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Football: Yorke inspires United's six-gun salute

Leicester City 2 Zagorakis 35, Walsh 73 Manchester United 6 Yorke 10 63 84, Cole 49 61, Stam 90 Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 22,091
ONLY ONE defeat in 10 games and yesterday powering into second place with a tumultuous second-half display in which Dwight Yorke completed his hat-trick. United are no longer tip-toeing back into championship contention but are stamping on the heels of Chelsea.

Their victory over a weakened Leicester came after what Alex Ferguson admitted had been a "careless first half" and was built on the firing partnership of Yorke and Andy Cole. "They could have scored four or five each," Ferguson said without boastfulness or exaggeration. "Their understanding is so good, but Leicester were always trying to take something from the game." Certainly they were, and Leicester's Martin O'Neill added: "You can't tell me that Andy Cole is not a top-class finisher or that United are anything but exceptional, but we had only 16 players to choose from today. I could have done with a couple of Alex's subs."

Leicester's familiar hope of defying the odds had been substantially reduced by losing their top scorer, Emile Heskey to flu, the central defenders Frank Sinclair and Matt Elliott to suspension and Andy Impey because of injury. O'Neill was left putting Tony Cottee and the inexperienced Stuart Wilson up front and envying Ferguson, who had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Ronny Johnsen on the bench.

The unusual frailty of the Leicester defence was apparent as David Beckham exposed them with a couple of extended accurate passes from which Leicester were unable to recover their composure. When, in the 10th minute, Denis Irwin also had them in uneasy retreat, his centre saw Cole feint to draw the attention of the defenders, while letting the ball travel on to Yorke, who had a simple tap-in.

Only by their failure to show a hunger for destroying Leicester's tenuous hopes in the immediate aftermath of their goal did United offer Leicester some slight chance of recovering. Even so it was never easy for Leicester to risk the support for their front two. Jaap Stam's strength and Irwin's quick eye for an upfield sprint turned any breaking down of a Leicester attack into an almost instant danger at the other end.

Whether Leicester could worm their way through the United defence was debatable, so Theo Zagorakis took the other option. In the 35th minute he gained possession some 25 yards out. Without hesitation he drove a ferocious shot beyond Peter Schmeichel to equalise. United had themselves to blame, but often they need just such a reminder.

Predictably, they re-emerged from a tea-time conversation that would not have pleased the vicar. Ears burning, they tore into Leicester. Beckham took a wider role. Ryan Giggs roamed extensively and was deep in midfield in the 49th minute to flight a long ball over Gerry Taggart to the feet of Cole who took it under control before sliding it past Kasey Keller.

A knock-down by Yorke should have seen Cole do more than sky the ball but, no matter, two goals in under two minutes dismissed that particular memory. Yorke sidled past Steve Walsh before releasing Cole who slipped the ball inside the far post.

A minute later Irwin threaded the ball down the left and Yorke scored a spectacular goal verging on the insulting. As Keller came out and tried to spread himself, Yorke moved almost to the goal-line but just inside the penalty area. Keller made no contact and Yorke shot in from that absurd angle.

To their immense credit Leicester dragged themselves back with typical defiance. Stuart Campbell, brought on as a substitute, placed a dangerous centre into the area. The ever-resourceful Steve Guppy hammered a shot which hit Walsh and flew past Schmeichel, who moments later was flinging himself to palm away a goal-bound shot from another Leicester substitute, Garry Parker. Nevertheless Yorke ought to have snatched United's fifth earlier than he did but dwelt fractionally on the ball to allow Keller to save. Yorke compensated by completing his hat-trick, again in liaison with Cole who took advantage of a weak back-header by Taggart. Cole clipped the bar and there was Yorke to make an easy goal become a gift. The result turned into one that Leicester must have feared with an injury- time sixth goal smuggled in by Stam from another fine long ball by the outstanding Beckham.