slide a wonderful cross between Ludek Miklosko and his defenders.
Though the ball traversed the corridor of uncertainty, there was nothing tentative about its dispatch into Miklosko’s goal. Cantona steadied himself and, despite the bobbling ball arriving on his left foot, six yards past the goal and two yards out, side-footed a devastatingly simple finish to bely the complexity of its execution. Co-commentating on Sky Sports, Trevor Francis purred: "This really is a truly outstanding goal. Great play from Giggs, lovely return from Cole, but just look at the angle that Cantona's got. How many players could possibly have got that in from that sort of angle? He's not entitled to score from there.”
Before the half-hour mark, Cantona crossed for Lee Sharpe to head what appeared to be a comfort-inducing second goal, only for referee Steve Lodge to decree – incorrectly, replays showed - that the Frenchman had handled the ball during the build-up. Suitably buoyed by that let-off and bayed on by the vast majority of the 24,000 onlookers, West Ham would not be found physically wanting in their attempts to get back into a fiercely competitive game. Danny Williamson forced Schmeichel into a smart, near-post save with his legs and Ian Bishop’s effort was heroically cleared off the line by Denis Irwin, but the visiting backline largely shackled the hosts painlessly, with Steve Bruce and Gary Neville composed in the centre and flanked by the equally alert Irwin and Phil Neville.
Tempers began to simmer, however, as the game entered the final 15 minutes, boiling over as Dicks launched into a reckless, two-footed lunge on Cole. “We were such a close team,” recalls the striker. “If someone took out one of your team-mates, I don’t think there were too many morals around somebody retaliating and sorting it out for you.”
Moments later, Nicky Butt hurtled into a vengeful challenge on Dicks, winning the ball but sending the hulking defender up into the air. Even before Dicks had landed, a gaggle of protagonists were charging towards the scene. The seething Cole was keen to be involved in whatever ruckus was to follow, while Roy Keane’s presence in such a scenario was a foregone conclusion. So too was that of Cantona, already nursing a bloodied mouth after an earlier accidental clash with Marc Rieper. With Butt and Dicks aflame with rage and so many short fuses in attendance, referee Steve Lodge might have feared the