Eric Cantona, English football's most notorious No 7, is back in his Old Trafford heaven. And not for one moment did his new halo slip as he crowned his Messianic return with a goal against Liverpool. After 248 days, 18 hours and 57 minutes since he kicked his career into Selhurst Park's touch, the prodigal Frenchman took no more than 67 seconds to recapture the hearts and minds of his adoring Manchester United public. That was how long it took to create the opener for Nicky Butt. But the prospect which has sustained him through his long exile arrived in the 71st minute when Jamie Redknapp brought down Ryan Giggs as he ran onto Cantona's wonderful pass. Up stepped the ramrod-backed United star to send David James the wrong way and put the seal on a near-perfect day. Back with a vengeance, indeed. Unfortunately, the script had not been read by Robbie Fowler, who did his best to upstage the occasion with two superb goals in between.
And at 3.29pm, the long vigil was finally rewarded when Cantona re-emerged from the tunnel in a black top and warmed up with a ball-juggling display of the skills that have been kept in eight months' cold storage. convention -- fittingly one of the linesmen was a Mr Messiah! 'Ooh ah, Eric Cantona' boomed from the stands; A scratch of his head, two claps above his head and down to business. He has been badly missed by United, a third consecutive championship, an FA Cup and another European campaign lost in the 32 games of his penance.
Smoothly running into space on the left, he switched Cole's angled pass onto his left foot and swung it unerringly into the path of Butt bursting through the middle, past Phil Babb to hook the ball over James. The 20-year-old might have had a second goal of 1995 if he had made better use of the Frenchman's great ball through in the 13th minute. Though the Cantona circus was a distraction for friend and foe, the game never dipped below its usual excitement.
Liverpool, who have won at Old Trafford only once in 13 previous visits and sabotaged their excellent start to the season with away defeats at Wimbledon and Leeds, should have equalised in the 23rd minute. This time no-one could get close to Fowler as he angled in from the left to lash his seventh goal of the season past Schmeichel. Fowler must be close to a senior England call, keeping fit-again Stan Collymore to the sidelines, and he took his Liverpool aggregate to 45 goals in 78 league appearances in the 53rd minute. Michael Thomas' superb pass put him inside Gary Neville and he held off the young United defender before delightfully chipping Schmeichel as he came off his line.
The French genius, back after a 32-match and eight month absence, created Nicky Butt's 67-second opener with a pin-point left wing cross. While not fully fit Cantona was involved in all United's best work although they looked to be slipping to defeat when two superb goals by Robbie Fowler -- taking his tally to eight for the season -- put Roy Evans' team ahead.
But Cantona was the right man in the right place 19 minutes from time to steer home from 12 yards after Jamie Redknapp was adjudged to have hauled back Ryan Giggs as the Welshman ran on to the Frenchman's through ball.
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