The Return of The King Season 2: Part 6 – Bruce Glee

One more time…we’re gonna celebrate…music got me feeling so free. It’s the final update from Matt Wills’ Return of the King series. It’s been emotional. Can it finish on the ultimate high? And what next? All of this, and more, is answered below. Part 5 is here too if you need to catch up.

So, last week I started off by saying it was the final part of Season 2, but I left a cliff hanger with the FA Cup and Champions Leagues Finals to be played and Eric knocking on my door saying he didn’t want to play in the FA Cup Final…

‘What do you mean you don’t want to play in the FA Cup Final tomorrow Eric?’

‘I want to rest, relax, be ready for, how you say, Le Big One?’

‘Oh……’

So, Eric doesn’t want to risk himself in the FA Cup and save himself for the Champions League Final, ok fair enough, but who do I select?

We’re up against Division 1 QPR, who have finished 7th in the league and missed a Playoff Spot by 4pts. Their squad is not particularly packed with quality, but they do have Matthew Rose, Steve ‘Don’t pick me up Tony!’ Morrow, Gavin Peacock, John Spencer and Mike Sheron in their ranks, so I can’t take things too lightly.

Big Peter starts in goal and at Full Back I select Denis Irwin and 1990 Cup Final hero Lee Martin. In the centre of defence it’s big Pally with Nicky Butt, saving Steve Bruce’s legs for midweek. Roy Keane is captain and starts in the holding midfield role as he’s suspended for the Champions League Final. On the flanks it’s the usual trio of Giggs and Kanchelskis as my flying wingers, with David Beckham in the hole. Up top, I go with Brian McClair to partner Paul Scholes. On the bench it’s Walsh, Blackmore, Sharpe, Gillespie and Dublin.

Wembley is sunny and Eric mills around geeing up the players. Unemployed Bryan Robson is my guest assistant manager on the bench following his sacking by Boro and I receive a ‘Good Luck’ text from Alex Ferguson, which was nice.

As finals go, and much like most 90’s finals in real life, there isn’t much action or drama here. The first half is mostly a drab affair until the 42nd minute when Brian McClair gets himself a straight red-card for stamping on Steve Morrow. I glower at Eric, I think he gee’d the Scot up a bit too much.

Just before halftime, Scholes break free and slots past Lee Harper in the Rangers goal to put us one up at half time. In the Wembley dressing room, I receive an apology from a distraught Brian and tell the lads to keep possession and use the width of the Wembley surface to wear QPR down. It works a treat as Kanchelskis puts us 2-0 up early in the second half and on 65 minutes I bring off Kanchelskis, Scholes and Giggs to keep them fresh for Wednesday and bring on Blackmore, Gillespie and Dublin for a 25 minute run around. On the final whistle there are cheers of joy, but celebations are kept in check for ‘Le Big One’.

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Kanchelskis gets Man of The Match even though I took him off after 65 minutes and I apologise to Walsh and Sharpe for not playing.

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And so, with the FA Cup Final celebrations over, we head to the Waldstadion in Germany for the Champions League Final and a date with Paris St Germain.

PSG came through a group including Juventus and then dispatched Bayern Munich and Barcelona on their way to the final.

Their squad is impressive, with some CM9798 favourites such as Domi, Agboh, N’Gotty, Allou, Sibierski, Rai and Florian Maurice, lining up in a defensive sweeper system.

I stick with the favoured 2-3-1-2-2 which is tried and trusted, I just need pick the players now, and break some hearts.

Schmeichel and Gary Neville are certs for GK and RB respectively, but LB is an issue. I rested Sharpe for the FA Cup Final but he picks up another knock in training and is injured, a sad story of his season. In the middle, who else but Dolly and Daisy – Bruce and Pallister (I never worked out who was who in terms of nicknames, I’ll have to ask Alex…). I pray Steve’s legs last one more game.

With Keane suspended I opt for the experience of Ince over Butt in the holding role and the flanks are taken by Giggs and Kanchelskis. In the hole, Beckham and upfront its Cantona and Scholes.

On the bench, Walsh, McClair, Butt, Gillespie and Dublin. There’s heartache for Irwin at left back, but despite playing 49 games this season, his stats have been below average. The quiet Irishman is not happy…

So to the match, the biggest game over these two seasons, Cantona’s ultimate destiny and a chance for an unprecedented quadruple. But that’s a story for next week…

Only joking, here we go…

PSG start on the front foot, dominating possession and peppering Schmeichels goal with some long range efforts which Peter is more than equal to, I’ve never seen him so agile!

As we approach the half hour mark, we make the break through we dreamed of, Giggs curling in an effort from the edge of the area past Revault after some neat work from Beckham. I’m beaming, fantastic!

3 minutes later I’m furious. Beckham tussles with Paul Le Guen. Rumours are Paul said something like ‘Spice Girls are crap, All Saints are boss’, but it’s never been proven. Beckham kicks out at Le Guen right in front of the Referee and it’s a straight red card. He looks solemn as he leaves the pitch, close to tears.

I tell Scholes to fall back and fill the gap, but this leaves Eric isolated and PSG press the advantage and I’m glad to get into the dressing room at half time still 1-0 up.

David is being consoled by McClair in the dressing room ‘I loved Spice Up Your Life, David, honest’ lies the Scot.

My half time team talk is basically ‘Don’t get sent off, keep it tight and move the ball’

The second half begins and the lads listen to my instructions but unfortunately they move the ball to Rai and the Brazilian weaves his way past Dolly and Daisy and coolly slots past Big Peter who screams at Pallister and Bruce until his face is the same colour as his nose.

However, PSG start going for the kill and we mamage to hold them off and launch some counter attacks of our own, but Eric is still getting isolated and the PSG players are doubling up on him, restricting us to long range efforts that Revault deals with easily.

As the clock ticks past the hour mark I look at my bench to see how best to change things up. I look to Bryan Robson who shrugs his shoulders. I look at Irwin who turns away from my gaze…

Then it happens, Ince, The Guv’nor, dives in for a 50-50 ball, misses and clatters Rai. Second yellow and an early bath. Perfect. I send Dion on for Pallister, who is knackered and drop Eric into the middle, at least he’ll see some of the ball there.

We hold of wave after wave of PSG attacks and we make it to the end of normal time level at 1-1.

As we prepare for the start of extra time, playing 9 against 11 grinning PSG players, I wonder how we can possibly survive the next 30 minutes.

On comes Butt for the weary Kanchelskis, Eric moves up the field and we kick off.

Eric back to Butt, across to Blackmore on the left flank who knocks it across to Bruce who plays it short to Schmeichel. PSG press and my heart is in my mouth as Peter waits until the last possible second to pass it wide to Neville. Peter gives me a thumbs up, as if a preventive for a heart attack.

Nveille knocks it inside to The Dube, who with no options on and surrounded by 3 PSG players, preforms a Cruyff turn and decides to go on a little adventure into the PSG half. ‘Get rid, get rid!’ I shout, but am ignored completely. Dublin nutmegs Rai and then plays a short pass to Cantona who turns his marker, slots in Scholes who takes aim and powers a rising shot at Revault’s goal. The Frenchman gets a strong hand to it and punches it out towards the left flank. Giggs drops on it and takes it into the corner.

I look up and Dion is ambling around on the edge of the area, what is he doing?

As I look back towards our goal I see Peter whispering in Steve Bruce’s ear, who nods and then sets off on a sprint up the pitch, what the hell???!!!

He rushes past Dion and Eric on the edge of the box, arm raised and Giggs finds a yard of space and sends a curling ball to the right hand side of the box. N’Gotty is back peddling and Revault is caught in no mans land, Bruce launches himself at the ball and powers a header into the roof of the net and the roof comes off the Waldstadion.

Bruce is mobbed by the United players and N’Gotty and Revault start squaring up to each other.

The United bench is jubilant as Rai carries the ball back to the centre spot.

Bruce looks absolutely shagged as he ambles back to our end for the restart.

My instructions are clear, keep ball and ride this out. Sit deep and don’t do anything stupid.

PSG start to get complacent and lazy. They are two men up and start assuming someone else is marking their man. Eric runs the ball into the corners and we reach half time in front.

Gary Neville is complaining of cramp so I send on Gillespie as my final sub. 15 minutes from glory. 15 minutes from disaster. PSG make no subs. Sibierski still on the bench.

The longest 15 minutes of my life as played out a hazy slow motion. Schmeichel comes for a corner and drops it only for Blackmore to clear from the line. Nicky Butt upends Hakan Mild but goes unpunished. We make a rare attack and Eric is one on one with Revault but tries to chip on the on rushing keeper and the ball floats onto the roof of the net…

The clock ticks closer to 120 minutes and the pressure mounts, but each cross or forward pass is intercepted by a red shirt and the PSG players start to get more anxious and start to lose the ball ore regularly, its agony.

I prepare myself for penalties, just in case. I jot down Cantona/Giggs/Bruce/Scholes/Dublin. Bryan looks at it and nods. I look past him at the clock, 119 minutes. For a second, I swear I see David may in a United shirt, sitting behind the bench.

The ball goes out of play near Blackmore, Bruce is almost on his knees. Clayton throws a short ball to Dublin who boots the ball as high as he can up the pitch and then rapture! The final whistle! We’ve done it, Champions of Europe, the quadruple!

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We made it hard for ourselves but we did it. I embrace Bruce and the celebrations continue long into the night, I remember little of it…

Thursday 20th May 1999 – the morning after. I groggily awake in my hotel room to the bizarre sight of Bruce and Pallister asleep in bed together with the European Cup between them.

I make my way down to breakfast and join the other players to big smiles and congratulatory hugs and back slaps. It’s a dream come true…

Unfortunately, we all wake up from our dreams, and here’s where this story ends.

What a ride it’s been though, we emulated and bettered the Class of 99 and just like in real life made it as hard for ourselves as possible.

There’s been a few highs along the way. Robson getting his 100th United goal. Winning 9 trophies in two seasons, the penalty shoot out wins, Clayton Blackmore playing in a Champions League final. Brian McClair scoring 4 in one match. Steve Bruce lasting 2 seasons and stepping up with some big goals. Mike Phelan retiring.

There’s been some lows too – Robson hanging up his boots, Sharpe’s numerous injuries, Hughes’ season being cut short, playing Arsenal so many times.

As it started off as a blog about redemption for Eric, heres’ his stats, but as much as it’s been about Eric, its also been about Bruce, Sharpe, Hughes etc…after all it’s a team game.

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At the end of the season, Steve Bruce, Lee Martin and Clayton Blackmore all retire and the squad is further diminished. I could carry on into Season 3 and try for a clean sweep including the Super Cups but I think I’d prefer to leave it here, in perfect stasis and would like to think Eric would go out again on a high, fully satisfied.

Big thanks to Dave Black for hosting the blog and to all Twitter followers who took the time to read it, overlook my spelling mistakes and take the time to comment on it, I hope it’s been enjoyable.

Also thanks to Kevin Smith for proof reading the blogs when I remembered to send them to him.

This is only Au Revoir for now and I hope to back soon for ‘One Night In Seville’

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A big thanks from me to Matt for a fantastic series. He will be back soon with his new adventure but in the mean time you can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

 

 

 

 

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Return of the King Season 2: Part 5 – The Final Countdown

I might have called last week’s episode the penultimate edition, but I was wrong. This one is. It looks like Matt Wills is going to take the class of 94 to yet more success, but can he get the job done? You can catch up with the previous episode here

Welcome back to the fifth and final part of Return of the King – Season 2. To give you a brief recap, Eric made a swift u-turn on retirement in the summer of 97 and we reunited the squad of 93/94 to try and win the domestic treble, something they cam so close to in 1994. We also came a whisker away from reaching the Champions League final, only to be denied on penalties by Parma. A few old timers retired and we carried on into this season, with Eric determined to win the Champions league, but our form has been better than our injury list and we’re somehow on course for an unprecedented quadruple, if only the aging legs can last a bit longer…

I left you with a cliffhanger at the end of Part 4, 2-1 up against Ajax in the 2nd leg of the Champions League Semi-final, Cantona leading by example with 2 goals to cancel out Ronald De Boer’s opener to level the tie on aggregate at half time. Let’s pick up the action in the second half…

The teams kick-off the second half unchanged, but it’s a cagey affair. We know another Ajax goal will make it a mountain for us to climb, Ajax sliding the ball around slickly while I pray for no mistakes and no more injuries. Guillermo Amor tussles with Eric on the half way line and Eric shoves the Spaniard who rolls around theatrically. Eric sees a yellow and is led away by McClair. Luckily, and surprisingly, it’s his first in Europe this season, so he won’t miss the final – if we get there.

With 10 minutes to go, Amor is at it again and sucks in Keane who retaliates with a kick to the shin, another yellow. His time it is a second yellow in the competition and Keane will miss the final if we get there – 99 was not his year.

Extra time looms and I start getting nervous. I have two of my main men on yellows and an away goal will finish us. In extra time we pepper the Ajax goal, but Fred Grim, in for the injured Van der Sar is equal to it. I decide against making a change, I don’t want to disrupt anything. Ajax make a change on 115 minutes, Kees Van Wonderen is replaced by Arno Splinter, they’re playing for pens.

And on to the shoot out. I subbed Cantona off in the semi-final last year as he was recovering from injury and we went out on pens, this season, he takes the first and buries it. Arveladze equalises for Ajax and then Beckham puts us ahead. Sunday Oliseh squares things up before Kanchelskis shoots hard and low past Grim’s dive. Ronald De Boer, scorer of the away goal steps up and Schmeichel guesses right and palms it away. Advantage Utd as Giggs steps up. But he balloons it, allowing Richard Witschge to level matters again. Solid, dependable, mystery thriller author Bruce steps up and drills a fine penalty into the top corner – postage stamp accuracy from Mrs Doubtfire’s stunt double. Up steps Mariano Juan – he has to score to keep the tie alive, his shot flies towards the left hand post, Schmeichel dives the same way and gets a fingertip to it and pushes it onto the post, the ball flies across the goal-line and strikes Peter’s trailing heel and the ball bounces safely towards Juan who slumps to his knees.

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The players run around crazily, Old Trafford explodes into a cacophony of sound and Eric raises his arms and slowly twists round like a conductor direction his orchesta, amazing scenes. Giggs looks relieved, Keane is solemn.

We’ll play Paris St Germain in the final.

Three days later, league action resumes. We’re 4 pts ahead of Spurs in second, with 2 games in hand, but my team are shattered. Only Schmeichel and Sharpe stay in the first 11 and Armstrong scores twice for Leicester before Scholes pulls one back for Utd, but it’s too little to prevent our 7th league defeat of the season and Spurs win to close the gap to 1 pt. We have 2 games in hand still, but the fixture list is pretty congested for us after the international break with all these cup exploits.

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Another injury…

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On the international break, Eric scores for France in a 5-0 win over Malta while England play out a turgid nil-nil draw in a friendly with Saudi Arabia, but thankfully, no more injuries.

Midweek league action and we’re playing game catch up. We’re away to Wimbledon whilst Spurs take on 19th placed Chelsea. Robson’s Middlesbrough looking well placed after promotion

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We squeeze through 2-1. Ekoku cancelled out Kanchelskis, but when Alan Reeves handled in the box, there’s only one man who’s not going to wilt under pressure. We needed that too as Spurs beat Chelsea 3-0!

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The 1st of May comes and it’s the first of 3 games in 4 days as we catch up our two games in hand. The squad will need some serious rotation if we’re going to claim this title and keep injury free for the FA Cup and Champions League final.

First up is Huddersfield Town away who have the Zenga-boy in goal but are languishing in 18th place, a point from safety. My jibs about Zenga are unjust, he thwarts all we have to throw at him (we have 14 corners!), until the 75th minute when I bring Sharpe on for Thornley on the left wing and his mazy run sees him jink past the aging Italian and slot for the games winner. What’s this about leaving it late all of a sudden in 1999?

Spurs beat Barnsley by the same scoreline, so we stay a point ahead but a win in our next game will seal it for us as spurs have one game left. Leeds have faded badly…

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It’s almost a full fixture schedule on Bank Holiday Monday and the relegation battle looks set to be confirmed.

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We’re up against mid-table Barnsley. I play Blackmore upfront with Scholes as I change the line-up yet again, but it’s two Keith Gillespie goals which seal the title for us. At the bottom, Man City, Huddersfield and Chelsea are all down with one game left.

Bryan Robson returns to Old Trafford with his Middlesbrough team and Keane sets up the party celebration before Schmeichel chops down substitute Campbell in the area who scores from the penalty spot. It’s a sea of red, white and black as the Premier League Trophy is presented to Steve Bruce, touchingly by opposition manager and Utd stalwart Bryan Robson, you couldn’t write this stuff…

We finish off the league campaign with a 5-0 drubbing when we play relegated Chelsea. Unfortunately, it is us on the receiving end after I play all the non-regulars to save my best players for the cup finals. Not the way I’d intended to finish the league season.

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This is a shock, he guided them to safety after promotion last season, what’s he meant to do? Lose two cup finals and get relegated to keep his job? John Toshack gets the job, quitting relegated Chelsea.

In Italy, Juventus have done the double, while AC Milan beat Real Madird on penalties to lift the Cup Winners Cup. Athletic Bilbao beat Borussia MGB 3-0 in the Eufa Cup Final.
The eve of the FA Cup Final approaches and we’re off to Wembley to face QPR who just missed out on the Division 1 play offs, still they’ll be in Europe next season as a consolation I guess.

I start to plan my final line up carefully, with one eye on the Champions League final four days later. Keane is he first name down as he’s suspended for the game against Paris SG. There’s a knock at my door. It’s Eric.

‘Big game tomorrow Eric.’

‘Oui, it is. But I don’t want to play….’

See you next week for the cup finals. Can we do the treble again? Can we go one better and win the Champions League? What’s up with Eric? See you then.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Return of the King Season 2: Part 4 – Grim’s Fairytale?

It’s Thursday so Matt Wills is back in your life with the latest from Old Trafford. The band has been back together for nearly 2 years now and it has proved a fruitful endeavour, but can it be capped off with yet more success? You can catch up with last week here

Hi all and welcome back to Return of the King, Season 2. Eric and the class of 94 are going for European Glory, but tired minds and tired legs are causing issues…

I left you at the end of Part 3 with Utd neck-a-neck with Leeds United at the top of the Premier League, holding a slender 2-1 advantage over Real Betis in the Champions League semi-finals, facing an FAC Cup replay and into the League Cup Final against Leicester City. Let’s see how we got on…

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First up in the league, we’re away to Leeds Utd who are level on points with us and beat us at Old Trafford earlier in the season thanks to an Andy Cole strike. Revenge is enacted through a brace from Eric and a third from Big Dion, with a Hasselbaink reply to win 3-1. We move 3 pts clear at the top and Schmeichel gets the MOTM for keeping Cole at bay. Keane is out injured for a few weeks after a coming together with Alf Inge Haaland, some things never change…

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Next up, we travel to Highbury for our sixth, and final meeting with Arsenal this season. With the second leg against Betis looming I rest the main squad I rest the main squad and we lose 2-1, Colin McKee getting our goal (he’s scored in every game he’s played for me over two seasons, 3 games, 3 goals).

The home leg against Betis comes around and we hold a 2-1 lead. Scholes, Keane, Neville and Sharpe are all out injured, although Keane recovers from his altercation with Haaland in time. Giggs and Ince are suspended for the match too, so pickings are slim.

Hughes gets our first and then gets himself booked for tripping up the Betis keeper, Prats – prat. Kanchelskis gets our second to out us 2-0 up at half time and 4-1 on aggregate. Hughes doubles his tally and the rout is complete when Pallister pops up with the fourth. Ajax, Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona are the other names in the hat for the semi’s and we pull out Ajax.

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As we’re through to the Champions League semi-finals and in the final of the League Cup, the quarter final FA Cup replay against Birmingham is being played on Friday the 2nd April, 2 days before the semi-finals!

As March ends, Sharpe, Neville and Blackmore al return from injury, but we lose Paul Ince to a groin injury… the United Physio has a lot to answer for!

The transfer window closes, and I notice Newcastle snap up Philip Cocu from Ajax on deadline day. Leeds lose again, 3-1 to Derby County and we’re now 3pts ahead with 2 games in hand as we head into the League Cup Final against Leicester.

At Wembley I shuffle my pack as we play Ajax in the 1st leg 3 days later and want to keep my aging squad fresh. I basically line up my team for the Ajax game and then systematically replace them for reserves or anyone suspended for the Semi-final. So the only regulars in the first 11 are Bruce, Beckham, Hughes and Giggs. The game is a pretty dire non-event and when I look to the bench for some cutting edge in the final 20 minutes I realise I forgot the 3 subs rule, so have to send Keane on up front for a tired McClair and extra time is needed. Gary Walsh gets himself injured on 112 minutes and Schmeichel comes on to play his first League Cup Final as we enter penalties.

Chris Armstrong misses the first and we’re in control until Keane misses the 4th spot kick, we then match each other for hit and miss until Armstrong contrives to miss his second penalty and Hughes slots his second – the first time I’ve seen the penalties need each player to take one!

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The extra time I could have done without, but we’ve retained the League Cup and the quadruple is still alive!

No time for prolonged celebrations though, as we head to Amsterdam for the first leg of the semi-finals with Ajax. McClair gets us going with a very important away goal, but Arveladze pounces on defensive uncertainty at the back to level before half time. The slick attacking unit that is Ajax retain the ball and pummel us in the second half and finally break our resolve and Mariano Juan puts them ahead with a tap in following a goalmouth scramble. Not the result I wanted, but the away goal might be vital.

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No time to mourn as we arrive two days later in Birmingham for our quarter final replay. I manage to put a fairly strong team together and we’re too much for City, with goals from Hughes, McClair and Cantona from the bench. Our reward is a semi-final against Newcastle Utd – two days later!

Most of the team are on 80-90% fitness so the team gets mixed up again and a Dion Dublin goal is enough to see us through to the final. Alan Shearer was suspended for this game, so it could have been much different. Division 1 QPR beat Sunderland in the other Semi-final 3-2 so we’ll be up against the might of Iain Dowie and Danny Maddix in May.

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Oh yeah, and Schmeichel got injured in the Newcastle game and with Walsh also out injured, Sealey retired, I have no real goalkeepers at my disposal. A bloke called Troy Stevens is our back-up. I remember that Kevin Pilkington and Nicky Culkin were on free transfers the last time I checked, but then I remember that the transfer deadline has passed – damn!

Midweek brings Man City to Old Trafford. City are slumped at 19th in the table, so once again I mix the team up a bit. Sharpe and Wellens at full back, Thornley and Gillespie on the wings. Hughes gets an injury so McClair comes on and opens up the scoring before Cantona continues his purple patch to make it 2-0, which results in an injury to Thornley. Another two for the treatment room, but the bad news is for Hughes, 6 months out with a broken ankle, that’s his season over for sure.

McClair and Cantona are at it again against Everton for a 2-0 win, while Leeds poor form continues and they drop to 3rd behind Spurs. That win is our 6th clean sheet in the last 7 games.

In between the Everton game and the return leg against Ajax, we have a Monday night game against Blackburn to catch up on games. As we’re 4pts clear I play an entirely second string team and coax Scholes back to fitness, but it’s too many changes and we go down 2-0.

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To finish off Part 4, we head into the return leg with Ajax in the Champions League Semi-final. We’re 2-1 down with an away goal, so any Ajax goal will make things pretty nervy, two will make it an uphill task.

I opt for the strongest team I can for the biggest game of the season. Schmeichel in goal, Neville and Sharpe as full backs, either side of Bruce and Pallister. Keane anchoring the midfield with Beckham in the hole and Giggs and Kanchelskis on the wings. With Hughes injured, upfront I opt for McClair to partner Eric upfront instead of Dublin, who settles for the bench.

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Grim is preferred over Van Der Saar in the Ajax goal and things look Grimmer for us when Ronald de Boer scores after 17 minutes. Just when I think it’s Parma all over again, Eric turns up his collar and puffs out his chest. He equalises on 24th minute with a powerful rising strike which grim can only flap at and just as I’m planning my half time team talk, Sharpe sends a looping cross into the box which Cantona volleys past Grim, the tie is all square.

In the dressing room at half time, I remind the lads how far they’ve come and how well they’ve done despite all the injuries we’ve had, we’re so close to the final, it’s theirs to grab with both hands.

The players head out for the second half, and we’ll leave that for next week. In the meantime, here are The Welsh Warrior’s stats for the season – will Silk and Steel ever play together again?

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Matt will be back next week but you can follow him on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Return of the King Season 2: Part 3 – The Magic of the Cup and the Sponge

I barely need to introduce our guest bloggers now but I will anyway. Matt Wills is back with the Class of 94, looking to go one better than they did in season 1 by winning the lot in season 2. It started pretty well last week – you can read that here.

Eric and his band of aging men are aiming for European glory. In the last part, the class of 94 were shrugging off injuries and Cantona’s poor form to secure passage to the Champions League Quarter Finals, mostly by playing against Arsenal, but we’re behind Leeds in the league.

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After our group stage exploits, we’re back to league action and a 3-1 win over Chelsea. Buoyed by European qualification, Cantona finds his shooting boots to score twice, the other from Hughes and Utd leapfrog Leeds to top the table.

This is good…

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Schmeichel returns from injury, but it’s Gary Walsh who carries on in goal against Tottenham, but he can’t stop Klinsmann cancelling out a Scholes strike and it finishes 1-1.

Boxing day sees us head to the County Ground to beat Derby 3-1, Cantona scoring again and Scholes picking up 2 from the left wing.

As the calendar ticks to 1999, it’s a Manchester Derby in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, but we lose Bruce for 3 months to a torn hamstring – I cursed him by featuring his stats at the end of the last part didn’t I?

Anyway, in the match Anthony Fenton is sent off in the 25th minute after bringing down Scholes in the box and stand in defender Dublin dispatches from the spot, a 2nd Dublin penalty makes the game safe in the second half before Cantona puts the Cherry on the Cake and we’re in the hat for the 4th Round where we’ll face Bury. Bury knocked out Arsenal in the 3rd round, so we would have played them, the game engine saving us from another meeting with Arsenal!

Four days later it’s the League Cup Quarter Final against Liverpool and we’re only separated by a Cantona goal – he’s getting his mojo back it seems. It’s Newcastle in the Semi’s – could we do an unprecedented quadruple?

Well, if we are we need to knock Leeds off the top and next up in the league is Crystal Palace and a chance for Schmeichel to reclaim the No.1 jersey from Gary Walsh. Cantona, Kanchelskis and Hughes put us 3-0 up in the first 40 minutes and then Pallister takes out Andrew Cooke in the area and gets himself sent off. Big Peter saves the penalty from Cooke but undoes his good work by getting sent off in the 67th minute and Cooke blasts past Gary Walsh. Backs to the walls for the next 25 minutes, and it’s a nervy final 10 when Bruce Dyer makes it 3-2 but we hang on to stay top of the pile.

Next up it’s old foes Liverpool at Old Trafford and you can see below how dominate we are at the moment – another 2 from Eric.

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In the 4th Round of the FA Cup we brush aside Arsenal conquerors Bury 3-1 with the resurgent Leee Sharpe getting one of the goals, and its Liverpool in the next round – I can see a pattern forming here!

Over to Sheffield on a Saturday to face Wednesday, but it’s a Blue Monday for us as we are stunned by two Ritchie Humphrey goals and a third from Scott Oakes (Showaddywaddy’s Trevor Oakes’ son – Blue Monday or Blue Moon?) and this leaves us 2nd in the table behind Leeds.

Worse news follows, Leee Sharpe is out injured for a couple of months with a groin strain and he was playing so well at left back too…Injuries haven’t been kind to us this season, will it be telling at the business end of the campaign?

Most of February is cup action from here, starting with the first leg of the League Cup semi’s against Newcastle. It’s not over yet.

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In between the return leg, it’s Silk and Steel in the FA Cup at Anfield, Cantona scoring for fun now. It’ll be Division 1 Birmingham in the next round.

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We need an extra time rescue job from Scholes to see off Newcastle in the League Cup (a competition I wasn’t intending to bother with….) and we’ll be facing Leicester City in the final next month.

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Those cup exploits have knackered most the of the squad and to avoid running them into the ground, I play a very changed line-up in the league against Villa. Sinclair and Cerny score within the first 10 minutes and it’s left to Hughes and Gillespie to salvage a point. 10 man Leeds squeeze past basement club Palace to win 1-0 and extend their lead at the top to 3pts. I moaned last season about having no challenge, well I’ve bloody got one now!

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What is it with Newcastle and own goals? Another 2 dropped pts but Leeds lose to Spurs so we’re now 2 pts adrift – doable!

Cantona is loving life at the moment and as Leeds stiff against Liverpool, we’re back on top of the league!

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As we lurch into March 1999, we’re getting to the games that will shape Eric’s destiny. Betis are 3rd in the league. They may have sold Afonso and Sanchez Fernando but they’ve replaced them with Denilson and Sebastian Rambert. An away goal here will be key as we rarely keep clean sheets anymore!

Gary and Keith take note, but the win is not without its costs…

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Neville and Scholes are out for 4 and 6 weeks respectively and Ince and Giggs (2nd yellow) will also miss the return leg…

We struggle with a 1-1 draw against Birmingham City in the FA Cup. They’re 16th in Division 1. I’m pushing these old guys too hard I think. I’m playing Kanchelskis at right back. The replay is scheduled for the end of March, so we’ll save that and the return against Betis for the next part. There’s also the League Cup Final and a tasty league match against Leeds coming up.

Here’s Eric’s stats for the season, he’s doing well, see you next week!

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You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

 

 

 

Return of the King: Season 2 – Part 2

Matt Wills is back with the class of 94. We’re now into winter 1998 and the old boys are holding up pretty well. You can catch up with the previous episode here

Eric and his band of treble winners are back for a crack at the Champions League, but Eric is out of form and an Arsenal shaped obstacle is forming…

I left you in Part of Season 2 with Utd picking up the Charity Shield by beating Arsenal and then drawing them in the Champions League group stages, meaning we’ll play them 5 times at least this season. The form from last season has continued, but Eric is looking out of sorts again and Leeds are chasing us in the table.

Our second meeting of the season with Arsenal comes in the league at Old Trafford, which is a tight affair which bursts into life either side of halftime with Hughes and Wright trading goals on 45 and 46 minutes. Hughes then gets himself injured and McClair comes on to set up Neville with an uncharacteristic long range effort and then rounds off the game by making it safe in the 90th minute. No bookings for foes Keane and Vieira is a surprise…

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McClairs goal catches the eye of Craig Brown and he gets a run out for Scotland. After the international break, we’re off to Maine Road where it’s the Dolly and Daisy show, with Eric getting a few minutes from the bench. Manchester is red tonight.

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Back into Europe and back to Arsenal at Old Trafford for our third meeting of the season so far and again United have too much in their locker even after going a goal down to a Patrick Vieira header. Neville and Ince wrapping up the points and a handy £750k! In between which we lose Giggs for 3 months to a torn hamstring – looking light on the left with Sharpe also out long term – I notice Ben Thornley looking keener in training now. Hard luck Ben, I’m going the Sven route and playing Scholesy out on the left wing – I heard he loves it.

Next to Old Trafford are Vinnie Jones’ Wimbledon for a humdinger of a match. Eric’s first goal in what seems like an eternity is tempered by an injury to Keane, but we’re cruising with goals from Scholes, Cantona and Hughes before Pallister gets himself sent off and a Marcus Gayle brace brings some equity to the tie.

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The League Cup starts for us in the Third Round with the visit of Sheffield United and I go full blooded for a 3-1 win – our reward? Bloody Arsenal in the next round! So that’s at least 6 times we’ll face off this season, would you Tony Adam(s) and Eve it?

Halloween ends the month and takes us to Everton in the league, but there nothing to be scared of when you can rest Kanchelskis for Darren Ferguson is there?

Nope, he breaks the deadlock and Eric grabs a brace – that’s 4 goals in the last 3 games for Eric. The collars turned up again it seems.

Dortmund are beaten 3-1 in, er, Dortmund in midweek with Cantona scoring the third goal past Contala, which was probably a tongue twister for the commentator when that went in past the German keeper. Ole GS reduces arrears when he gets a penalty after being chopped down by Schmeichel when through on goal – he was lucky to only get a warning.

Results elsewhere means we’ve qualified for the knock-out stages after 4 games. Would 11 pts be enough for Arsenal to go through as one of the two best runners up? I hope not!

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European midweek exertions are followed up with a turgid 0-0 with Blackburn means a relentless Leeds United draw level at the top of the table with us – Andrew Cole seeking revenge for being discarded.

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On the international break, Eric’s good recent form continues as he scores against the powerhouse of Moldova, and it gets better when Gary Neville is side-lined for a few months. Clayton Blackmore, get your boots ready.

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Friday the 13th is unlucky for Arsenal fans, Overmars is off…

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Joining Giggs, Neville and Sharpe in the treatment room are Paul Ince with concussion and then Cantona and Hughes both get the flu. Normally you’d dip into the transfer market with these many injuries, but not me. Why bother when you have Lee Martin, Darren Ferguson and Clayton Blackmore in your squad?

Well, maybe you should consider it more when you lose 1-0 to Leicester and Brian McClair misses a penalty I suppose. Leeds draw 1-1 with an Overmars-less Arsenal to top the table by a point and I’m relieved that our next game is against Standard in the Champions League and with nothing at stake I can rest the few first-teamers that are still standing.

Fifty Five Thousand people watch my second stringers have a bit of a car-crash against Standard, put to the sword by two Van Overloop goals (a name which sounds a bit like a Belgian car crash). Ben Thornley gets the consolation. The other consolation is Arsenal losing to Dortmund – I can’t see them progressing further now, and they’re 10th in the league – Wenger out?

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Back to league action and Huddersfild are beaten 3-1 with 2 goals from Eric and a Mark Kinsella own goal. Aging Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga was in the sticks for Town. The Zenga Bus won’t be going Boom, Boom, Boom on the way back to Huddersfield tonight. (urrgh, sorry).

The FA Cup 3rd round draw pairs us up with Man City and I feel relieved to have avoided Arsenal again, not because I think they’re a threat, I’d just like to play some other teams for a change.

Which neatly takes us to Arsenal and the 4th round of the League Cup. It’s a dilemma for me, as I’m not too bothered about the League Cup, but I want to beat Arsenal so I mix the team up a bit and see how we get on.

I play the Dublinator up front with Scholes and they combine with 3 goals to beat Arsenal 3-1 and put us into the Quarter-finals, where we’ll face off against Liverpool.

Next onto the treatment table is Schmeichel, out for a month with a broken hand, so up steps Gary Walsh, but he manages to fumble a Fjortoft shot and allow the Norwegian to poke home the loose ball and we fall to a 1-0 loss away to Barnsley, which is both a shock defeat and an abysmal result according to the press and the board. Why did you have to retire Les Sealey?

I’ll finish off this part of the blog with our last group game in the Champions League against Arsenal, we’re through and Arsenal are out, so not much expectation for this game, but after recent losses I send out a strong side and it’s a 4-0 rout at Highbury. Cantona gets 2 and Hughes and Kanchelskis the others, all supplied by MOTM and left winger, Paul Scholes.

The quarter finals are drawn and we get Real Betis. They’ve sold Alfonso to Real Madrid for £15.75m (standard) and he’s now out with a broken leg for 15 months.

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Not quite a bye to the semi’s, but I’m feeling confident compared to other pairings and we should have a few people back from injury by February.

So that’s us for another week, we’re still a point behind Leeds at the top of the table, but doing well in Europe despite the injuries, so I’ll sign off with the current stats for Steve Bruce, for no reason at all, cheers!

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You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

 

Return of The King: Season 2 – And The Band Played On

If you’re unfamiliar with this save it’s hard to summarise in a few words, so here’s a link to how it all started, or if you are struggling to recall how season one ended, that’s here

Boss, we need to talk…’ were the ominous words from Eric Cantona at the end of the 97/98. Eric had come out of retirement and we’d got the 93/94 team back together and managed to crack the domestic treble. Robson, Sealey, Parker and Phelan all retired and then Eric knocked at my door.

‘I retired the first time when we lost the Champions League Semi-final in 97’

‘You’re not thinking of doing it again are you?’

‘Non, non – I want to win the Champions League! We came so close, I know we can do it’

‘I do too, but we’ll need some reinforcements – Jardel is available on a free…’

‘Non, we stay the same…’

Who am I to argue, we had a great season last time out and got so close to getting to the Champions League final, let’s see if we can take this team to the ultimate glory.

The 98/99 season roles around and the squad is looking a little lighter, but still packed with quality. The likes of Neville, Butt, Beckham and Scholes will get more game time this season.

To get us in the mood, I arrange four home friendlies before the Charity Shield curtain raiser against Arsenal. Dortmund, Anderlecht, Sao Paulo and River Plate all contain a player that was discarded for Eric’s 93/94 revolution.

Two Cantona goals brush aside Solskjaer’s Dortmund before a turgid 0-0 draw with Jordi Cryuff’s Anderlecht. An understrength team get done 1-3 when Ronny Johnsen’s Sao Paulo visit – Ronny only lasts half the match due to some choice tackling from Hughes. Beckham and Scholes combine to send Henning Berg’s River Plate packing 4-1 with 2 goals each.

This sets us up nicely for the Charity Shield match with Arsenal. I plan my team carefully, Schmeichel in goal, with a back four of Sharpe, Bruce, Paliister and Irwin, Giggs and Kanchelskis on the wings, Keane and Beckham in the middle, with Scholes and Cantona up top, Walsh, Blackmore, Ince, Dublin and Hughes on the bench. On the eve of the match, poor Leee Sharpe is ruled out for 6 months with a damaged spine – this is a blow.

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In my hour of need I turn to 1990 FA Cup Final Replay hero to fill in at left back. The game finishes 1-1. Cantona scores from the spot in the first half and Vieira pounces on some goal mouth confusion to level in the second half. The match goes to penalties. Eric misses the target with the first spot kick and iceman Bergkamp coolly slots their first but misses from Wright and Overmars and steady nerves from my players and our recent form at Wembley continues with our first piece of silverware in the cabinet – happy days!

First up in the league are Spurs who have added Frank Lampard to their ranks since we defeated them in the FA Cup, but he can’t stop us winning 3-1 at the Lane. Beckham revelling in his central midfield position gets 2 with Kanchelskis the other.

Next up is Derby and we play so poorly, I wonder what’s going on. Eric looks out of sorts – did the penalty shoot out miss in the Charity Shield affect him? Is he about to retire again? With 15 minutes left I haul Eric and Scholes off for Dublin and Hughes and they combine in the final minute for Dublin to nick us a 1-0 win – Clayton Blackmore the next to fill in at left back.

Crystal Palace are our next visitors and routine 3-0 is spoiled by two Bruce yellow cards, but Chris Casper makes his claim for a central partnership with Pally by getting a 10 and motm – you’ll have to fight Dion for that position Chris.

Our first midweek game is also a first test against the bigger teams (no offence Spurs). Scholes scores twice to put us in control, but Liverpool come back strongly to draw 2-2 with goals from Berger and Spanish International and Tennis Uncle, Nadal. Schmeichel gets MOTOM and Eric again looks like a lost soul out on the pitch – worrying.

Eric is benched for the next game against Sheffield Wednesday and Hughes comes off the bench to get his first of the season in a narrow 1-0 win.

All of which puts us top of the pile after 5 games with a 3 point lead, but Arsenal have a chance to reduce this to 2pts if they win their game in hand.

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At the bottom, City and Villa need to get going and Newcastle betray a tight defence with a lack of firepower.

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The Champions League draw swings around and I anxiously wait to see who we are up against –

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Arsenal? How does that work? Dortmund won’t be easy and we don’t want to drop any points against Standard. This won’t be an easy ride.

Transfers – I keep forgetting to screenshot these!

As I’m not purchasing players, the transfer market seems less active, however, the big signings are Rio Ferdinand heading to Arsenal from West Ham, quickly followed by Neil Ruddock from Liverpool, Stan Collymore moves from Aston Villa to Chelsea for £3.3m and Villa replace him with Kevin Phillips from Sunderland for £1m.

Cantona is restored to the line-up for the visit to St James Park, but apart from supplying an assist for Scholes to chip Given for the opener, he does little of note. Chris Casper adds to his form book by scoring the second with a header from a corner. Dublin playing at centre back handles in the box on 70 minutes, which gives the unusual sight of Shearer missing a penalty (or rather motm Schmeichel saving it) so a comeback is averted, and Newcastle still only have 1 goal on the board this season.

The Euro 2000 qualifiers gives the league programme a break and England draw 3-3 with Czech Rep, Ince getting 2 of the goals, with Neville and Beckham also featuring. France beat Scotland 2-0 with Henry starring and Eric is injured on 59 minutes – I await the prognosis gingerly. Hughes puts 4 past San Marino for Wales to show there’s life in the old dog yet. It is just San Marino though…

That’s a relief…

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League action resumes with a top of the table clash with second placed Leeds, being spearheaded by Andy Cole who has 4 goals in 6 league games, will he be out for revenge for being cast aside today?

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You couldn’t make it up! Scholes has a goal disallowed for offside, we hit the woodwork 4 times and then up pops Cole with 10 minutes to go level on points with us at the top.

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The board make their feelings known – steady on. On the back of this, Arsenal and Liverpool make bids for Gary Pallister which are quickly rebuffed.

We make a strong start in Europe against Dortmund and that’s the closest we’ve had to someone sounding Cantona scoring for us for a while…

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Back to the league and struggling Villa look to carry on where Leeds left off and Cole’s best mate Yorke strikes on 73 minutes but luckily Welsh maestros Giggs and Hughes save my blushes and further gripes from the board.

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Ronny joins Ole in Germany.

Hughes and Giggs carry on where they left off with Villa against Coventry and the game was over by half time when Scholes added the third.

Gary Neville is an idiot. He was injured for the start of the season, now he’s in the team. Numpty.

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High flying Middlesbrough in 3rd are up next, but we do Robson no favours at the Riverside, Schwarzer brings down Hughes in the first 5 minutes, who converts the penalty and when Scholes adds the second, the result is not in doubt. Leeds keep winning though and we’re level on 25 points at the top of the league, with a gap appearing…

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We finish off the month and this part of the blog with our second game in Europe against Standard in Belgium. Hughes has found his scoring boots in Eric’s absence and adds 2 to an early strike by Kanchelskis. It looks like Hughes wants the Champions League as much as Eric.

We’ll be back next week with a visit from Arsenal in the league – we’ll play them at least 5 times this season, and we get the League Cup campaign underway against Sheffield United. Eric will be back from injury, but he’s so out of sorts, I wonder whether it’ll be collar up or collar down – see you soon.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

 

Return of the King: Part 7 – The end of the road?

Matt Wills has had a great season bringing the class of 93/94 back together, but how will the 1997/98 season finish up? You can catch up with Part 6 here

Cantona and his band of merry men from the 93/94 season are on their quest to claim the domestic treble in 97/98. Two trophies are in the cabinet, can they add the third?

Welcome back to Part 7 and thank you for following me on this weird and wonderful journey with the gang of 94 in 98. United picked up the League Cup at the end of March and added the Premier League title with 4 games to spare in Part 6. They also came agonizingly close to making it to final of the Champions League but still have the FA Cup Final against Tottenham to look forward to, the final Premier League games and we’ll follow our heroes through France 98, lets get to it!

With the title in the bag, I can relax a little ahead of the FA Cup Final showdown with Tottenham. This is no bad thing, as our European exploits schedule 4 league games in the space of 7 days, so again it’s a chance for a run out for the likes of Thornley, Ferguson, McKee etc… who promptly lose 1-2 to Bolton and 0-2 to Wimbledon 2 days later. I wrap Robson up in cotton wool with the rest of the Classic 11 in preparation for the final. The 3 pts aren’t enough to save Bolton from relegation, but are useful to Wimbledon who stay up.

For the final league game of the season, I play a strong side against Arsenal and finish on a high with a 2-1 win and gives us a 14 point gap over our closest rivals. I had expected more of a challenge from Arsenal, but once we hit top spot just before Christmas, we never looked back, even with all the cup exploits, which shows the strength of the old timers!

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Mark Hughes topped the Premier League scoring charts with a very decent 30 goals for a 34 year old and Eric came joint second with Ian Wright on 25 despite missing a month with injury. He also tops the average ratings charts. Roy Keane couldn’t top the worst discipline though… hard times in Newcastle were Andreas Andersson tops the table with Klinsmann not far behind. I hope not too many of those yellows were for diving Jurgen…

Anyway, off to Wembley for the final piece of the puzzle. Our opponents are Spurs who finished 7th in the league and only the 3rd round of the League Cup. Spurs did some decent transfer business over the course of the season, but sending Sol to Italy didn’t help them.

Spurs line up in a standard 4-4-2 with Les and Jurgen upfront and Ginola in the middle with Eion Jess, interesting.

7 3

There’s no surprises in my line up, the team picks itself by now, everyone knows their place and their job by now. On the bench I go for some loyalty with the old timers, with Sealey, Blackmore, Robson and McClair with a rejuvenated Lee Sharpe. I toy with starting Robson, but decide I’d prefer him to come on late, play a part and finish the match.

7 4

Utd control the first half and break the deadlock on 19 minutes when Giggs scores a long range effort past the flailing Ian Walker. Hughes adds a second before half time, rounding Walker after being set free by Eric to slot in. 2-0 at half time and we’ve one hand on the treble.

Spurs make a bright start to the second half and grow into the game, so I bring Sharpe on for Paul Parker and switch Irwin to right back, but Eric breaks away and puts us 3-nil up, it’s all but over.

With that, Bryan gets warmed up and come son for man of the match Paul Ince. Even though we’re 3-0 up, Bryan looks serious and determined, ever the professional. As the second half draws on, I send on Brian McClair for Mark Hughes. Spurs don’t give up and Klinsmann scores a consolation on 85 minutes, but it’s not the start of an epic comeback, we’ve done it, treble champions!

7 5

The players celebrate on the pitch, Robson drops to his knees, Schmeichel shouts at Pallister and Bruce and Paul Ince pulls out a cigar, astounding. Bruce and Keane push Robson up the Wembley stairs and he holds aloft the FA Cup, a treble champion at the age of 41, fairytale stuff!

With the domestic season over, attention turns to the European finals. First up, it’s Arsenal Vs Inter Milan in the Eufa Cup Final. A 3rd minute Ze Elias goal is cancelled out when Taribo West nets in his own goal on 62 minutes. No winner can be found in extra-time so Arsenal prevail on penalties 6-5, Phil Neville netting before Paganin misses and Petit clinches it for Arsenal.

7 6

In the Cup Winners Cup Final, Vicenza win 2-0 against Nice, who eliminated Chelsea 6-2 on aggregate in the quarter finals.

Then to the big one, the Champions League Final. Our conquerors Parma face up against Spanish league champions Barcelona. The final is an epic, 2-2 after normal time and 3-3 after extra time. Crespo levelling 3 times after goals from De la Pena, Effenberg and Pizzi had put Barca ahead. Buffon gets man of the match but Cannavaro and Asprilla fluff their lines and Barcelona are kings of Europe.

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The dust settles and it’s time to reflect on the season and what a season, we set out on Eric’s quest with a lot of doubt, these players were 4 years older at the start of the campaign and some of them look 40 years older now, but they did it, aided here and there by not just the likes of Beckham and Scholes but also by players like Sealey, McClair and Dublin.

It’s time to give my over view of the players performance over the season.

GK – Peter Schmeichel – The Great Dane averaged just under 7 during the season in the league ad was more at ease in Europe. Some big saves in big games made the difference though and he kept Pallister and Bruce in check.

RB – Paul Parker – He started the season, but then lost his place to Leee Sharpe, but came back into the squad towards the run in and even managed 2 assists.

LB – Denis Irwin – Mr Dependable whether at left back or right back never let me down and contributed a couple of useful goals.

CB – Steve Bruce – the 37 year old Captain really surprised me, 9 assists and 4 MOTM tell you everything. He played 49 games with a Stamina rating of 1.

CB – Gary Pallister – Big Pally was my most effective defender and even played his way back into the England Squad.

MC – Roy Keane – 14 yellows, but no reds, he provided the cover needed for Ince’s marauding runs

MC – Paul Ince – The Guv’nor proved his ability with 7 goals and 8 assists and kept the yellows to a minimum. Played 62 minutes of the FA Cup final and was awarded MOTM.

ML – Ryan Giggs – 11 goals, 14 assists says it all really. Thornley had no chance.

MR – Andrei Kanchelskis – The Siberian Express slotted back into the right wing perfectly, even with a hip injury early on his domestic form sparkled, less so in Europe.

FC – Mark Hughes – What else can you say about the 34 year old Welshman when he scores 30 goals but fantastic?

FC – Eric Cantona – The King – he took a while to find his form and then missed a month with injury, but he weighed in with 25 goals and 8 for France. Could have done with more from him in Europe though.

Of the rest, Leee Sharpe was awesome as a wingback and Dublin and McClair came up with the goods when needed. Then you have Bryan Robson, a stalwart, shoring up and seeing out games from the bench, scored his 100th United goal and lifted the treble, perfect.

So, Eric’s band of men did it and it’s been a joy to play through. Not signing or selling anyone has been interesting, really helps to play to the strengths of the squad players, but when squad players are Butt, Beckham and Scholes, it’s not hard work.

But what of the players Eric made leave?

Well, Phil Neville claimed a runner up medal in the UEFA Cup and finished second to Juventus in Serie A. For the rest though, it was a story of middling returns at middling clubs domestically and abroad. Culkin and Pilkington stayed on free transfers, so I’m pleased we had Sealey and Walsh.

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Attention turns to France 98 and which United players will be staring?

Well, Eric’s form for United and France secures his place, and England take 7 of our players. Big Peter is a surety for Denmark and McClair’s 4 goal trick gets him a space on the Euro-Tunnel for Scotland.

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Eric plays in the first two group games, 3-0 wins against USA and Scotland but doesn’t score and is an unused sub in the final group game against Australia, a 1-0 win.

McClair doesn’t play a single minute for Scotland as they finish 3rd in their group and are eliminated. A shame Alex wasn’t given the Scotland job really.

Denmark make their way out of a group containing Mexico, Tunisia and Cameroon to be rewarded with a second round clash with Brazil which is settled by a Mario Jardel goal, hard lines Peter.

And what of England? Well they make hard work of it. A 1-1 draw with Germany features Neville, Sharpe, Pallister, Beckham and Ince, with Scholes on the bench. Sheringham cancelling out Stefan Reuter. A late Sheringham goal sees off South Korea and drab 1-1 draw with Norway sees them through in 2nd place to face France in the second round. Shearer and Solskjaer with the goals.

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France are dispatched 1-0 thanks to an Alan Shearer goal in the first half. Eric is on the bench but sees no action, his World Cup dream is over. Pallister gets man of the match and the reward is Danish conquerors Brazil in the Quarter Finals. Rivaldo settles the tie on 13 minutes and England whimper out mustering only 2 shots on target. Brazil make their way to the final but lose 2-0 to Germany. Germany getting future/past revenge for 2002.

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And that finishes our season. If I’d had the foresight to load the French league, I might have been tempted to add myself in as France manager and try to lead Eric to glory, but it was not to be. I could have been England manager I suppose and called up Bruce, Robson and Sealey….

As the season draws to a close and the familiar 15th July date rolls around, a succession of players come to see me in my office.

First up is Paul Parker ‘I’ve had a wonderful season boss, but I’m afraid my legs just aren’t up to it anymore, plus one more misplaced pass and I think Pete might strangle me. All the best, but that’s me done with playing’ – Thanks Paul, I’m sure I’ll cope.

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Next up is Bryan Robson, one I had been dreading. ‘Boss, I just want to thank you for letting me get a treble under my belt, it was amazing to come back, score my 100th goal and lift some more trophies for Utd, but to be honest, it’s getting too much for me and what with managing Middlesbrough, I just don’t see how I could do both now we’re promoted’ I tell him I understand, shake his hand burst into tears as soon as he closes the door.

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Next to knock on my door is Mike Phelan. We say nothing as I exchange a picture of a Spit Fire for his locker key.

7 15

Another knock on the door and it’s Les Sealey ‘Alright gaffer? Thanks for playing me in the League Cup Final, but I’m not going to get in front of Peter am I so I’m calling it a day’ I smile, shrug my shoulders, give him a big hug and pat him on the back as he leaves, what a guy.

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I start to do a head count when I get another knock on the door. Sacre Bleu, it’s Eric.
‘Boss, this season was c’est manifique’. It really was I agree uneasily, not sure where this is going. I glance out of the window and see Paul, Bryan and Les letting the air out of the tyres of Mike Phelan’s Montego. ‘Have you enjoyed yourself Eric?’ I ask as I draw my gaze back to him.

‘Oui, oui’ he shrugs his shoulders. I notice the collar of his shirt is turned down. I have a deep sense of foreboding in the pit of my stomach.

‘The season was amazing, but look, we need to talk…..’

The end?

Thanks for following me on this blog save. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed guiding this team through the treble season and rewriting history. Keep an eye out to see what Eric wants to talk about in the near future, thanks, Matt.

Thanks to Matt for a very entertaining season, keep an eye out for his return in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills