United vision of another Double comes into focus

BY GUY HODGSON

Manchester United 2

Queen's Park Rangers 0

Blackburn Rovers will have a say in it, of course, but the case for Manchester United completing a successive Double is becoming more compelling by the match. Yesterday, their retention of the FA Cup came into sharper focus when they reached the semi-finals.

Goals from Lee Sharpe and Denis Irwin made it a good weekend for United, who will also have been encouraged by Blackburn's inability to beat Coventry City on Saturday. Queen's Park Rangers played well in patches, but at the moment teams need to have skill spiced with luck to live with the champions. Without a twist in fate to dictate the pattern, the visitors could not impose themselves until it was too late.

"In the first half we weren't in the match," Ray Wilkins, their manager said, "and by the time we started playing we were already out of it. United did not play particularly well, but cup football is about getting your ball in the bag for the draw. Theirs is in it, ours is not."

Not that there was anything fortuitous about United's victory. They scored their goals and then went down a gear having done enough. Good teams are supposed to be able to win when they are not playing well: this side seem to be able to acquire their best form and then discard it when they no longer need it.

In the first 25 minutes inspiration was with them, and in that period the game was effectively won and lost. Andrei Kanchelskis twice had QPR nerves on edge with darting runs down the right, the threat of which were minimised only by an exemplary tackle by Clive Wilson, and by Ryan Giggs shooting narrowly wide. It was from Kanchelskis, too, that a move stemmed which culminated in Sharpe shooting against the legs of Tony Roberts after 19 minutes.

That was to prove a sighter for Sharpe, who was singled out for praise by his manager afterwards. When Mark Hughes and Giggs combined to give him an opportunity three minutes later, he beat David Bardsley in a 50- 50 tackle and then shot across Roberts into the far corner.

It had been a precise piece of finishing that was surpassed only by the second goal. Hughes was brought down on the edge of the area by Danny Maddix in the 52nd minute, and it appeared the QPR defender might be sent off when he climaxed the tussle by throwing his opponent to the floor. He escaped with a warning, but punishment arrived via the free-kick, Irwin expertly bending a shot around the wall.

With a decisive lead, United relaxed and the match finished with QPR in the ascendant. Peter Schmeichel had to make an excellent save to deny Les Ferdinand in the closing minutes, but it was perhaps indicative of United's control that Alex Ferguson chose to use his post-match press conference for a ringing endorsement of Brian Kidd.

Rumours of Ferguson's retirement in 1997 had invited speculation as to who would be his successor, but he insisted his assistant would be his choice. "Whatever happens in the future of this club, Brian Kidd will have a big say in it," he said. "He's done a fantastic job here and it is fully recognised. If Brian wants the job here when I go, he could have it as far as I am concerned. That would be my recommendation to the board."

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, McClair, Ince, Sharpe; Hughes, Giggs (Keane, 45). Substitutes not used: P Neville, Walsh (gk).

Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Roberts; Bardsley, Maddix, McDonald, Wilson; Impey, Barker, Holloway, Brevett (Penrice, 61); Ferdinand, Gallen. Substitutes not used: Ready, Dykstra (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

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