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Ferguson wins the battle of the managers

Phil Babb walked into an Old Trafford nightmare on his Liverpool debut. Britain's most expensive defender was wiped out by two Manchester United goals within two minutes of his arrival.

Roy Evans threw on his 3.75 million pound capture to seal up a precious point against their fiercest rivals.

Instead, the ploy blew up in his face as Andrei Kanchelskis and substitute Brian McClair plunged the Merseysiders to their first defeat of the season.

To make the pill all the more bitter for Liverpool to swallow, they were undone by their other 3 million pound defender John Scales, whose 73rd minute headed backpass was hugely ambitious.

Kanchelskis always had the pace to get there ahead of goalkeeper David James and Neil Ruddock had little hope of swinging the wing-heeled Ukranian winger's lob off the line. Instead it ballooned into the top of the net.

Before they could regroup, McClair had traded passes with Eric Cantona on the right side and skipped through to bury his right foot shot deep and low into the far corner.

To be fair to Evans, his decision to tighten up by replacing Jan Molby with Phil Babb came as United flowered, Alex Ferguson's own reshuffle of McClair for Mark Hughes on 59 minutes producing their best play.

Paul Ince cracked a 20-yard volley inches wide, Ryan Giggs looped a header over the bar from Cantona's superb chip, the Frenchman forced James full-length and then had a header saved from a McClair centre.

Cantona had been subdued and United looked off-colour. Liverpool had dominated much of the first half and can feel aggrieved they had nothing to show.

United have missed Paul Parker at right-back, but never as much as in this game where his stand-in David May, rarely got close to Steve McManaman.

The England Under-21 international nagged away at the United right flank like a sore tooth. It was only Schmeichel's reflexes which prevented the damage from becoming more painful. His awkward save from Stig Bjornebye in the first few minutes was the first of many which further enhanced his reputation.

He blocked from Ruddock, plucked down a Scales header, and then flew to his right to palm away a superb 18th minute drive from McManaman. Jamie Redknapp beat him early in the second half, but the shot cracked against the bar and he frustrated Robbie Fowler with one last save in the 55th minute.

It was significant that United still managed to create the more clear-cut chances, James turning aside Kanchelskis' rising shot and then dashing out to pressure Lee Sharpe into hooking his shot over. The best showed United's ability to turn desperate defence into awesome offence after 31 minutes, Bruce cutting out McManaman, Hughes hoisting the clearance into the path of Kanchelskis and Cantona meeting the low cross with a scuffed shot which still forced James full length to claw it wide.

Roy Evans admitted he blew it.

Ferguson tried to cancel out Molby's influence by tossing McClair into the action; Evans countered by withdrawing the Dane and sending on Babb.

Evans said: "Alex's was a good move and mine was a bad one. That's the way this game goes. Sometimes you get a pat on the back, and others you get a kick up the backside."

Ferguson consoled his rival: "I thought he had judged it right, that's the move I would have made!"

Copyright - British Soccer Week

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