Football: No place for complacency at United

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THERE WILL be no place for the likes of LKS Lodz in a European super league but, for the time being at least, Manchester United still have to play such financially unrewarding teams before they can enter the Champions' League.

The task, which begins at Old Trafford tonight with the first leg of their second qualifying round tie, ought to be straightforward but, although little known and unglamorous, the Polish champions are still a potential banana skin. It is only three seasons ago that Blackburn Rovers were brushed aside by a Legia Warsaw side who reached the last eight, so United will be seeking a decent cushion to take to what is likely to be a hostile and discomforting away leg.

United's lack of cohesion and match practice, so evident during Sunday's Charity Shield drubbing, is a concern but Lodz are even less prepared. At least United got on the pitch against Arsenal, Lodz did not even manage that for their scheduled weekend league match against Odra Wodzislaw Slaski.

The ongoing crisis in Polish football administration was the reason but Lodz will be showing up at Old Trafford. They are likely to face the same United side who lost at Wembley with Ferguson hoping Sunday's poor performance was a one-off.

However, Ferguson, aware of the damage inflicted on United's European campaigns by Galatasaray and Rotor Volgograd, cautioned supporters not to expect United to attack with abandon tonight.

"The main thing is that we don't lose a goal," he said. "If you win 1- 0 at home in Europe then you will always have a chance, particularly as we are the type of side who will always create chances away. That's the format you have to stick by for European games and it doesn't go far wrong. In games like this people expect Manchester United to win by two or three goals but sometimes you can set your stall too high and become frustrated."

He added: "We have got to concentrate and make sure we perform for 90 minutes and don't lose the goal Lodz would enjoy having.

"To be honest big scores do not bother me in Europe and the aim of the game is to get into the Champions' League. The score does not matter at the end of the tie because if you win and go through that is it."

United's opponents, Lodzki Klub Sportowy, began life as a Russian club, having been formed in 1908 when the Polish state did not exist. Poland had been carved up by Prussia and Russia 34 years earlier, and Lodz, an unremarkable city about 100 miles south-west of Warsaw, was in the Russian half. Poland re-emerged after the Great War but Lodz did not make an impact on the Polish game until the late Fifties, when they won both the championship and cup. They have since been overshadowed by local rivals Widzew Lodz and last season's title was their first major honour in 40 years.

They had came close four years earlier but ended that season in disgrace, not glory, after a match-fixing scandal. LKS and their championship rivals Legia Warsaw had points deducted after a bizarre end of the season in which, with only goal difference dividing the sides, Legia won their last game 6-0 and LKS theirs 7-1. The Polish FA took a dim view and awarded the title elsewhere. The following year LKS almost went bankrupt before being rescued by a local property mogul, Antoni Ptak, who has renamed the club, LKS Ptak Lodz.

With most Polish internationals playing in other countries, last season's triumph was secured with few stars and tonight's team is even weaker. Marek Saganowski, a talented young striker, is still injured after a motorcycle accident in the spring while his former partner, Miroslaw Trzeciak, has been sold to Osasuna in Spain and Tomasz Klos, a goalscoring defender has gone to Auxerre. The midfielder Tomasz Wieszcycki, once of Le Havre, remains along with highly rated goalkeeper, Boguslaw Wyparlo.

If the squad is thin its collective hair is even thinner - for pounds 2,000 a man the team have shaved their heads to promote their sponsors, who manufacture wig-fixing glue.

United to win, but one word of caution to the over-confident. One of Wyparlo's predecessors in the Lodz goal was Jan Tomaszewski, the "clown" whose Wembley performance a quarter of a century ago denied England a place in the 1974 World Cup.