton, was headed clear by Gary Neville under pressure from Holdsworth.
A minute earlier, Neville had produced United's first effort, a 20-yard shot that brought a fine save from Segers. Mark Hughes later shot at Segers after a Ryan Giggs run, but that was all United had to offer.
Wimbledon's defensive solidity came at a price; Gary Elkins and Kimble being booked for fouls and Barton, harshly, for encroaching at a free- kick. Hughes was more fortunate when, a few minutes later, he escaped punishment for aiming a retaliatory kick at Alan Reeves.
But Wimbledon did produce a move United would have been proud of after 39 minutes. Vinnie Jones, receiving the ball in midfield, bamboozled Ince - leaving him on his backside - and threaded a through ball to Marcus Gayle. He left Neville stuck in the mud, but Schmeichel was quickly out to save and, as Gayle tried again, Gary Pallister headed off the line.
Then came the controversial dismissals of Kimble and Kinnear. There was still time for Lee Sharpe to become the first United player booked, but that was a minor blot for the Premiership's new leaders.
Wimbledon (5-3-2): Segers; Barton, Cunningham, Perry, Reeves, Kimble; Elkins, Jones, Gayle (Ardley, 85); Holdsworth, Goodman. Substitutes not used: Harford, Sullivan (gk).
Manchester United (4-2-4): Schmeichel; G Neville, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; McClair, Ince; Giggs, Cole, Hughes, Sharpe. Substitutes not used: Casper, Davies, Walsh (gk).
Referee: R Hart (Darlington).
TOP OF PREMIERSHIP
P W D L F A Pts
Man Utd 32 21 6 5 63 22 69
Blackburn 31 21 6 4 64 26 69
Newcastle 31 16 9 6 52 33 57
Liverpool 29 15 9 5 50 23 54Reuse content