Giggs prompts United to close gap on leaders

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The Independent Online

Coventry City 0 Manchester United 4

Exactly a year has passed since Manchester United topped the Premiership. On the evidence of last night's crushing victory at Highfield Road, which simultaneously halved Newcastle's lead to three points and left Coventry in bottom place, they could well be back there by the time Kevin Keegan's side visit Old Trafford next month.

Brian McClair, revelling in a rare starting appearance, helped himself to two goals, with Denis Irwin and David Beckham also contributing to the spree. However, it was the form of Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs that ought to send a collective shiver through Tyneside today.

With their two most creative forces linking to devastating effect, and Beckham again demonstrating that he can no longer be regarded as a fringe player, United had enough chances to nullify Newcastle's advantage in goal difference. Unfortunately for them, the best fell to Andy Cole, whose finishing was wayward.

Alex Ferguson admitted they had ridden their luck when Coventry claimed a Dion Dublin shot had crossed the goal-line before Steve Bruce hacked it out. The United manager also singled out Peter Schmeichel's performance, which was testimony to the pressure exerted midway through the first half by Ron Atkinson's team, but United never looked back once they had taken a 27th-minute lead.

The timing of the breakthrough must have been particularly galling for Atkinson. Three times in as many minutes his team might have gone ahead, with Schmeichel saving from Dublin and using his legs to thwart John Salako either side of Bruce's clearance.

United promptly won a corner on their left, where Giggs was already leading Richard Shaw a merry dance on his home debut. The ball reached Gary Pallister who rolled it off to Irwin lurking 22 yards out. A swing of the left-back's right boot buried a low drive beyond Steve Ogrizovic.

A mistake by Marcus Hall, who passed straight to Giggs, led to United's second goal two minutes after half-time. A sublime reverse pass by the Welshman picked out a perfect run by McClair, who found the net from 12 yards. Another brilliantly incisive pass, by Cantona, set up the third shortly before the hour. As he shielded the ball, Nicky Butt fell into David Rennie, causing Coventry to hesitate. The whistle never came, and David Beckham whipped a rising diagonal drive past Ogrizovic.

United were still not sated. Bewildering interplay between Giggs and Cantona ended with the latter's teasing centre being glanced home by McClair 14 minutes from time.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Shaw, Rennie, Williams, Hall; Strachan, Richardson, Isaias (Cook, 70), Salako; Ndlovu, Dublin. Substitutes not used: Pickering, Filan (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; G Neville (P Neville, 48), Bruce (May, 79), Pallister, Irwin; Beckham, Butt (Sharpe, 66), McClair, Giggs; Cantona; Cole.

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).