Bolic ends United's 40 year record

 

MANCHESTER United's 40 year old, 56 match unbeaten home record in Europe finally fell to a Bosnian at Old Trafford last night. Elvir Bolic's late goal won a famous Champions' League victory for Fenerbahce to throw United's hopes of making the quarter finals into utter confusion.

Haying started slowly and then missed several chances, United were undone in the 77th minute when Bolic produced a dipping shot from the edge of the penalty area which cleared Peter Schmeichel and dipped under the bar after taking a deflection off David May.

Heavy defeats, 5-0 and 6-3, by Newcastle and Southampton could hardly be described as little local difficulties but at least last night found Manchester United returning to the principal theme of their season. Alex Ferguson has made no secret of his desired to add the Champions' Cup to his successes.

On the evidence of their confident, composed 2-0 defeat of Fenerbahce in Istanbul a fortnight earlier United had little to fear last night except, to coin a phrase, fear itself. But without Pallister in defence and still missing Giggs in attack they needed to tread with care.

With Cantona flanked by Poborsky and Cruyff, the Fenerbahce defence was always likely to become sufficiently stretched to leave inviting gaps for the runs from midfield of Beckham, Keane and Butt.

Yet a similar formation had laboured against Juventus in Turin and after a briefly promising start Cantona's unsuitability for the central role, though less evident in Istanbul, was again apparent.

The Turkish champions gained in confidence. Okocha, Fenerbahce's wily, skilful Nigerian, had dominated the early part of the game in Turkey and he was the instigator of their initial attacks last night.

But the first serious scoring attempt at either end followed Erol's cross from the left, Kemalettin's volley skimming the crossbar to remind United of their new mortality.

United were forcing corners at regular intervals, however, and from one of these should have taken the lead midway through the first half but Cantona, with only Rustu to beat shot wide of the far post.

Now Manchester United were looking slightly dishevelled and less sure of themselves. At least the defence looked sound, but the passing was becoming a muddled mixture of the predictable and the plain inaccurate.

Increasingly Cantona was drifting deep, which is more his natural game, but this meant that when United did catch Fenerbahce on the break support for the man in possession was often lacking up front. There was a glimpse of something better two minutes from Beckham decided to take on the defenders near the 18 yard line and caused sufficient confusion to set up a half chance for Cantona which the Frenchman hooked just wide.

There was a greater urgency about Manchester United in the second half. Cruyff had been moved into the middle, allowing Cantona to drift into some old familiar spaces, but their passing still lacked its usual snap and crackle.

The match badly needed a goal. In the 52nd minute it nearly saw one at either end. First Tuncay, found in space on the left by Kemalettin's crossfield ball, drove the ball low into the goal mouth where Kostadinov slid in to waft it over the bar. Then Rustu's diving body thwarted Butt, who had been sent in by the ball Poborsky had threaded through Fenerbahce's cover.

Two minutes later Cruyff, racing through on the left, gathered a return pass from Cantona before driving the ball past the far post. At last Old Trafford began to sense a goal.

Ferguson was unable to hide his disappointment as Old Trafford was finally breached for the first time in 40 years of European competition. "I was hoping it wouldn't happen in my time.

"But I'm terribly disappointed, particularly as it was a deflected goal. I thought we had done enough to win the match, but we had one or two chances which we didn't take, so it's a disappointing result.

"In the first half we didn't get the pace going and I said to the players at half time that the tempo was too slow. However, we did better in the second half, but failed to capitalise.

But the name of the game is winning and we will go out to win our next match.