Sheringham revels in right role

United depose Leicester at top as Peter Taylor's men fail to advance his England management credentials
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The Independent Online

Just in case Peter Taylor was beginning to believe the hyperbole, a polite reminder from Sir Alex Ferguson: membership of the management élite may require a little longer. So, too, for that matter, his Leicester team's ability to remain European contenders in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premiership after a defeat which emphasised all too graphically the contrasting quality of the two clubs' squads.

Just in case Peter Taylor was beginning to believe the hyperbole, a polite reminder from Sir Alex Ferguson: membership of the management élite may require a little longer. So, too, for that matter, his Leicester team's ability to remain European contenders in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premiership after a defeat which emphasised all too graphically the contrasting quality of the two clubs' squads.

Even with a severely depleted starting line-up - no fewer than five of their first- choice starters were absent - the champions contained the home side for half an hour and then proceeded to humiliate them. As a subdued Taylor admitted afterwards: "For Leicester, it's unusual toplay top-of-the-table games. Our players were just not as comfortable as Manchester United's were."

It had been a remarkable start to Taylor's Premiership career. He was presented with the manager of the month award before the game, his team at that point undefeated in the Premiership and heading the top division for the first time since 1963. It was hardly what the Filbert Street faithful would dare to have imagined of him at the start of the season, this former Dartford, South-end, Dover, Gillingham and England Under-21 man, following the departure of Saint Martin O'Neill. And this in a week when, having been touted for an England role in the new administration, he called a press conference to announce that he was not yet ready for that accolade.

However, Taylor is a level-headed character and will have recognised that his team's advantage over United would only be temporary. His concern now will be to ensure that this loss, and the manner of it, will not begin a downward spiral.

After a quiet start of containment, Ferguson's team grew in stature as Teddy Sheringham achieved what he might have on Wednesday against Finland, scoring twice, had he been properly deployed by Howard Wilkinson. In generous mood, Ferguson conceded: "I thought we needed a very good performance to win here and we got that. It was absolutely outstanding."

United, it must be recalled, had not won for three games, which by their own standards is a serial misadventure. Leic- ester must have felt that if ever United were there for the taking - if such an expression can be applied to the visitors at any time - this was the afternoon.

Ferguson left Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs on the bench, with the Champions' League game against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday in mind. With David Beckham due to return against the Dutch club, and Jaap Stam, Gary Neville and Andy Cole also injured, it was a threadbare-looking United who sought to depose Taylor's men from their eyrie.

But Leicester's regular failing, their inability to score, denied them the lead that their greater adventure deserved before United established an advantage nine minutes before the break. Leicester have been niggardly with the goal chances they have afforded the opposition this season - just two goals conceded before yesterday - but, conversely, their top three scorers, Ade Akinbiyi, Muzzy Izzet and Gerry Taggart, boast a mere two apiece.

The scarcity continued as Callum Davidson steered his shot into the waiting arms ofFabien Barthez, Akinbiyi dispatched a header which the United keeper guided around a post, while Gary Rowett volleyed over an inviting chance.

It was half an hour before United even hinted at troubling Flowers. As Ferguson said: "They had three players in midfield [Neil Lennon, Muzzy Izzet and Robbie Savage] who are energetic and enthusiastic, and decent players too, and you do have to be patient." However, with Sheringham and Nicky Butt, in particular, exposing the Leicester rearguard with some intricate one-touch passing, there always appeared the likelihood of a breakthrough by thevisitors.

So it proved as United began to apply more pressure approaching the interval. Denis Irwin fashioned the opportunity, crossing into the heart of the Leicester defence for Sheringham to send a deft headerarrowing wide of Flowers.

Before half-time United might have inflicted further damage on a too-easily distracted defence. First the South African Quinton Fortune just missed applying the finishing touch to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's low cross as he slid in towards goal. Then Nicky Butt burst through, but was narrowly wide.

Leicester could have equal-ised almost immediately after the break, but Rowett's vicious angled drive was diverted on to the side netting by Barthez. From the resulting corner, Matt Elliott headed down for Eadie to turn and shoot, but the United goalkeeper was well positioned on the line.

Then came the pivotal moment of the game. Wes Brown, for much of the game enhancing his reputation as a defender of intelligence and maturity, appeared to fell Robbie Savage in the area, only for referee Paul Durkin to signal a corner as the human Afghan hound barked his displeasure at failing to win the penalty. Even Ferguson was prepared to concede that Brown was somewhat fortunate, describing the challenge as "rash".

Worse was to follow for Leicester, however, as the corner was cleared upfield. Irwin unleashed one of his 25-yard specials, and although Flowers parried the ball, a lurking Sheringham plundered a second.

This time, when Sheringham was substituted, after 72 minutes, he bore the smile that eluded him when the same thing happened on Wednesday night. Taylor merely reflected ruefully: "And he was my Scrabble partner at the World Cup... I'll never forgive him."

Dwight Yorke and Solskjaer, twice, both spurned good chances, while Butt struck a post before the Norwegian striker added a third.

So, United are back on top, Arsenal chasing them. Normal service has been resumed.

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