With Newcastle losing at Chelsea, United ended the day having reduced the gap between them and the leaders to four points. But a third successive draw, their second in a row at home, was far from the result they were looking for. They had only themselves to blame, they missed numerous chances, but at the same time Sheffield Wednesday never stopped trying to go forward. They, too, could have scored more than they did.
Cantona's goals were his first from open play since his return from the eight-month ban, and on an afternoon when six regular first-team men were missing, he was United's best player by far. "He was absolutely magnificent," Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. "Without question we'd have lost without him. He was the inspiration behind all our best moments."
The vision and marksmanship of Cantona contrasted with those of Andy Cole, whose barren run never looked like ending. To be fair, he only had one half-chance, late on, and Lee Briscoe smothered the danger as Cole lined up his shot.
Cole's lack of goals - he has now scored only three in 15 appearances this season - has been a touchy subject within Old Trafford. But Ferguson, usually so loyal to his players, used his programme notes to give the pounds 7m striker what amounted to a public ticking-off, chiding him for his "carelessness" the previous week against Southampton.
Lee Sharpe may also be hearing from Ferguson - he had the entire goal to aim at from the edge of the six-yard box and ended up shooting against the legs of Kevin Pressman instead. Had that effort gone in, United would have been spared a lot of anxiety.
Cantona had put United ahead after 19 minutes, rounding off a slick diagonal move involving Sharpe, Paul Scholes and Cole with a deft chip over Pressman. But Wednesday, with Chris Waddle operating very much in the Cantona role, saw vulnerability in United's weakened ranks and struck back in the 59th minute. Steve Bruce dealt poorly with Waddle's cross and Mark Bright lobbed Kevin Pilkington, who was playing in place of the injured Peter Schmeichel.
With 12 minutes to go, Wednesday looked to have stolen the winner when Guy Whittingham headed in Marc Degryse's accurate centre. But in the 83rd minute the incomparable Cantona volleyed home brilliantly from the edge of the area. "It was the first game where I felt experience did count," Ferguson said. "It was an excellent performance by Sheffield Wednesday. I felt that our young players lacked the experience to handle that."Reuse content