Van Nistelrooy strikes twice to lead United's French resistance

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The Independent Online

The cavalry are on the horizon but at half-time in Lyon last night it seemed that Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney would arrive at the Old Trafford stockade to discover the club's dreams ransacked and the old empire in ruins.

The cavalry are on the horizon but at half-time in Lyon last night it seemed that Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney would arrive at the Old Trafford stockade to discover the club's dreams ransacked and the old empire in ruins.

Instead they will find the flame of resistance still burns fiercely in the House of Ferguson after another rousing comeback. Following an abject opening half, Manchester United trailed Lyon 2-0 with Tim Howard horribly at fault for the first goal. But as so often United revived and Ruud van Nistelrooy dragged them back into this Champions' League opener with his first goals of the season.

This result is of critical importance for United and not just because they need to rebuild their self-belief. With Arsenal already nine points clear in the Premiership, the Champions' League has become a priority by default.

Ferguson's pleasure at United's recovery was, however, muted. He said: "I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I could put aside the first half. It was a terrible disappointment. Only three performers reached the standard tonight: [Gabriel] Heinze, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy. In that situation you have to be happy with 2-2."

United should have felt at home. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and all sorts of things an Englishman would baulk at are on the menu including pig's ears, which is pretty much what United had made of their season to date. More pertinently, they had reason to be confident having lost once in 16 matches against French opposition, to a William Gallas goal in Marseille in 1999.

Having made changes in all departments except, fatefully, the goalkeeper, United began brightly, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Ryan Giggs going close in the opening 16 minutes.

But Lyon soon troubled them on the flanks and at set-pieces. Howard saved well enough from Florent Malouda after a one-two with Sylvain Wiltord opened his defence up, but he needed Paul Scholes to clear Pierre-Alain Frau's header off the line at a corner.

The last English team to visit ­ Arsenal in 2001 ­ survived heavy pressure before winning 1-0 but United did not reach half-time. Ten minutes from the break, Juninho Pernambucano skidded in a 30-yard free-kick, Howard spilled it and Cris tapped in.

Eight minutes later, Ronaldo and John O'Shea lost possession upfield. Juninho fed Wiltord who ran 60 yards unchallenged, Roy Keane trailing in his wake, before slipping a pass to Frau to score.

Lyon should have closed the game up but became lazy. After 56 minutes, Michael Essien failed to track Scholes's run, Anthony Réveillère was slow to close down Ronaldo as he looked to return Scholes's deep cross, and Van Nistelrooy, lacking match sharpness but still a poacher, rose to head in.

Four minutes later, Keane battled through traffic on the edge of the area, Ronaldo's scuffed shot looped up off a defender and Van Nistelrooy turned it in. It took his tally of European goals for United to 30, eclipsing Denis Law's 28-goal mark. The Lawman, contacted on holiday in Portugal by his daughter Diana, United's press officer, said: "I'm delighted. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy." Ferguson added: "He's remarkable, a fantastic goalscorer who'll keep on breaking records."

To their credit Lyon did not buckle and the match became a thriller. Scholes cleared off the line from Wiltord; Grégory Coupet saved with agility, then bravery from Ronaldo; Nilmar, after a sweet exchange between Juninho and Malouda, was wide.

In injury-time the outstanding Juninho almost snatched victory but his 30-yard shot hit the post and bounced away into the night, taking with it, Ferguson will hope, United's early-season malaise.

Lyon (4-3-3): Coupet; Réveillière, Cris, Cacapa, Abidal; Essien, Juninho, Malouda; Govou (Ben Arfa, 74), Frau (Nilmar, 65), Wiltord (Clement, 87). Substitutes not used: Puydebois (gk), Diatta, Bergougnoux, Berthod.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Howard; O'Shea (P Neville, 82), Brown, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Keane, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs; Scholes; Van Nistelrooy (Smith, 78). Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Bellion, Kleberson, Richardson, Fletcher.

Referee: W Stark (Germany).

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