Last updated : 14 April 2004 By Editor


Sir Alex Ferguson could be seen whispering "unlucky" as he shook hands with Adams at the final whistle, but Leicester’s principal misfortune was to be on the receiving end of one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s most effective performances since joining United for £12.24 million last August. Well contained in the first half, the 19-year-old winger grew in influence after the interval and, having set up Neville’s goal, he proceeded to torment a Leicester defence that was otherwise largely untroubled by a United team who badly missed Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

United’s emphasis was clearly on a conservation of energy, as David Bellion and Diego Forlán, two of the four players who were recalled to the starting line-up, have little or no hope of breaking into Ferguson’s plans for the Cup Final against Millwall. If Ronaldo made the most of his opportunity, the same could not be said of Forlán, who was substituted, having failed even to get into the positions from which he habitually misses. To the visible annoyance of Ferguson, the Uruguay forward headed straight for the dressing-room rather than watch the remainder of the match from the bench.


When his best striker is out, Sir Alex Ferguson can count on goals from any number of sources but a winner from Gary Neville was probably not quite what he had in mind last night. As Old Trafford crept towards the boredom threshold it was a goal from the redoubtable England right-back that kept up Manchester United's pursuit of second place in the Premiership.

Neville is so often the organiser and the barracker but the captain for last night is rarely the goalscorer. Nevertheless, his goal, made by the impressive Cristiano Ronaldo, means that United's game against Chelsea on May 8 should decide second place. For Leicester the news just gets worse: they are six points adrift in the relegation zone and Portsmouth have a game in hand over them.

In public he may back his captain's decision to return to international football, but Sir Alex Ferguson was without Roy Keane again last night with the phantom knee injury that ruled him out of the weekend's game against Birmingham City too. The withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland team was supposed to prolong the life of Keane's club career, but you suspect there may be less of the United captain in matches like these.


Gary Neville's first goal of the season, the product of an inspired display by Cristiano Ronaldo, enhanced Manchester United's prospects of finishing second in the Premiership last night and left Leicester's chances of avoiding relegation looking increasingly forlorn.

The United captain's opportunism leant a dash of colour to a strictly monochrome match and lifted his understrength side to within three points of Chelsea, who visit Old Trafford on 8 May. The FA Cup finalists also have a game in hand. Leicester, who face a six-pointer at Blackburn on Saturday, are still six points from safety with time and hope ebbing away.

It was easy to imagine the crockery flying in the United dressing-room during Sir Alex Ferguson's half-time talk. However, there was no immediately discernible increase in the tempo of their attacks, in which Diego Forlan and David Bellion were at best peripheral figures.

Ronaldo was a dazzling exception to the greyness around him, his shimmying at times resembling an audition for Riverdance. His 55th-minute shot, parried by Walker with Paul Scholes unable to force in the rebound, sparked a long-overdue and ultimately productive spell of pressure for United.


Sir Alex Ferguson has urged his Manchester United players to "bounce rather than stagger" towards the FA Cup final but they failed to rally to his call last night, displaying a distinct economy of invention in overcoming Leicester City.

Nevertheless Gary Neville's first Premiership goal in more than three years ensured they remain on course to achieve their manager's secondary ambition of pipping Chelsea to second place in the league. United now stand just three points behind Claudio Ranieri's side with a game in hand.

There was certainly no economy of effort on Leicester's part but their failure to undo a weakened United line-up suggests the prognosis is bleak for Micky Adams's team, apparently bound for the First Division.

Adams admits that without Muzzy Izzet in midfield his side are "ordinary" and Izzet invariably was heavily involved in Leicester's better passing moves as they startled Old Trafford by enjoying the better of the first half.

Equally important, Izzet and Billy McKinlay made life unexpectedly tough for Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, ruthlessly closing them down at every opportunity. With Steffen Freund and Jordan Stewart performing a similar smothering of Cristiano Ronaldo and David Bellion on the flanks, Leicester enjoyed a high percentage of possession as a consequence.

Yet despite Marcus Bent's encouraging turn of pace and Paul Dickov's nuisance value the creation of chances, or even half-chances, proved more problematic.

Accordingly, perhaps ominously, two of the best first-half openings came from United breaks. They fell to Louis Saha, who blasted one shot wildly over and then ran out of steam after acclerating through the massed ranks of of blue shirts.