United's raw mettle blunts Russian steel

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The Independent Online
reports from Volgograd

Rotor Volgograd 0 Manchester United 0

Manchester United, timid on their European travels last season, showed their obdurate side last night to give themselves every chance of progressing to the second round of the Uefa Cup at Old Trafford in a fortnight. The only down side was the injury to Roy Keane, which will keep him out for three weeks.

Running and tackling ferociously, they blunted Rotor Volgograd to gain their best European away result since their draw with Galatasaray 12 months ago. It was a performance built on discipline and concentration, as United had to absorb considerable pressure towards the end.

"It was a good result for us," Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. "We played well, particularly in the first half. It was only when we started to give the ball away in the second half that we started to have problems."

In the third minute, Lee Sharpe ballooned a volley over from the edge of the area and three minutes later Ryan Giggs flashed a low drive across the Russian goal.

The pressure on Volgograd continued as Gary Neville and Denis Irwin had Andrei Samorukov scuttling across the line and David Beckham was just over with a header. Yet just as it appeared United were assuming control, their momentum was halted by the injury to Keane.

Sharpe moved to central midfield and Simon Davies replaced the Republic of Ireland midfielder, but their grip had relaxed and Volvograd filled the new space. Alexander Estchenko and Vlad-imir Nidergaus forced saves from Peter Schmeichel and the first glimpses were seen of Oleg Veretennikov, Russia's top scorer.

Within 45 seconds of the restart, Beckham had curled over an enticing cross from the right and Giggs rose above Sergei Junenko. His header was powerful enough, but too high.

Giggs almost had an opportunity to make amends six minutes later when he pounced on Sharpe's tap-back on the left wing and swerved past two defenders. Only an unlucky deflection off a Volgograd heel stopped his menacing charge.

The Russian riposte was immediate, Veretennikov pouncing as Steve Bruce slipped. His 20 goals in the last 24 matches underlined his threat, but this time his shot from the left edge of the area flew wide. After 59 minutes he went even closer, thundering a low drive from Igor Korniets' corner that whistled by Schmeichel's left post.

Those scares had an effect on United's tactical thinking and shortly afterwards an extra defender, Paul Parker, came on for Paul Scholes. That signalled content with a draw, although they almost took the lead 10 minutes from time when Giggs again rose at the far post. Nevertheless, United's performance augurs well for the return leg.

Rotor Volgograd: Samorukov; Chmarko, Burlachenko, Geraschenko, Estchenko, Junenko, Korniets, Nidergaus, Veretennikov, Esipov, Zernov (Krivov, 79).

Manchester United: Schmeichel; G Neville, Irwin, Bruce, Sharpe, Pallister, Beckham, Butt, Scholes (Parker, 70), Keane (Davies, 23), Giggs.

Referee: P Mikkelsen (Den).

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