Football: Poland's `clown' is a warning to United

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IF MANCHESTER UNITED required a reminder that favourites do not always prevail, even in Europe where money is heard with increasing clarity, then they got one in Poland yesterday. Big and brooding, the man was the embodiment of creeping doubts.

He looked as imposing as he did 25 years ago - more so as his frame has filled out - but it was on the mention of his name that the logic of United's progression into the Champions' League proper seemed less sound. Jan and Tomaszewski are two words that can still put a chill through English football.

It was the goalkeeper, infamously christened "a clown" by Brian Clough, who did most to defy England at Wembley in 1973, costing Sir Alf Ramsey a place in the World Cup finals and his job as national manager.

As the triumphant underdog personified, surely he could find hope for his former club, LKS Lodz, who have to overturn a 2-0 lead in Poland tonight to stop United joining the league phase of the competition?

Unfortunately for those who attach sentiment to the underdog, no. "The difference between Manchester United and LKS," he said, "is the same as that between Heathrow and Lubliner airport."

As Alex Ferguson's team will have to refuel at Poznan tonight because the runway at Lodz is too small for their plane to take off with a full load, you can appreciate the width Tomaszewski perceives.

"I'm not talking as a Polish patriot but as a realist," he continued. "I don't want to be taken as a Polish idiot and there is no chance of LKS beating them. In the first leg at Old Trafford they were so frightened that even if they had been ordered to go forward they couldn't. Their legs were trembling."

A pleasing evaluation for Ferguson, who greeted Tomaszewski as any good Scot would with the words "you did a great job that night", but not one likely to be having his players running out tonight wrapped in complacency. He knows United should complete the job but that was also the prognosis when they met Galatasaray and Volgograd in recent unsuccessful European campaigns.

"A team with a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Europe should go through," he said. "If we're sensible, do not make silly mistakes at the back and look to counter-attack we will be okay."

Ferguson has Jaap Stam, his pounds 10m Dutch centre-half fit after a thigh strain, to help eliminate the former while Ryan Giggs, in the absence of the ineligible Dwight Yorke, will be the most likely source for the latter.

In the first leg, which could have finished 5-0 to United without flattering them, Giggs scorched the Lodz defence as surely as their barber had brandished the razor to leave a squad of Polish skinheads. The Welshman scored a goal and with opponents required to be more adventurous tonight he should have the space to be equally destructive. "The pace of Ryan will trouble anyone," Ferguson said.

The United manager will probably recall Paul Scholes, having rested him against West Ham on Saturday because he felt the England player was tired after the World Cup, and apart from Stam's return the other change will be the inclusion of Phil Neville for his injured brother, Gary. Lodz's Tomasz Cebula, meanwhile, is suspended.

The Poles will also be without their Brazilian, Rodrigo Carbone, who is on a one-man strike over pay, but a more serious loss could be a lack of support. Lodz's capacity has been reduced from 30,000 to 7,000 because of Uefa regulations and those seats are proving hard to sell because prices have doubled. An attendance of 5,000 is anticipated, of whom 1,000 will be from England.

A spindly crowd, little atmosphere, a 2-0 lead and United should progress comfortably. If not, Ferguson will aim far stronger language at his players than "clowns".