Football: Sheringham sparks victory stroll

Manchester United 2 Sheringham 17, Hreidarsson og 30 Crystal Palac e 0 Attendance: 55,143
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The Independent Online
Manchester United needed to show precious little of their Champions' League urgency to put their defence of the Premiership back on course at Old Trafford, but where inspiration failed, the uncertainties at the heart of Palace's defence sufficed.

Even a United side suffering a heavy European hangover could not spurn the assistance that they were given by the visitors' unstable rearguard in the first half. After that, it was largely a matter of leaving Peter Schmeichel to deal almost nonchalantly with the Londoners' attempts to get back into the match.

United were hailed like heroes and there was always a danger of the afternoon turning into a serious anticlimax. It was only Palace's generosity that allowed them to settle successfully back into their domestic duties, recording their first win in four League games in the process.

It was Nicky Butt's cross that first caught the Palace defence at cross- purposes, Andy Linighan heading virtually out of his own goalkeeper's hands with such venom that he almost achieved a spectacular own goal.

It still proved an expensive corner to concede. David Beckham's cross eluded the whole defence and the on-rushing Ronny Johnsen, but fell for Teddy Sheringham to drive into the roof of the net from beyond the far post.

It should have been 2-0 for United when the consistently creative Paul Scholes timed his pass with precision to send Ryan Giggs racing through on goal, but Juventus's tormenter stroked his effort wide of the target.

If that would have been a goal of rare quality, United's second was more a matter of undiluted comedy. The Palace captain, Andy Roberts, began it, giving the ball away to Beckham, who had time for a spot of head tennis with Sheringham before whipping in a cross which Herman Hreidarsson, under no pressure, slid into his own net.

Palace did their best to shrug off their self-inflicted misfortunes in the second half and created the bulk of the chances, notably when Atillio Lombardo, twice, and George Ndah were through on Schmeichel's goal.

On none of those occasions did the attacker keep his composure sufficiently when faced with Schmeichel's advance and the keeper smothered all three.

"Schmeichel was too big to beat," Lombardo said. "I tried to dummy him and he did well, and the second time he made a good save."

Steve Coppell, reflecting on his return to Old Trafford, said: "We needed one of those one-on-one's to go in and then it could have been interesting. If it had been 0-0 at half-time the second half would have had a different complexion. United had an extra gear, but if one of those chances had gone in they might have got the jitters."

Instead, United stirred themselves almost to claim a third from the best move of the match; Beckham sweeping the ball to Giggs and Scholes's shot thudding off Kevin Miller's chest.

Schmeichel had to deal with free kicks on the target from Dean Gordon and Itzik Zohar before the end. The first of them, he swatted down casually from beneath his crossbar with one hand. It summed up an afternoon on which United had not needed to extend or exert themselves.