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Friday Flashback: Cantona makes scoring return from suspension in 1995

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MAN U V LIVERPOOL

On 1 October 1995, Eric Cantona returned to the Manchester United line-up after a 248-day absence.

His absence was, of course, an enforced one, having infamously launched a flying kick at a Crystal Palace supporter at Selhurst Park in January.

Cantona had been sent off for kicking Richard Shaw during United’s encounter with Palace. As he was leaving the pitch, Palace fan Matthew Simmons was directing some verbal abuse toward the French forward. The red mist descended. Cantona inexplicably flug himself into the stand and kicked Simmons.

PALACE V MAN U

Cantona’s moment of rage landed him with community service and an eight-month suspension.

As his return approached, there was some uncertaintay as to whether the former Leeds United player was capable of turning over a new leaf, and whether he would have much of a future at Old Traffiord.

In the lead-up to Cantona’s return against bitter rivals Liverpool, Sir Bobby Charlton commented: "I don’t think anybody can believe he is going to be perfect or anything like a Saint. But we have to hope he has learned a lot from his experience. He loved to play and I don’t believe he will want to be put out of the game again.

"But who knows? He perpetrated a terrible crime as a footballer and we can’t avoid that fact."

Amid speculation that Cantona was ready to quit English football, with Inter Milan ready to swoop for the Frenchman, legendary journalist brian Glanville wrote in The Sunday People: "If United can keep Internazionale’s hands off Cantona until the Italian transfer window closes in November, then he’d probably remain for the rest of the season. Though who knows how many games he’d be eligible to play?

"My own feeling remains that United would do best to let their rolling stone roll on, not simply because he’s bound to face provocation by opposing fans and could always explode, but because his whole brilliant, tempestuous career has been one of brief encounters with his various clubs."

So, going into the Liverpool game, all eyes (as well as Sky’s cameras) were on Cantona. With doubt surrounding his commitment to the club, his temperement on the field, and his ability to return to form all under the microscope.

MAN U V LIVERPOOL

But, undeterred by the glare of the spotlight, Cantona immediately went about re-earning the wider footballing public’s respect. Walking out onto the Old Trafford pitch amid roaring support from the United fans who’d stood by their idol, it took only 67 seconds for Cantona to create the opening goal, providing an assist for Nicky Butt.

A Robbie Fowler brace fired the title-chasing visitors into the lead, and threatened to spoil the welcome-home party.

Then, with 20 minutes to play, Ryan Giggs was fouled inside the penalty area and Cantona would have his chance to reclaim centre-stage.

The returning King confidently slotted the penalty-kick beyond David James in the Liverpool goal, sending Old Trafford into raptures. A clearly overjoyed Cantona raced to celebrate in front of the fans, leaping up and clasping onto the stanchion which holds the net up behind the goal, in one of the most iconic moments of the French legend’s career.

"Eric did well," said Sir Alex Ferguson post-match. "He’s tired, of course, but he can be pleased with his performance. And the hype’s over -- thank goodness."