Solskjaer's timing rescues United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's inspired sense of timing again proved invaluable for Manchester United in the Champions League in Bordeaux last night. Within seconds of replacing Denis Irwin late on, the Norwegian whose goal in stoppage time had won the European Cup for United last season had again scored the winner.
United appeared to be missing a trick when Bordeaux, down to 10 men after having Lilian Laslandes sent off in the 23rd minute and soon losing an early lead to Roy Keane's equaliser, then looked like regaining the lead and hit a post in the second half.
But with six minutes remaining Solskjaer gathered a long clearance from Raimond van der Gouw, who had been badly at fault with the Bordeaux goal, brushed aside the challenge of two defenders and coolly drove the ball home.
At Old Trafford the French champions had fenced deftly but with no finishing thrust when it came to the point. Last night United were soon to discover how keen the French side were to cause them discomfort in front of home fans.
An early header from Nisa Saveljic, following Stephane Ziani's corner, had Van der Gouw scuttling across his goal line to make a more urgent save than he had ever had to perform against Bordeaux at Old Trafford. But the next time he was called into action the Dutch goalkeeper, brought back by Alex Ferguson because Mark Bosnich was out of form, blundered badly.
After seven minutes Bordeaux lost Laurent Batlles, who had been kicked in the face by one of his own defenders during a goal-mouth flurry.
Then in the ninth minute the substitute, Lassina Diabate, slipped the ball inside to Michel Pavon, the Bordeaux captain, who drove in a firm but saveable shot from the penalty arc. Van der Gouw was partly unsighted but this did not explain why he allowed the ball to slip through his hands and cross the line.
As soft goals go, this one was a blancmange. Soon United, far from dictating the game's pace and pattern, were having to defend with some desperation. Shots from Sylvain Wiltord and Lilian Laslandes went just wide as a fired-up Bordeaux forced the pace. Midway through the first half, however, they lost Laslandes to two pieces of petulance in the space of 20 seconds.
First the striker was cautioned after registering his disgust with a linesman who had flagged him offside. Then Laslandes lunged, studs up, at Beckham and although contact was minimal the Dutch referee was entitled to send him off for a second booking.
The locals felt Beckham had made a meal of the foul and thereafter he was loudly booed and whistled whenever he touched the ball, which must have made him feel somewhat at home. In fact it was Bordeaux who lost heart, and within 11 minutes of Laslandes' departure they had also lost their lead.
With the defenders in a ragged line, minimising the risk of offside, Beckham played the ball in to Andy Cole, who fed a short pass through to Teddy Sheringham. He then found Keane in a lot of space to his left and, although Ulrich Rame blocked the first shot, the United captain found a gaping net from the rebound.
Early in the second half Cole, released by Nicky Butt's astutely timed lob, outpaced Saveljic and bore down on Rame, only to see the goalkeeper deflect his shot wide.
With Bordeaux pushing forward to give Wiltord support they were always going to run the risk of being caught on the counter-attack in this fashion. But it was United who all but fell behind to a quick break in the 57th minute when Ziani's pass sent Johan Micoud clear of Jaap Stam and Mickael Silvestre. With United's French defender on his heels Micoud unleashed a drive which cannoned off the inside of the right post and shot across goal.
By now the match was thoroughly open and enjoyable, with Keane's head glancing a left-wing cross from Beckham just wide of the far post. Just before the hour another shot from Micoud, struck from 25 yards, sailed close to the left-hand post with Van der Gouw looking beaten. For a team with 10 men Bordeaux were remarkably adept at finding spare bodies in the opposition half. But all Micoud's promptings counted for naught once Solskjaer again proved an instant hit.
Ferguson said United's play was careless and that Van der Gouw's blunder was "a bad mistake which put us on the back foot."
Bordeaux: Rame, Grenet, Saveljic, Afanou, Bonnissel, Ziani (Rouviere 60), Batlles (Diabate 9), Pavon, Micoud, Wiltord (Feindouno 82), Laslandes. Subs Not Used: Richert, Zanotti, Colucci. Sent Off: Laslandes (23). Booked: Laslandes, Pavon, Grenet, Diabate. Goal: Pavon 9.
Manchester Utd: Van Der Gouw, G Neville, Stam, Silvestre, Irwin (Solskjaer 83), Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs, Sheringham (Yorke 77), Cole (Berg 86). Subs Not Used: Bosnich, P Neville, Cruyff, Fortune. Booked: Stam, Giggs. Goals: Keane 33, Solskjaer 84.
Referee: J Wegereef (Holland).