Matt Wills is back in action, trying to re-live Man Utd’s glorious 1993/94 season but in 1997/98. Confused? Here’s part 1 to explain what’s going on, or if you need to see the previous edition, here’s part 3
I left you in Part 3 having taken Utd through the Champions League Group stage, to the top of the Premiership and with the domestic cups getting going. We head into Xmas on a roll, but will it last?
Mid-December ’97 and the Class of 94 are at the summit of the Premier League, through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and ready to take on the domestic cups in our quest to go one better than the Utd team of 93/94 and win the domestic treble – with the team of 93/94, albeit a little bit older and a little bit slower!
There’s a gap in fixtures while the international friendlies are played. England beat Sweden away 2-0. Scholes, Dublin, Ince, Beckham, Neville and Pallister all feature, with Wright and Scholes scoring for England. France beat Norway by the same score line. Cantona doesn’t get on the score sheet, but does collect a yellow card.
Back at the United camp after the break, some players are not happy with the current regime…
That’s turned down, and so is this…
The last Saturday game of 97 takes Utd to White Hart Lane. Hughes is injured while training with Wales, so Paul Scholes deputises for the Welshman to keep him happy. To keep the Welsh quota up, I bring in Clayton Blackmore on the right wing for a run out and give a recall to Paul Parker at right back.
An early Scholes goal is cancelled out by Nicola Berti. We have 13 shots on goal, but only 2 on target – worrying.
On to Boxing Day and a visit to Old Trafford of old rivals Liverpool whose recent run have seen them climb the table. McClair comes in for want-away Scholes and Kanchelskis comes back to the right wing having recovered from his hip injury. The first half is a cagey affair, but after the break, we turn the pressure into goals, with McClair getting his first of the season, followed by Ince against his old/future club. Bruce makes the game safe in the 81st minute, so I use the cushion to bring on Sealey, Gillespie and Dublin for the last 10 minutes. Paul Parker gets an 8, happy days.
The Third Round of the FA Cup starts, with Utd away to Hartlepool, who are midtable in Division 3. After the Liverpool win, I’m feeling confident with the squad so make a host of changes. Neville, Butt, Beckham and Scholes all start, with Walsh, O’Kane, Casper, Whitworth, Wellens, Wellens, McKee and Ferguson joining them. Wellens gets an early goal, but a 2nd alludes us. Hartlepool equalise in the second half and I start to question my selection policy. Going out of the cup here would be disaster. Thankfully, Colin McKee rescues me on 71 minutes and we’re into the hat for the 4th Round Draw.
What did I tell you in Part 3? It was almost inevitable…
4 Days later and it’s the Quarter Final of the League Cup and we’re at Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday. In the build up to the game, the press are trotting out the standard cliché’s ‘in a replay of the 1991 League Cup Final, Utd will be looking for revenge against The Owls…’. This gets me thinking, why not let the players from the 1991 final get some revenge? I pull out my Rothmans and check some facts.
Utd were defeated by Div 1 Sheff Wed, led by Ron Atkinson, 1-0 to a John Sheridan goal. The only thing I really remember from that game is Les Sealey ripping open his knee after diving low for a ball with a Wednesday player. Checking the squad from the day, Utd lined up as below…
Webb and Donaghy aren’t in my squad, having both left the club by the 93/94 season, and Alex is picking up his unemployment benefit. Webb is still in the game, on a free transfer having been released by Grimsby, but I’m not tempted to sign him up, as I have no space in the squad and I don’t want people missing out on their post. Donaghy is nowhere to be found. Looking at the Wednesday squad, I can’t see any survivors from that game, but note that they have the son of Showaddywaddy guitarist Trevor Oakes, Scott, in their ranks – true fact.
I decide to start with Mike Phelan on the right wing in place of Webb. On the bench I put Lee Martin and Ryan Giggs. Now with 3 subs, I opt for Gary Walsh just in-case Sealey rips his knee up again. Hold onto your hats, this cup-tie turns out to be a cracker!
Andy Hinchcliffe puts the host ahead in the 11th minute, but a minute later, McClair is through on goal and gets taken out by the advancing Kevin Pressman. I leap from my seat in the dugout and shout at the ref to send him off. The ref points at the spot and after talking to Pressman, produces no card. I almost explode. Up steps Bruce and Pressman saves it! There’s no justice.
13 minutes later, Wednesday advance and Les Sealey brings down Andy Booth. The ref points to the spot and talks to Sealey. I fear the worst and tell Gary Walsh to warm up. The ref looks over at me and then puts his black book back in his pocket – no cards. My relief is short lived as Booth shows Bruce what to do from the spot and we’re 2-0 down. I’m beginning to think my romantic nostalgia is a bit misplaced!
Phelan makes a clumsy challenge on the edge of the box, but Wednesday waste the freekick and then Pallister does likewise. This time yellows are shown. Having seen enough, I don’t wait until half time and bring Giggs on for Phelan. I can’t afford to lose a player or another goal. The words I say at half time are not appropriate for this blog, but crockery was broken.
My words ringing in their ears, the tide is turned, first by Giggs, and then by Hughes. We’re level in the space of 2 second half minutes. After this it’s end to end action, but neither team can get the third. Sealey keeps us in it and at the other end, Pressman literally fills the goal. Then on 87 minutes, Sharpe rises highest to a Giggs corner and heads past Pressman, we’ve done it, what a comeback! We’re into the two-legged semi final and we draw Liverpool out of the hat. It’s a Tyne-Wear derby in the other semi.
With that being probably my favourite, and most intense game of the save, we go back to the league and play Everton ‘in a repeat of the 1995 FA Cup Final’…. I revert to the classic line up and an entertaining first half ends 2-2, with Pallister getting the winner in the second half. We follow this up with a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace ‘in a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup Final’ (I must stop this!), a result which the board describe as ‘Abysmal’ but at least Eric comes through unscathed.
Next, it’s back to the FA Cup and a 4th Round date with Oldham Athletic and a repeat of the 1994 FA Cup Semi-final. I can see it now, Hughes volley in the last minute to take it to a replay, which Utd win 4-1, with Robbo getting his last Utd goal by dicking in a cross from Sharpe.
I get my Rothman’s out again and look up the squad for the 1994 semi-final (In fact I had to pause the highlights on Youtube this time). I believe Cantona was suspended for this game but was surprised to see Dublin starting upfront, McClair in midfield and Butt on the bench. Andy Ritchie was the only survivor from the 94 semi-final in the Oldham squad that I could see. Utd avoid giving me the Sheff Wednesday palpitations, and in a repeat of the ’94 semi-final replay, beat Oldham 4-1 with goals from Sharpe, McClair (2) and Dublin. I bring on Robson for the final 20 minutes, hoping he might chin one in, but to no avail. McCarthy gets their goal and Andy Ritchie comes on but fails to make any impact. We’re through to the 5th round where we’ll play the winner of Bury vs Crewe.
In the final game of this Part we play Chelsea (in a repeat of the 94 FA Cup Final – seriously, stop it now!). Hughes and Kanchelskis both score twice and get a 10 rating in a 4-0 win (Just like the cup final), which takes us 8 points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premiership. United’s fine form also sees me named Manager of the Month for December and January, but the club is still losing money, strangely – I think the board had to give big contracts to some of the returning stars.
The recent cup games have kept me on the edge of my seat for this part of the blog and I’m now fully immersed in my objective of winning the treble with the class of 93/94. I’m even enjoying not having to look at the transfer market! The whole squad have played at least one game now this season, with their ratings below, but not everyone is happy, not even Lee Martin.
In next part we take on Liverpool in the League Cup Semi-final and find out if it’s Bury or Crewe in the FA Cup, hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am, and will join me again.
I’ve given Matt the rest of the year off but Return of the King will be back in the New Year. You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills