Coventry City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
THE setting was perfect for an al fresco party. The crowd was primed, the weather perfect; only the hosts failed to live up to the occasion. Manchester United were crowned as champions for the second successive year yesterday but failed to garnish the presentation with a display entirely worthy of the day.
Twelve months previously they had beaten Blackburn with a show that epitomised their attacking exuberance and intent. Yesterday they tried but, short of seven players normally in their first team and weighed down by the prospect of Saturday's FA Cup final, they could not quite spark the carnival. Two disallowed 'goals' were not quite what the 44,717 crowd had ordered.
The football was lost in a sea of Mexican waves, balloons and celebration. Old Trafford partied relentlessly, urging the players to provide the champagne. Instead the supporters had to wait to the handing over of the trophy to uncork their real exuberance.
Then, as last year, it was received jointly by Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce. The latter could have taken the trophy on his own but he beckoned Captain Marvel forward to mark his last League game in United's colours. 'It was a lovely gesture,' he said. 'I've had 13 great years here and it was the perfect way to bring it to an end.'
Robson, who played 359 games for the club, almost bowed out in the Boy's Own fashion that typified much of his career. With two minutes to go he received the ball on the right-hand edge of the area from Brian McClair and curled a shot that was fractions away. It would have been his 100th goal for the club.
Robson's departure was duly acknowledged but the game also provided a glimpse of United's future. Gary Neville (20) and Colin McKee (19) made their League debuts at right-back and right-winger respectively and suggested they will make the step from the reserves to the first team.
Neville had a comfort on the ball that implied confidence while McKee provided United with their better attacking moments. It was his cross that was turned into the net by Dion Dublin in the 70th minute only for the effort to be disallowed for handball and he also provided opportunites for Eric Cantona and Dublin again.
Not that Coventry were outplayed. They were the sort of guests at the feast who always threatened to get out of hand. Peter Ndlovu had several runs that had Bruce and Gary Pallister looking less than composed while Julian Darby, who scored the goals that beat Blackburn and gave the title to United last Monday, had a shot in the 71st minute that hit the home bar and post.
'The consistency we have shown has been fantastic,' Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. 'We've lost 16 games in the last three League campaigns and that's truly remarkable.'
Manchester United (4-4-2): Walsh; Neville, Bruce (Parker, 56), Pallister, Irwin; McKee (Keane, 75), McClair, Robson, Sharpe; Dublin, Cantona. Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).
Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Borrows, Atherton, Morgan, Babb; Boland, Rennie, Darby, Jenkinson; Ndlovu, Flynn. Substitutes: Pickering, Quinn, Gould (gk).
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).
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