Chelsea. . . . . . .1
MANCHESTER UNITED will be relieved that they only meet Chelsea twice in the Premiership, after lightning, in the shape of Gavin Peacock, struck again to end their 34-match unbeaten run.
Without the inspirational touch of the injured Eric Cantona and with several other players seriously out of touch, United looked surprisingly but distinctly vulnerable. The goal that ended such an impressive sequence was not the surprise it should have been.
Chelsea's attack and midfield might be small in stature, but they played from the start as though they had a big idea in mind - and ideas this season come no bigger than doing the double over United.
There were echoes of United's last defeat of any description in the way their moment of truth arrived. Mark Stein, who scored twice as a Stoke City player to beat them in one leg of a Coca-Cola Cup tie, also in September, guided a header down for Peacock, who steered it past Peter Schmeichel for a score reminiscent of his winner at Stamford Bridge.
United had never looked convincing at either end of the pitch, with the quality of their crosses letting them down persistently and the iron control which Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister usually exert creaking ominously.
After Peacock strutted at their expense, there was an inevitably hectic finish. Alex Ferguson played the remaining cards available to him by bringing on Dion Dublin and Bryan Robson. There were shots cleared off the line and deflected into both goalkeepers' hands. Dimitri Kharin produced a full-length dive to save brilliantly from a shot on the turn by Ryan Giggs.
But a determined Chelsea defence worked overtime until the end of seven minutes added on for injury - a generous allocation even allowing for the time it had taken for Stein to be carried off on a stretcher with an ankle injury.
During that added time, Mark Hughes almost got in a shot after taking Bruce's through ball and also saw a header saved at the goalkeeper's feet.
For much of the match, however, the bulk of United's efforts had come from long- range shots, something that demonstrated the lack of a sharp cutting edge.
'I didn't think we were ever going to win,' a philosophical Ferguson admitted afterwards. 'It was heading for a 0-0. But all good things come to an end. It's not the worst thing in the world to happen to us. A reminder at the right time, perhaps.'
The confidence born of Chelsea's home victory six months ago was undeniably part of the equation. Not many, indeed no other, Premiership sides have been to Old Trafford recently with the psychological boost of a win over United behind them, as Chelsea's manager, Glenn Hoddle, pointed out.
'I was able to drum it into the players' minds that we were going to come here and win,' he said. 'This is going to be a testing time for United now, they have not been under pressure for a few months, but this is going to make it interesting for the football public.'
Interesting is probably not the way United would describe the unfamiliar sensation of the breath of Premiership pursuers on the back of their necks. Furthermore their injury problems are mounting. Ryan Giggs has been withdrawn from the Wales squad for the game against Norway with a hamstring injury and Paul Ince will have an X- ray today on a suspected broken hand. To top it all, as United will not need reminding, Chelsea are still in the FA Cup.Reuse content