United gain vital victory

 

MANCHESTER UNITED stoked up the Premiership title race with a priceless victory - but only after under strength Everton had given the Old Trafford faithful an uneasy evening.

Goals in each half by Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs were enough to give Alex Ferguson's men a glimmer of hope in their bid to catch runaway leaders Newcastle.

Everton gave a debut to 19 year old full back John O'Connor and also threw 17 year old YTS striker Michael Branch into the fray for his first taste of senior action 18 minutes from time.

And Joe Royle's side without the services of seven key players matched United stride for stride until they submitted to the home side's greater striking know how.

Judas was one of the more complimentary chants directed at Andre Kanchelskis, returning to Old Trafford for the first time since his £5 million move to Merseyside in the summer.

And the Russian winger's trickery almost brought the opening goal on 12 minutes when his low near post cross was hurriedly swept against the body of Peter Schmeichel and over by Graham Stuart, who was unlucky to be distracted by team mate Tony Grant's initial miskick.

But gradually United eased themselves into the driving seat and young full back Phil Neville saw two long range drives spectacularly turned behind by Neville Southall.

Skipper Steve Bruce - making his 800th senior appearance - then had a header from Giggs' swinging corner nodded from under his own bar by Grant.

Erie Cantona, who had been subdued in opening exchanges, found the key to unlock Everton's rear guard on the half hour. The Frenchman raced at full speed from the halfway line and his glided pass to the rampaging Keane was timed to perfection to allow the midfielder to ease a shot past Southall's left hand for his fifth goal of the season.

Everton, however, struck back when skipper Dave Watson hooked a close range effort over after an Andy Hinchcliffe corner had caused panic in United's ranks.

And then Daniel Amokachi was only inches away from connecting with Kanchelskis' cross after the winger had finally escaped the shackles of Neville.

The Reds almost struck again immediately after the interval when derby hero Lee Shawe flashed an 18 yard shot just wide. Yet the home side went strangely off the boil.

The visitors, sensing unease in United's play, began to commit more men forward in support of Amokachi. Ebbrell, for once finding himself in an advanced position in the 70th minute, unleashed a 25 yard drive that was arrowing towards the top corner until Schmeichel flicked up an arm to claw the ball over.

That was the closest Everton came to an equaliser and the visitors paid for their over commitment to attack when Giggs added a breakaway goal seven minutes from time to finally kill the contest.

Cantona's astute pass freed Andy Cole on the left, and his sliding pass found Giggs, who gave Southall no chance with a clipped shot.

. Six Bray Wanderers players are included in the National League First Division 16 man squad for the semi professional fixture with their Vauxhall Conference counterparts at Kidderminster Harriers ground on Tuesday, February 27th.