Manchester United. .1
Crystal Palace. . . 0
MARK HUGHES lifted the gloom that threatened to shroud another Old Trafford encounter with an 89th-minute winner the faithful had despaired of witnessing. But the lasting and more fitting image of the evening was that of Hughes's partner, Dion Dublin, being wheeled away on a stretcher.
Dublin was left prostrate and in obvious distress by some specialist treatment from Palace's central defender, Eric Young. The striker, a pounds 1.1m summer signing from Cambridge, has a broken right leg and severely damaged ankle ligaments, injuries which will keep him out of the game for up to five months.
Alex Ferguson, United's manager, said: 'Dion has a fractured fibula, but even more serious is the damage to his ankle ligaments. He is going to hospital tonight for an operation, but it looks as though he is going to be out for four to five months. It's a killer blow for us, and devastating for Dion. We'll miss him. But you're going to get this sort of thing in the game and that's all I want to say about the incident. We got the win because we kept going.' Palace's manager, Steve Coppell, a former United player, defended Young, who was booked for the incident. 'There was no malicious intent,' Coppell said.
Dublin, who has played just four hours for United, scored the goal which gave them their first victory of the season at Southampton. In truth, however, he made scant impression in his 41 minutes of activity last night, though it should be said he was not alone in that respect. United's mini-revival seemed an illusion and, with more conviction and composure in front of goal, Palace would have confronted them with the unpalatable reality of defeat.
Their new recruit, Chris Armstrong, had a header tipped over the bar by Peter Schmeichel and Mark Bright cleared the United goalkeeper with another header only for Steve Bruce to scoop the ball off the line.
Palace might have made more of John Salako's control and acceleration on the left. The winger, still finding his feet after a lengthy absence through injury, instigated most that was penetrative in Palace's game and played an equally effective role covering back, consistently stifling Andrei Kanchelskis.
Two minutes from the end of normal time, Salako was taken off and replaced by John Humphrey. A minute later Kanchelskis, who had come on as substitute for Dublin, threaded the ball through a hole not previously evident, Brian McClair pulled it across the face of the goal and Hughes, who pronounced himself fit for the match after being ruled out because of an ankle injury, slid it in.
Hughes's rare glimpses of goal were taken away by his Welsh international colleague, Young, and it was another member of the Wales squad, Ryan Giggs, who broke the early tedium and lifted the spirits of United's followers with his impish skills. However, despite a third successive victory, anxiety always riddled United's game and they still lack the stamp of championship calibre.
Manchester United: Schmeichel; Blackmore, Irwin, Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Dublin (Kanchelskis, 44), Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Martin, Walsh (gk).
Crystal Palace: Martyn; Osborn, Sinnott, Southgate, Young, Thorn, Armstrong, Thomas, Bright, Salako (Humphrey, 88), McGoldrick. Substitutes not used: Coleman, Heald (gk).
Referee: V Callow (Solihull).
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