Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
AS THOSE marvels from Manchester pound on remorselessly towards the title, the double, who knows, maybe even the treble, so they are turning to waste every theory on how they can be brought down.
To go out and attack or to smother and contain: that is the dilemma forced on United's last two opponents by the scope and daring of the talent aligned against them. Unlike Norwich, who adopted the cautious approach and paid for it with their FA Cup lives, Gerry Francis chose the more ambitious route, convinced that, under pressure, Alex Ferguson's side have a tendency 'to rock a little'.
Rangers were true to his demand to 'get at them'. Les Ferdinand was strong throughout, grasping the opportunity to impress a Loftus Road audience including the new England coach (Terry Venables) and possibly his next employer (Ferguson), and so unnerving Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister that by the end of an uncomfortable afternoon they had transgressed once too often and were entered into the referee's book.
Rangers scored twice and threatened more, yet, just as Francis had feared, they helped United reach the 30-mark in their unbeaten sequence, because when they had them pinned down in defence they neglected their own duties at the back.
It was a harsh lesson to learn and one no other side could punish them for because, according to Francis, United are 'probably the best counter-attacking side in Europe'.
Thus, when another raid petered out and the ball was in the hands of Peter Schmeichel, Rangers were less than prepared, failing to notice that Andrei Kanchelskis had wandered off his touchline and into an inexplicable amount of room in the middle of the field. Making full use of his space and fortune, the winger galloped away and rounded Steve Yates before pushing his shot home off Darren Peacock.
And when Rangers had fought their way back just before half-time through a dubious penalty, their concentration went AWOL a second time, allowing Denis Irwin to retrieve his own deflected free-kick and make his way to the by-line, where his cross singled out Eric Cantona at the far post.
'It was all very disappointing because we matched them in many areas,' Francis said. 'Over two games I cannot think that any side has played as well against them as us and yet we have not gained a single point.'
The Rangers manager, who this week will seek talks with his chairman, Richard Thompson, about rumours that the club is to be sold, also fingered deficiencies that enabled Ryan Giggs to conjure a match-winning masterpiece. He might have a point, but it was hard on the goalscorer to take anything away from so sublime a cameo of all his gifts.
The quickness of thought and movement to nick the ball away from Ray Wilkins, the little shimmy to deceive Peacock, the rapid change of direction to confuse three more defenders before he dispatched his shot with the minimum of fuss.
Ferguson said the quality of all three United goals is what they would remember from the game. Sadly for Venables, they were made and finished off by players out of his reach. Nevertheless, there was compensation in Ince's industry and command of midfield and Ferdinand's return to form. It was also his first goal since 11 December, and the timing could not have been better.
Goals: Kanchelskis (19) 0-1; Wilson (pen 45) 1-1; Cantona (45) 1-2; Giggs (59) 1-3; Ferdinand (65)
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Stejskal; Bardsley, Yates, Peacock, Wilson; Sinclair (Meaker, 88), Wilkins, Holloway, Barker; Ferdinand, Penrice. Substitutes not used: Roberts (gk), Brevett.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs; Hughes, Cantona. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), McClair, Dublin.
Referee: G Poll (Berkhamsted).Reuse content