Unsworth lets United off hook

Manchester United 2 Everton 2
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The Independent Online

The heat of the Premiership reached boiling point only five days into the new season last night, with Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, running on to the field to confront the referee Graham Poll at the end of an intensely passionate match in which his side had trailed 2-0 at half-time.

Ferguson, angry at what he perceived as inaccurate timekeeping, had to be restrained by his assistant, Brian Kidd, after the final whistle. Already upset by Poll's failure to uphold what seemed a valid penalty claim, the United manager felt Poll did not compensate enough for some time-wasting by the Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall, even though he punished the Welshman with a booking.

"It is high time that responsibility of timekeeping was taken out of the referee's hands," Ferguson said. "With the pace the game is played at nowadays he has enough to do running up and down and making the right decisions. The public pay good money to see a full 90 minute and it is time there was someone else stopping the clock."

In the circumstances he should have been happy with what he had, after Newcastle's defeat on Merseyside last Saturday, now came the turn of United to feel the force of Everton's zest for the opening to the season.

oe Royle's side seized control through the head and left foot of the United manager's namesake, Duncan. The Scot's two stunning blows in the space of seven minutes, left the champions facing a crisis averted only through the sheer determination.

ordi Cruyff marked his home debut with a headed goal on 70 minutes, converting Denis Irwin's centre. Eight minutes from the end, Irwin drove in another cross, looking for Brian McClair, to which David Unsworth, the Everton defender reacted with an outstretched foot, unwittingly turning the ball into his own net.

The crowd of almost 55,000, squeezed in to the expanded stadium set a record for the Premiership and there was a buzz of excitement at the unveiling of Cruyff and Karel Poborsky for their first competitive action in the stadium, the Czech taking only 13 minutes to try his Euro 96 party piece, missing the target narrowly with a clever chip as Southall strayed from his line.

With Giggs returning in place of Paul Scholes, United unnerved Everton with a series of potent counter-thrusts but chances were missed, notably by Nicky Butt and Eric Cantona.

Their wasted opportunities were made to look costly when Ferguson hit them with his double impact. Receiving the ball from Andrei Kancheskis, he turned in an instant and lashed a fierce left foot shot past Peter Schmeichel and then cashed in again when the Danish goalkeeper failed to cut out Andy Hinchcliffe's pin-point cross from the left.

Alex Ferguson withdrew Poborsky at half-time, sensing that the greater experience of McClair would serve him better. The pressure on Southall's goal duly increased and although Southall, making his 701st League appearance, defied them with a brilliant save to prevent a goal by Giggs. Everton finally cracked with 20 minutes remaining, when Cruyff slipped in to unguarded space in the visitors penalty area and directed an excellent header beyond Southall's reach.

Almost immediately, Everton were fortunate not to concede a penalty when Craig Short appeared to pull down Butt inside the penalty area but Poll decided that the offence took place at the edge of the penalty area and United did not profit from the free kick.

After 82 minutes, however, Everton ran out of luck and while the equalising goal was unfortunate for Unsworth it produced probably a fair result.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Irwin, Pallister, May, P Neville; Poborsky (McClair, h-t), Beckham, Butt, Cruyff; Cantona, Giggs. Substitutes not used: G Neville, Van der Gouw (gk), Scholes, ohnsen.

Everton (4-5-1): Southall; Barrett, Short, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis (Grant, 72), Ebbrell, Stuart, Parkinson, Speed; Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Rideout, Limpar, Hottiger, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).