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05/12/2012 07:30, Report by Steve Bartram
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French evolution

In an ominous start to proceedings, the Hammers rattled the woodwork within three minutes as Tony Cottee pounced on a Steve Bruce error to thud a shot against Peter Schmeichel’s crossbar. The game’s next opening, however, crucially and decisively fell to Cantona. Ryan Giggs impudently spun the ball past Julian Dicks, circumnavigated the burly left-back and attacked down the right wing. Having nipped inside Dicks again and fed Cole, the winger slipped behind a ramshackle backline to receive the striker’s return pass and 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.

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