Matt Wills is back with the Man Utd squad of 93/94, you can catch up with the previous entry here
Happy New Year to all and welcome back. It’s 2018, but we’re talking about 1998 with a team from 1994 – it’ll make sense to those who have been following the blog so far!
Part 4 ended with the Class of 94 at the top of the league, through in Europe and following some domestic cup drama, about to take on their fiercest rivals Liverpool in the League Cup Semi Final, let’s crack on!
League Cup Semi Final day is upon us and we face a Liverpool side we disposed of 3-0 in the league at the end of 1997. We’re at Old Trafford for the first leg and looking for a good result to set us up in the tie.
To keep the treble dream alive, I go for a strong line up including Gary Neville, Beckham and Scholes, with Butt and Hughes on the bench. Liverpool opt for Jorgen Nielson in goal, Richard Rufus in defence and Owen and Riedle up front. An early Scholes header is cancelled out a minute later by a Leonhardsen piledriver. For the rest of the game, we batter Liverpool’s defence, but Nielson is a colossus in goal and it’s not until the 88th minute and a Beckham freekick that we finally take the lead and the advantage in the tie. 19 shots with 10 on target against Liverpool’s 6 – typically they scored with their only shot on target.
Sandwiched between the ties, we take on Bury away in the FA Cup 5th round. With Hughes serving a ban for yellow card accumulation, Big Dion starts up front with Cantona, scoring twice, and ‘Dublin the lead’, to add to goals from Kanchelskis and Ince, with the only blemish being Bury’s goal on 58 minutes. It’s Derby up next in the Quarter finals.
Back to the League Cup Semi-final showdown with Liverpool and we head to Anfield with a slender lead but with Liverpool having already bagged an away goal in the first leg. Beckham and Scholes come in and I put Robson and Kanchelskis on the bench. 3 first half goals from Giggs and Cantona twice see us cruising and on 63 minutes I bring on all 3 subs to see out the game. Strangely, Neil Ruddock gets Man of the Match. Still, we’re off to Wembley again and a date with Division 1 Sunderland in the final who beat Newcastle in the other semi-final.
We finally get back to League action and a visit from Coventry. I start Robson who gets injured in the 5th minute, followed 5 minutes later by Pallister – are the legs beginning to go for this team?
Cantona gets us going and Irwin doubles our lead before the interval. Sharpe rounds out the scoring in the second half before a late consolation by Moldovan for Coventry.
We’re sitting pretty at the top of the league, but I let complacency and arrogance get the better of me when basement club Leicester come to Old Trafford. I bring in Walsh, Blackmore, Gillespie and Thornley and lose 2-1. Not a good result.
I go back to a strong side when we play 3rd in the table Newcastle. An early own goal by Shay Given is cancelled out by a late Shearer goal. I’m happy with the draw, but not so happy to lose Cantona for a few weeks to a groin strain, especially with the Champions league restarting in March.
We’re up against Monaco in the Champions League Quarter finals and a plethora of young French talent. We manage to keep Legwinski, N’Doram, Ikpeba and Henry at bay and prevent the away goal, but it’s a game of few chances and a yellow card for Hughes puts him out of the return leg. There was no Cantona available due to injury, but was surprised to see his brother Joel, playing at right back. Not bad stats for Eric’s brother – available on a free at the start of the season too.
The games are coming thick and fast now and its Derby County in the FA Cup Quarter final next. Hughes and Cantona both return upfront and get the goals either side of half time. With 75 minutes gone, on come Gillespie and Blackmore, but Gillespie lasts 10 minutes before getting himself sent off, so we close out the game with 10 men. Pleasingly, Mike Phelan played the full 90 minutes and only picked up a yellow card.
A midweek trip to Barnsley produces a fine 4-1 win, although I have to play Parker in the centre of defence due to the absence of Pallister. Then it’s a bore draw with Sheff Wednesday, Pressman again saving a penalty, this time from Dion Dublin.
There’s no time to dwell on missed penalties though, as it’s back to midweek European action and the return leg against Monaco. With the tie finely poised at 0-0, I know an early away goal will set us up nicely in the tie. Thankfully Henry is suspended and Trezeguet is injured for the match, so I feel we gave a chance, even with Cantona, Ince and Giggs missing. The last thing we want to do is concede early or worse…
We do worse, Bruce gets a straight red after only 8 minutes. Then it gets better when Sharpe scores 4 minutes later and we’re looking ok, despite being down to 10 men, and then it gets worse again when Hughes is sent off just after the half time break. I switch the formation to 4-3-1 and we see out the game. For all their talents and 2 man advantage, Monaco create little and not surprisingly, nor do we. I breathe a sigh of relief when the final whistle goes and we are in the semi-finals along with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Parma. I pray we get Parma as I think the Spanish teams will destroy us. We get Parma!
It’s the end of March and we’re off to Wembley and the League Cup Final with Sunderland and the chance to claim the first piece in the domestic treble puzzle. Utd lost to Aston Villa 3-1 in the 94 final – Schmeichel was suspended so Sealey deputised in goal and the treble dream ended there for Utd. I’m sure the ex-Man City personal in the Sunderland ranks, such as Reid, Coton and Quinn would love to repeat that score line.
With a chance to put right what once went wrong (Copyright ‘Quantum Leap’), I look up the final squad from 94 and apart from Sealey for Schmeichel, it’s the Classic 11 with Walsh, Sharpe and McClair on the bench. We’re without the injured Cantona, so I put McClair upfront and bring Robson on to the cup final bench. I then have a dilemma in goal. Do we have a better chance of beating Sunderland with Schmeichel in goal or do I give Sealey a chance of redemption? Of course I do and tell the 40 year old keeper to get his gloves warmed up. The Big Dane doesn’t look impressed and I hurry out to inspect the Wembley turf.
As finals go, it’s all a bit one sided and lacks the drama of the Sheffield Wednesday tie. We pummel the Sunderland defence and finally break it on the stroke of half time with a Hughes header. Feeling confident, I send on Sharpe and Robson for Parker and Ince on 73 minutes and 2 minutes later Hughes gets his second and I can sense my first major trophy beckoning. Dani Dichio pulls one back in the 86th minute, but we hold on to avoid extra-time and Robson and Bruce climb the Wembley stairs and the League Cup is back at Old Trafford. Les Sealey looks delighted, the Sunderland manager less so – Cheer up Peter Reid.
At the training ground the following week, I receive a phonecall from Alex Ferguson. ‘Well done lad, that was some thing putting Les in goal on Sunday. He looked made up, and nice to give Bryan a run out – I see you’ve learnt something from me. The jobs not done yet though, it’s squeaky bum time from here, I hope you’ve got the Imodium handy…’
A quick look at the table before we go. We’re looking good with 9 games to go in the league:
But at the bottom, Southampton, Bolton and West Ham are starting to get cut adrift.
Well, that’s part 1 of the treble done and a couple of gambles have paid off for me, but now we head into the business end of the season and ‘squeaky bum time’ and I’ve got a coupe of semi’s on. Join me in part 6 when we take on Parma in the Champions League and Everton in the FA Cup, amongst the small matter of pushing for the title – can tired legs do the quadruple?
You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills