United (0)2 - Everton (2)2
Scorers: Cryuff 70, Unsworth (og) 82; Ferguson 35, 41
Manchester United: Schmeichel, Irwin, May, Pallister, Cantona, Butt,
Beckham, Giggs, P Neville, Cruyff, Poborsky (45 McClair). Booked:
Subs not used: Van Der Gouw, Scholes, Johnsen, G Neville.
Everton: Southall; Barrett, Hinchcliffe,
Unsworth, Short; Speed, Ebbrell (c), Kanchelskis (71 Grant), Parkinson; Stuart,
Ferguson. Booked: Parkinson, Southall.
Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Rideout, Limpar, Hottiger. Unavailable: Watson (Injured).
|Ref: Graham Poll||Att: 54,943||League Position: 5th||Other Results and League Table|
Previous Match: Everton v Newcastle United -- Next Match: Tottenham Hotspur v Everton
Colin Wood, Daily Mail - SoccerNet: KING ERIC was knocked off his Old Trafford throne by Duncan of Scotland as two superb goals in a six-minute spell confirmed Everton's position as serious challengers for the championship of England.
Eric Cantona and his Manchester United double-winners ran out with the intention of giving their supporters a night of celebration on their first home appearance in the Premiership this season. But after 41 minutes Duncan Ferguson had struck twice and only a second half rally salvaged a point for United and extended their unbeaten home run in the Premiership to 31 games.
Ferguson put Everton ahead in the 31st minute with a goal made out of next-to-nothing. Andrei Kanchelskis played the ball to Ferguson, who controlled it, turned and hit it from the edge of the penalty area with his left foot to leave Peter Schmeichel with no chance.
The second came six minutes later from a move started by Ferguson. He chested the ball down to Gary Speed. He played it out to Andy Hinchcliffe on the left and the alarm bells were ringing for United as he hit a cross towards the far post. There was nothing they could do about it as the 6ft 4in Ferguson leapt to head in.
It certainly caused the United manager to have a rethink at half time. He was full of surprises before the start - first naming Ryan Giggs in his line-up then playing him on his own in the central striking role. Giggs, who missed the opening win at Wimbledon with a hamstring injury, had not been given much chance of being fit before the weekend.
Paul Scholes dropped to the substitutes' bench to make way for him while Karel Poborsky, bought for £3.6m after impressing for the Czech Republic in Euro 96, was given his first taste of Premiership football.
Poborsky played on the right wing, with David Beckham playing in central midfield in place of Roy Keane, who is recovering from a knee operation. At the start of the second half Ferguson sent on Brian McClair in place of Poborsky and moved Beckham back to the right flank.
Jordi Cruyff gave United hope 20 minutes from the end as the home side increased the pressure. He met a cross from Denis Irwin and this time made no mistake with a fine header. That goal inspired United and the equaliser came eight minutes from the end when Everton defender David Unsworth, deflected a low cross into his own net.
Guy McEvoy: Bloody Manchester. 55,000 people all trying to get down the same road from the M62. Most Blues saw what should be a 40-minute journey stretch over two hours. I parked about a mile and a half away and ran the entire way to the ground, delighted to make it just in time for the 8pm kick-off, but not so delighted to find that there was still a 10 minute queue to get into the away section, and not having run anywhere for at least a month I was sweating like a rabid pig-dog.
So, myself and my odour got into my seat 10 minutes after kick off to note that the team was unchanged from the Newcastle victors with the exception of the injured Watson giving Short a chance, and also to note that United had been lying about Giggs and Cantona being injured.
It is a long time since I was in a League crowd of 55,000 (championship season 87?), but I'm sure that they used to make more noise. The extremely modest allocation of Evertonians totally put to shame the Mancunians (and Hertfordshirians, Bedfordshirians and probably Cornwallians) who lay constant claim to following the "best supported team in the world". This may be true numerically, but in terms of percentage rate of fans that know a chant whose words extend beyond "United - United - United" ("shit, shit, shit") they are clearly left lagging.
On the field, Everton were clearly showing that they intended to carry on where they had left off on Saturday. Parkinson and Ebbrell had obviously been tasked with scaring the hell out of the 'wonder kids' and closed down their play in way that stifled any chance of them developing the rhythm and inventiveness that won them the Charity Shield or that had trounced Wimbledon. We, however, had no problem re-creating our attacking form and chances inevitably began to fall our way.
When the breakthrough came it was a gem. Kanchelskis, accompanied by the inevitable chorus of typically uncharitable boos, received the ball and fed it to Dunc on the edge of the box with his back to goal. In the blink of an eye he wheeled 180 degrees and hammered the ball into the top of the net from 15 yards. Ferguson's best goal in an Everton shirt -- bar none!
The rousing 'Go West' chants had no sooner died down than we were at it again, only with even greater gusto. This time it was a more familiar Everton goal. Hinchcliffe's swirling cross beat the retreating defenders and advancing Schmeichel and who was there to head home? Number Nine. Cloud Nine!
United, not beaten at home for 30 odd games, were in unfamiliar territory and clearly rattled. The great shame was that half time came before we could extend the lead further.
The break gave the chance for Alex F. to give his team the required kick up the backside, and also I fear led Joe to shift the emphasis to defending the lead we had rather than chase another. Changing the winning formula and putting the emphasis on defence was fatal given United's determined patience. Their comeback was not the stuff of desperate hit-and-hope long balls but considered build-up, and the lulling in-out attacks allowed them to re-find their shape and start to do what they do frustratingly well.
True enough, our defence was at times outstanding; Barrett in particular winning over more Blue hearts with each game. Nevertheless, the backs-to-the-wall attitude allowed United such a plethora of chances that the law of averages alone insisted they equalise. In the event it came through a Cruyff header that just lofted over Southall.
With that in the bag the red fans finally found universal voice to spur their team to another bout of yet greater pressure. Again the defence performed credibly, yet inevitably United always looked like they were going to find the point. Sadly it came from a brave attempt by Unsworth to clear a driven Irwin cross. His connection unfortunately put the ball beyond Southall.
Only now with the game tied did Everton return to the positive play that had seen them so convincingly dominate the first half. Although time seemed to be against us the referee was generous enough to allow time for two strikes that could have clinched it.
Our own wonder kid, Tony Grant, who had come on for Kanchelskis, first picked out Speed who dummied a shot, instead flicking it to Ferguson and, had he have hit it anywhere but straight at Schmeichel, he would have completed a famous match winning hat-trick. The second time he picked out Speed to shoot. But this time he could only find the side netting. Heart palpitations nearly turned to heart attacks as straight after Speed's miss Cruyff had one last effort but mercifully stuck it inches wide. A breathless finish.
The drama though was not yet over. As soon as the final whistle had been blown Alex Ferguson marched onto the pitch like a 21-year old chasing a pub fight with the referee. He would advance screaming; a track-suited man would hold him back, he would then pretend he was calming down and walking away and the track-suited man would leave him be, then he'd turn and charge the ref again. It was the most extraordinary sight. Is he one of these people in a high-stress job who's signed on for this new testosterone-replacement treatment? Apparently it has this kind of effect. We need to be told.
It was a disappointing result from the point of view that we looked for a long time that we might win and could have snatched it at the end, but move away from the 'if only's' and look at what we've got and that is four points from games for which I would have settled with two. We are also playing some of our finest football in seasons and Duncan is finally delivering his promise. The news is still good.
That's how I saw it with my blue tinted specs.
Martin Smith: Basically, the first half was one of the best I've ever seen from Everton. Ferguson was awesome and the rest were running around like headless chickens and not letting United play. The defence was rock-solid and it couldn't have been much better for us, really.
But the second half is something we've all seen before, I refer you to last year's Goodison derby. The players looked knackered and as Man United poured forward we seemed far too happy to sit back and take it. It was relentless pressure and just a matter of how many they'd score. The fact that it was only 2 was down to superb defending by Short and Unsworth in particular, lesser teams would have conceded 5.
By this time Kanchelskis was out of it, he didn't have a good game anyway and the choruses of boos seemed to put him off. He was subbed by Tony Grant after an hour-ish to add a bit more steel and it seemed a good idea but the goals came anyway.
Cruyff headed in a cross from close-range and then Unsworth deflected a shot past Nev when trying to put it past the post. The OG was really unlucky but United deserved it by then.
Alex Ferguson was probably angry about the time-wasting which we were doing rather well by this stage. Nev was actually booked for being repeatedly slow on kicks, I had visions of that nightmare match at Forest years ago but no more came of it.
So it went to 2-2 and then suddenly changed again. Everton came back into it and had superb chances squandered by first Ferguson (I thought it was in) and then Speed (I knew it wasn't because he totally bottled it). But Cruyff also got through to pull it just past the post, which I also thought was in. So honours even: fair enough would be the overall verdict. And also one of the best games I've ever been to.
Poborsky - 0.
Team performance - 8 overall. A 10 in the first half, but just a 6 for the second-half capitulation!
Dave Shepherd: Due to a lucky number, I got to go to Man Utd. One wonders about using words like luck though, when you spend a total of 3 hours in traffic jams before and after the game (nice stadium, shame about the access & parking).
The spice of luck fades further when you find your eighteen pounds has bought you a seat the size of a nursery school chair, wedged in between occupants of similar seats who also have no room for their legs, thirty of whom you've had to get past on the way in. Then when you look up and peer through the sticky evening air and find you re the furthest corner of the vast stadium (nice vista, shame about the view), you wonder what madness drives you to such places when you could sell your lucky ticket for a fat profit.
Although the "catch them early" theory was valid, Everton's widely reported humiliation of United (north-eastern branch) on Saturday had reduced the surprise factor to almost zero, so the opening 15 minutes were very tentative. This was the first phase of several very distinct phases which made up a fascinating match.
Finding no apparent hidden dangers in Everton, and a friendly referee, United (Manc branch) set about ripping holes in Everton's complex and wondrous assignment defence with the ease of a chimp peeling bananas, with simple direct balls up the middle and with laser-guided accuracy crosses from wide positions.
This went on for nearly 20 minutes, and produced at least four golden chances for a home opener, but Everton's luck held -- three went wide and a goal was offside 45 yards earlier. During most of the match, but this period in particular, Cantona was on a 10 -- deadly! I ve seen him a good 10 times live or on live TV, and he's never been anywhere near that good.
Strangely, despite the home dominance, the stadium atmosphere was absent. I've never been to OT and heard the away fans loudest, let alone almost uncontested unless they are winning comfortably (and usually not even then). Who would have believed even 10 years ago that the notorious Stretford End would one day be motionless and silent? Fifty thousand red fans sat and listened to 4,000 Blues fans cheer their patently second-best team on. Sad.
Everton's only excursions forward had been as misshapen and haphazard as Newcastle's four days earlier. Dunc looked very alone up front, and though he won plenty of headers, they went nowhere. Shots were being attempted, but none were a threat. In other words, Everton's first goal was completely against the run of play.
Kanchelskis, who seemed unwilling to run at defenders again, played a build-up pass to Dunc outside the box, who finding no-one else to pass to, hit a turning shot which left the disagreeable Dane looking as rooted as one of the new net-poles as it flew in. Evertonians celebrated -- why not? goals at Trafford are rare enough.
Five minutes later the Blue corner went potty as Dunc scored a more typical goal -- crashing in a Hinchy cross at the far post. Luckily, half time was not far away, because we needed not just a break in the action and a break to cool off on a sticky humid night, but time to convince ourselves that this was really happening. Quite simply, we could have easily been 3-0 down, but were in fact 2-0 up.
Looking ahead at that point it seemed very unlikely that Man U would not score one. The best chance of winning was to play the ball and hope that they would lose their morale when the superstars got sulky and/or the plastic fans started moaning at them.
The second half did start well enough, with Everton keeping lots of possession, and lots of embarrassing Red passes going out for throw-ins. This was exactly the game pattern which Everton needed, but instead of capitalising on the demoralisation, the blues tactics became more and more defensive and they tried to sit on their lead.
It was there, near the hour, that something clicked inside the collective head of the United players -- they made a rapid switch in style prompted by no visible cue. They decided to abandon the pretentious idiom that they were some continental superteam, and reverted to being Manchester United. Instead of expecting every pass to be outrageous magic, they set up the umbrella around the scoreboard end penalty area, and simply waited for the goals to come.
The umbrella is the tactic ManU have used as long as I've gone there. It s a broad arc of players set up about 35 yards out, whose sole function is to regain possession when the defenders clear, then pass it back in to the forwards and playmakers in the box.
There are only two ways to defend against this tactic. Either you can dribble the ball out beyond the umbrella and force it to go back and defend, or you can stick 11 men in the area and pray that you can hold out until the final whistle... because you can only clear to the umbrella, and the ball will be back in the box in seconds.
Everton decided to opt for the latter, and it cost them the win. They held out Ok for 10 minutes, but finally on about the twelfth attack a chip from the bye line to the far post found the unlikely head of Cruyff Jr.
The plastic 50,000 briefly came to life, but despite the fact that a second for them was going to be as inevitable as night follows day, they resumed their quiet mode.
Everton meanwhile had learned no lessons, and carried on as before, still holding out for the draw. Having cracked in 10 minutes, to hope they could hold out for 20 more, with United's confidence now restored, was stupidity. The pressure increased, the screw turned, and the second goal came, with still 9 minutes to spare. OK it was a deflection, but it was worked for, earned and deserved.
This could easily have been converted into a winning third, but fortunately blues shirts were now pressing upfield indignantly looking for a goal. The umbrella immediately collapsed, and the last 15 minutes (yes 15, thanks to Referee Poll's timekeeping) became a heartstopping scrap of two talented attacking sides going from one end to the other. During the ghostly injury time, both Cruyff and Ferguson (twice) missed glorious only-keeper-to-beat chances, leaving the unique situation where BOTH sets of fans were screaming for the final whistle. We can only speculate what the result might have been if EFC had played Option 1 throughout..
This was one of the most fascinating and intriguing games one will ever see. Fortunes swung wildly, and we were treated to a live experiment in how several different football styles cope with several different football styles. It s going to be a fabulous season in the Premier even if only half the matches are half this good.
TEAM PERFORMANCE - 5 - JR went in saying that we weren't scared of Man Utd, but the team played as if they were for too long. Even a 2-0 lead couldn't convince them enough to play with confidence and cash in for more. Only when it was too late did they start to fight hard.
A perfect plastic ref for the plastic Traffords. Tries to play lots of advantage, but does it at the wrong times. Tries to be fair but just annoys everyone, and (of course) becomes struck by blindness when the ball enters the box and the Red defenders know it and indulge in shirt-pulling and back-climbing all night. And if you can tell me where six minutes extra time came from, please let me or the moaner Alex Ferguson know.
Martin Lipton, PA Sport: Karel Poborsky was inches away from making the dream start to his Manchester United career at Old Trafford in the Premiership tonight. The 24-year-old Czech flyer had already shown just why he is dubbed the 'Express Train' in his native land with a blistering burst down the right which forced Craig Short to hack desperately over his own bar in the ninth minute.
And four minutes later after Ryan Giggs, surprisingly ruled fit to replace Paul Scholes after missing Saturday's season opener at Wimbledon through injury, had shrugged aside Short's challenge to advance down the left, Poborsky came so close to putting United in front. Giggs' ball picked out the Czech, in the side because of Roy Keane's date with the surgeon this week, and Poborsky took his time before chipping beyond Neville Southall but agonisingly wide of the target.
It was a move which summed up United's domination of the early stages, and when Giggs again exposed Short's lack of pace after a superb ball down the right from Eric Cantona, it needed a purposeful intervention by Earl Barrett to prevent Nicky Butt hitting the target. England's Phil Neville did do that in the 18th minute after a great first-time touch by Jordi Cruyff, making his home debut after his 1.4million summer move from Barcelona, but the flag was up to cut short the defender's goal celebrations.
It had been one-way traffic in the opening spell but after Cantona, teed up by Giggs, had chipped far too casually allowing Southall to save, Everton should have gone ahead in the 26th minute. Cruyff needlessly conceded a corner and when Hinchcliffe swung in from the Everton right, it went all the way across to Graham Stuart who, seeing the ball late, failed to hit the target from close range.
Peter Schmeichel, angry that what he thought had been a foul on him had not been spotted by the referee, continued his protests long after the ball was dead, earning a yellow card in the process, and Everton grew visibly in confidence from that chance. Andrei Kanchelskis, booed mercilessly by the home fans, tried his luck from 25 yards and after Cruyff had headed wastefully wide from a Denis Irwin cross, Everton went ahead 10 minutes from time. Big Duncan Ferguson was making his 50th appearance for the Blues and he proved just why he has become a Goodison folk idol with a truly splendid goal.
Kanchelskis, waiting for a run from Barrett that never materialised, turned inside and fed the giant Scot with his back to goal and Gary Pallister immediately behind him on the edge of the box. The danger seemed limited, but that was counting without Ferguson's swiftness of foot as he took one touch before burying a left-footer into Schmeichel's top corner.
It was the first Premiership goal United had conceded at Old Trafford since December 30 -- but within six minutes Everton and Ferguson had doubled their account for the match to leave the champions staring their first home League defeat in 31 matches fully in the face.
Ferguson was involved in the build-up with a superb chest out to the left from Stuart's cross. And when Hinchcliffe delivered to the back post, Ferguson had pulled off David May to create the room to plug a downward header into the back of the net to set off riotous celebrations from the Everton fans.
United had gone 20 months and 30 games since their previous home Premiership defeat, and Alex Ferguson's desperation to keep that proud record intact was demonstrated as he cut short Poborsky's debut at the interval. He brought Brian McClair on in the middle and moved David Beckham out to a more familiar right-sided role.
The home side did up the pace at the start of the second period, but Everton were in a determined mood. Hinchcliffe cleared one dangerous cross from Cruyff and then Short threw himself in front of Cantona to block the Frenchman's shot after McClair had touched the ball off to his captain. A masterful pass by Cantona then provided Cruyff with another crossing opportunity, but Southall beat Giggs to the ball.
When Everton broke out of their defensive mode, they nearly snatched a third goal just before the hour, Hinchcliffe's free kick from 20 yards clipping the bar with Schmeichel struggling. More of the action was at the other end and it needed a piece of brilliance by Southall to maintain Everton's advantage in the 64th minute. Cantona found Beckham and he picked out Giggs with an excellent cross. Giggs' touch would have finished in the net 99 times out of 100, but this was the exception, Southall somehow pawing the ball to safety with his right hand.
But Southall's stop only delayed the inevitable as United mounted a grandstand finish. In the 70th minute, they pulled one back when Cruyff rose to meet Butt's cross to cower a header into the top corner. And eight minutes from time the champions were on terms. Irwin crossed from the right, the ball deflected towards goal off John Ebbrell and as David Unsworth tried to clear, he only succeeded in turning the ball over his own line.
The Football Association will tomorrow call for an immediate referee's report into the behaviour of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson after the 2-2 home draw with Everton tonight. Ferguson had to be restrained by his assistant Brian Kidd and head of security at Old Trafford Ned Kelly as he moved towards match referee Graham Poll at the final whistle.
Ferguson wanted to know why the Hertfordshire official had played only three minutes of added time in the second period.
"Can anybody tell me why they give referees a watch?" fumed the United boss. "It's certainly not to keep the time. That was a Mickey Mouse one.
"Time-keeping should be taken out of the referees' hands. In the modern-day game we need someone to do it properly.
"There should be a time-keeper and everybody seems to say that now. Tonight was a perfect example of why. "
The players ran their feet off to get a result there and they were faced with that obstacle. It sickens you.
"I said to Neville Southall after the game that he had wasted 10 minutes and he said that he needed that time at his age.
"There's nothing wrong with wasting time, if you can get away with it, but it's the referee's job to stop it.
"He spent two minutes running towards Neville. It was pathetic, really pathetic." Pressed further about his post-match action, Ferguson added: "I think a lot of people were angry and I think the players were angry.
"I think we are entitled to get 90 minutes. People are paying good money and they are entitled to what they pay for."
Poll added two minutes in the first half and over three in the second, but while Ferguson thought not enough time had been played, Everton counterpart Joe Royle believed the referee had allowed too much.
"We didn't have the trainer on in the entire game and yet he played 97 minutes," said Royle. "I can't understand that."
Despite the controversy, both managers agreed it had been an amazing evening of thrilling football. Royle added: "It was some game. It could have ended up 6-6 I suppose. "There are probably two ways of looking at it, but having been 2-0 up, we're disappointed not to have got all three points.
"In the second half we conceded too much ground and defended in our own six-yard box.
"It's hard to get that idea out of players' heads once it gets in there and it was exactly what I had told us not to do in the dressing-room, so it was very frustrating."
And Ferguson added: "I always thought we could get back into it and in the second half our passing and moving were absolutely brilliant.
"At the end they were dead on their feet. Added time would have helped us because they were knackered."
Peter Ball in The Times: WE HAD better start to take Everton seriously. With Duncan Ferguson almost living up to his billing as the new Attila, a scourge of hapless defenders, the big Scotsman scoring the first League goals that Manchester United have conceded at Old Trafford this year, Everton came as close as could be to inflicting United's first home defeat in the FA Carling Premiership since December 1994.
In the end they were denied as United's exhilarating second-half comeback culminated in a cruel own goal for David Unsworth with seven minutes remaining. Even then the drama was not over. In the last three minutes alone, Ferguson, Speed and then Jordi Cruyff saw golden chances to win the game disappear as the tension reached bursting point.
It was too much for Alex Ferguson, the United manager, who raced on to the field at the final whistle to complain that Graham Poll, the referee, had not played long enough as Everton wasted time in the second half. Ferguson had to be restrained by his assistant, Brian Kidd, and the head of security at Old Trafford, Ned Kelly, and his actions were enough to prompt the Football Association to call for a referee's report into the incident.
Poll played four minutes over time; Ferguson wanted ten; whether the spectators could have taken another moment is a moot point. It was the biggest all-seater crowd ever to watch an English League game, but for most of the second half the 54,943 were on their feet.
There was high excitement from the start. Before the game, as well as winding Everton up by comparing their style to Wimbledon, Ferguson had suggested that, in a 6ft 4in goalkeeper and a 6ft 4in defender, he had the players to counter the menace of his namesake. By half-time, those hopes were in tatters, with each of his giants found wanting by the marauding Scot.
Ferguson had a deceptively quiet beginning. Although, without Keane, United lost central midfield, their decision to rely on pace and hope to expose Everton's lack of it at the back nearly paid off as Giggs led Short a deadly dance, dragging him wide and then accelerating past him. But, from Giggs's efforts, Butt, Poborsky and Cruyff all saw glaring opportunities go begging.
For half an hour Duncan Ferguson had been quiet; his record of only two away League goals for Everton until last night had looked more relevant than his rampaging through the Newcastle defence last Saturday, but, as Kanchelskis cut in and found him on the edge of the box, that was to change. Holding off Pallister, he turned and swept the ball past Schmeichel in one movement. "That was a magnificent strike," the United manager said generously.
If Pallister might have made a stronger intervention then, Schmeichel's error for Ferguson's second goal was inexcusable. He came for and missed Hinchcliffe's hanging cross for Ferguson to come in behind him and head home. "Let's hope that was Peter's one mistake of the season, he always makes one," the manager said.
That sent Everton in at the interval in the ascendancy, but when they resumed afterwards the cast had changed and so had the plot. Brian McClair came on to strengthen United's midfield and Everton found themselves forced back and back. "We did what we said we wouldn't do and conceded too much space," Joe Royle, the Everton manager, reflected ruefully.
Inevitably, the pressure began to tell. United still missed their chances and Southall made a sensational save, changing direction to paw the ball away as Giggs met Beckham's centre from close range, but even the Everton goalkeeper was unable to deny Cruyff as he met Irwin's cross with an irresistible header.
That set up a pulsating final 20 minutes and the Ireland full back was to have the final word as another cross, this time driven in from an angle, was deflected into the goal by Unsworth, leaving Southall helpless.
Henry Winter, Electronic Telegraph: MANCHESTER United surrendered their first Premiership goal of 1996 at Old Trafford last night but, eight minutes from time, managed to rescue their 30-match unbeaten League run at home.
It was a tale of two Fergusons. Duncan of that ilk scored twice for Everton in the first half, the visitors' awesome determination and industry over-running the Reds. Then Alex Ferguson reorganised his United team and coaxed them to find a point. Jordi Cruyff reduced the deficit and David Unsworth's own goal, following Denis Irwin's cross-shot, ensured the men in red shirts did not end with red faces.
Everton, so vigorous in Saturday's victory over Newcastle, again flooded the midfield, leaving Ferguson to trouble Gary Pallister and David May. United had prepared for such a tactic and sought simply to bypass the central-midfield jungle.
With United initially in charge, there was no intimation of the devastating events shortly to befall them. Deciding against using Paul Scholes, Alex Ferguson deployed Ryan Giggs through the middle, where his pace caused high anxiety for Craig Short, the Everton centre-back who had come in for the injured Dave Watson. After 13 minutes, Giggs outstripped Short down the inside-right channel but cut the ball back too quickly for Nicky Butt, who shot wide under pressure from Earl Barrett.
United were, briefly, in command. Phil Neville saw a goal disallowed for offside. Then, expensively, Eric Cantona elected for placement rather than power so allowing Neville Southall to spread his body and snatch the ball.
Having dispensed with one title favourite, however, Everton refused to be bowed by another. Well-organised and hungry for the ball, they hustled the champions out of their stride, taking the lead in the 28th minute, doubling it 12 minutes later.
Well though Ferguson took his first-half goals, United had only themselves to blame. Poor defending allowed Andrei Kanchelskis, relentlessly booed, to slide a square pass across United's box towards Ferguson. Still the danger looked minimal: Pallister represented the strongest of barriers. But Ferguson had other ideas. He took the ball with his right foot, shimmied slightly, so throwing Pallister fractionally off-balance. Ferguson's left-footed finish, struck from the edge of the box, was past Peter Schmeichel before United's keeper could react.
Worse was to follow for the hosts. Again the final ball arrived from wide out, passes that should never have been allowed to occur. This time the danger flowed from the left: Andy Hinchcliffe, left free by Karel Poborsky, lifted a steepling cross towards the far post. Pallister and May stood as the ball arched over towards the unmarked Ferguson, who rose and headed unerringly past Schmeichel.
Duncan Ferguson had dominated the first half. Alex Ferguson attempted to influence the second by stirring his players up and, significantly, withdrawing the ineffective Poborsky. Brian McClair arrived to give some bite to central midfield, so allowing Beckham to move right.
With Beckham keeping Hinchcliffe pegged back, United strove to turn possession into goals. After 64 minutes, Cantona released Beckham and his drilled cross from the right was met beautifully by Giggs from close range. A goal appeared inevitable but Southall's excellence endures, the Welshman fingering Giggs's shot with a save that seemed impossible.
But something had to give. Again the danger came from the right, this time Irwin crossing high for Cruyff, his frail body rising high to put his header past Southall.
Renewed belief coursed through United's veins and, eight minutes from time, they rescued their Old Trafford record. Irwin, again, provided the inspiration, his driven cross-shot turned in by Unsworth.
Right at the death, United were again indebted to Schmeichel, who denied Ferguson from close range. Moments later, Cruyff missed the simplest of chances.
Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph
Wednesday, 21 August 1996
ASTON VILLA 1-0 BLACKBURN ROVERS 32,457 Southgate(64) CHELSEA 1-0 MIDDLESBROUGH 28,272 Di Matteo(86) LEICESTER CITY 2-1 SOUTHAMPTON 17,562 Heskey(6,42) Le Tissier(pen 68) MANCHESTER UNITED 2-2 EVERTON 54,943 Cruyff(70) Unsworth(og 82) Ferguson(35,41) NEWCASTLE UNITED 2-0 WIMBLEDON 36,385 Batty(3) Shearer(88) NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1-4 SUNDERLAND 22,874 Haaland(27) Gray(8) Quinn(17,31) Ord(43) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1-1 DERBY COUNTY 28,219 Sheringham(34) Dailly(90) WEST HAM UNITED 1-1 COVENTRY CITY 21,580 Rieper(74) McAllister(12)
Tuesday, 20 August 1996
LEEDS UNITED 0-2 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 31,011 Humphreys(14) Booth(90)
Monday, 19 August 1996
LIVERPOOL 2-0 ARSENAL 38,103 McManaman(68,74)
Table after 21 August 1996
Pos Club P W D L GF GA Pts 1. Sheffield_W 2 2 0 0 4 - 1 6 2. Manchester_U 2 1 1 0 5 - 2 4 3. Sunderland 2 1 1 0 4 - 1 4 4. Liverpool 2 1 1 0 5 - 3 4 5. Everton 2 1 1 0 4 - 2 4 6. Tottenham 2 1 1 0 3 - 1 4 7. Leicester 2 1 1 0 2 - 1 4 8. Chelsea 2 1 1 0 1 - 0 4 9. Nottingham 2 1 0 1 4 - 4 3 10. Arsenal 2 1 0 1 2 - 2 3 10. Newcastle 2 1 0 1 2 - 2 3 10. Aston_Villa 2 1 0 1 2 - 2 3 13. Derby 2 0 2 0 4 - 4 2 14. Middlesbrough 2 0 1 1 3 - 4 1 15. Southampton 2 0 1 1 1 - 2 1 16. Leeds 2 0 1 1 3 - 5 1 17. West_Ham 2 0 1 1 1 - 3 1 18. Coventry 2 0 1 1 1 - 4 1 19. Blackburn 2 0 0 2 0 - 3 0 20. Wimbledon 2 0 0 2 0 - 5 0