Football: United exposed by Cole

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The Independent Online
Manchester United. . .1

Newcastle United . . .1

HAUNTING memories of those many days when games Manchester United should have won were let slip came back to Old Trafford yesterday, allowing the Premiership's newcomers, Newcastle, to plant a few doubts in the champions' minds and considerably improve their own morale.

At the end of last season when Newcastle were riding on waves of promotion euphoria, Kevin Keegan had momentarily let his heart rule his head by sending out a 'here we come' message to Alex Ferguson. Newcastle's first week in the Premiership had indicated that the warning was premature even if a share of the points yesterday was a creditable performance.

Having lost Peter Beardsley even before the season began, Newcastle started by being overwhelmed by Tottenham Hotspur and then lost to Coventry City. Meanwhile, United had been notching up their second win, and Roy Keane had begun to look the player they thought they had bought. Everything pointed to Newcastle being told in no uncertain terms that there was really only one United. It was not to be.

By at first committing only one player, Andy Cole, to permanent attacking responsibilities yesterday, Newcastle confessed to their self doubt. The sight of Steve Bruce cutting through their defence with a mighty 40-yard ball to Ryan Giggs in the opening moments was enough to confirm that they were right to be conservative.

Having five men constricting midfield, Newcastle could hinder Keane's powerful forward runs and temporarily frustrate Giggs, but there were always Paul Ince and Bryan Robson to creat additional trouble. In fact it was Robson's terrifically strong run towards the penalty area after 40 minutes that caused Nikos Papavassiliou to make a rash bundling challenge that sent Robson to the floor. Giggs eyed the wall as he stepped back a couple of paces before eluding it with a superb free kick.

The lead slightly flattered United, so for the second half Keegan pushed Lee Clark and the busy Papavassiliou further forward and risked conceding midfield territory. Certainly Newcastle were more settled than in their first game seven days before, and around the hour they twice came within a bootlace of equalising when first Cole failed to get a full foot behind Papavassiliou's low centre and then Clark had the same problem from Cole.

United's inability to get a hold invited further trouble and it came after 71 minutes when Newcastle purposefully sent reinforcements into their attack. Liam O'Brien joined in, threading a pass across a densely populated penalty area for Papavassiliou to feed the ball on across the face of the goal. Peter Schmeichel had moved across as well and when Cole took possesion there was a big gap into which he slotted the equaliser. Although Brian McClair and Hughes both should have beaten the diligent Srnicek late in the game, to have done so would have been unjust.

The shock of what Ferguson correctly called a 'complacent failure' may remind United that reclaiming the title after one season could be as difficult as regaining it after 26 years.

Manchester United (4-3-3): P Schmeichel; P Parker (L Sharpe 86 min), G Pallister, S Bruce, D Irwin; R Keane, P Ince, B Robson; A Kanchelskis (B McClair 71 min), M Hughes, R Giggs. Sub not used: L Sealey (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Newcastle United (4-5-1): P Srnicek; S Watson, B Venison, K Scott, J Beresford; P Bracewell, L O'Brien, L Clark, N Papavassiliou, R Lee; A Cole. Subs not used: T Wright (gk), M Allen, M Appleby. Manager: K Keegan.

Referee: K Morton (Bury St Edmunds).

Goals: Giggs (1-0, 40 min); Cole (1-1, 71 min)

(Photograph omitted)