Ultimate United Articles
1993 - United vs Aston Villa On This Day in....
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
It is amazing to think that it’s 25 years since the first Premier League title race took place. Unlike this season, which saw Manchester City all but wrap it up before the start of 2018, in the 1992-93 season there was an actual title race. Even more amazingly, Manchester United’s rivals in the hunt for the Premier League trophy were Aston Villa and Norwich City.
On March 14th 1993 Aston Villa came to Old Trafford in hot pursuit of their red rivals. They were managed at that time by former United boss Ron Atkinson, who was keen to get one over his old side. Also in the Villa starting line up were former Reds Paul McGrath, one of the club’s best players in the 1980’s, and Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who had been unable to obtain a work permit when previously at the club.
Many believed this had the look of a title decider, despite there being two months of the season left.
After the disappointment of losing the title to Leeds United the previous year, United had a mixed start to the season. They conceded the first ever Premier League goal, scored by Sheffield United’s Brian Deane just five minutes into the new season, and it took until their fourth game of the campaign before they picked up their first win. There was clearly a sense of a hangover, which looked like being another season of frustration for a club that had gone 25 years without winning the title.
In November, United had shocked the world by signing Eric Cantona, the man who had spurred Leeds United onto title glory the previous season. In a similar fashion, Cantona’s arrival had almost single-handedly turned United’s form around. In spite of this, Alex Fergusons team were coming into the Villa game on the back of a defeat, having followed up a win at Anfield with a loss at Oldham Athletic.
Unlike how the current United side usually play, the Red Devils came flying out of the traps, determined to get all three points. Their first real chance came after just four minutes, when Denis Irwin lined up a free kick, but unusually for him he steered it wide of the target, not even troubling Bosnich. The Australian was called into action two minutes later, however, when saving Cantona’s snap-shot volley. United should have taken the lead in the 10th minute, when Lee Sharpe shot over the bar into a partially built Stretford End from a couple of yards out.
Villa’s first chance came after thirteen minutes when Ray Houghton found himself clear of United’s defence, only to slide his shot wide of Peter Schmeichel. Before the 25 minute mark, United had two penalty shouts turned down, first when Brian McClair was brought down by Bryan Small, shortly before Earl Barrett felled Sharpe. It was clearly not going to be McClair’s day when he headed wide from a position in he have normally always tucked it away.
Just after the half-hour mark, Ryan Giggs found himself in acres of space with just Bosnich to beat. With options to the side of him he chose to shoot straight at the keeper. Just moments later, Steve Bruce found himself in unfamiliar territory on the right wing. Even more unusually, he skinned Steve Staunton and delivered a great cross onto the head of Gary Pallister, whose looping header lacked it’s usual power, and was an easy catch for Bosnich. A short time after this, Cantona found himself clean through, only for a last-ditch tackle by Small to stop him getting his shot off.
In spite of being an action packed first period, the teams remained goalless at half-time. It seemed just a matter of time before the Red Devils broke through, given the amount of chances they created.
United started the second half in the same vein of form that they ended the first. Within five minutes of the restart, Bosnich was called into action to block a shot by Denis Irwin. Villa counter-attacked from this and enjoyed a brief spell of possession in United’s third, the culmination of this saw the ball fed to Staunton on the left wing. He approached the are and from the corner of the box, he let fly with an unstoppable shot which bent around Schmeichel into the top corner of the net. The fans couldn’t believe that United were behind after a game in which they had dominated from the first whistle.
Rather than let their heads drop, this setback only served to make Ferguson’s team more determined get on the scoresheet. As soon as the game restarted, United laid siege to the Villa goal, and their first attack saw Shaun Teale perform an overhead kick in the area that almost looped over Bosnich into his own net, but instead landed on the roof of the goal.
United kept pressing and were behind for only four minutes as one their constant waves of attacks finally paid off. In the 57th minute, Sharpe sent over a cross which took a deflection and landed in the path of Cantona. The Frenchman headed the ball back across goal to Mark Hughes, who nodded it into the net. Finally United’s possession had paid off, and they had the goal the goal they deserved.
Ten minutes after the equaliser, Villa could consider themselves fortunate not to be down to ten men, when Teale wrestled Cantona to the ground just outside the area, but was only shown a yellow card for troubles. Giggs took the resulting free kick, which Bosnich palmed over the bar.
The game hit a bit of a sticky patch during the last twenty minutes, with the best chance falling to Hughes, but this time his header went straight into the arms of Bosnich. As the match drew to a close the two sides began to cancel each other out. With very little time added on, the referee blew his whistle to bring the game to a close.
There were mixed emotions for United’s fans at the end. In past seasons, fixtures such as this had seen the Red Devils falter where it mattered most, resulting in their title challenge petering out. Although there was a sense of missed opportunity, knowing that United should have taken the three points, there was a definite positive in how the team responded to going behind against the run of play. In years gone, the fans had often seen the team crumble in similar circumstances.
United followed up this game with two further draws, away to City at Maine Road and a stalemate at home to Arsenal. After this came one of their most impressive performances of the season, at Carrow Road, as United knocked Norwich out of the title race with a 3-1 victory, with all their goals scored within the first 25 minutes.
Following this, United beat Sheffield Wednesday in a legendary game at Old Trafford. With 86 minutes gone, United were trailing to a John Sheridan penalty but Steve Bruce won the game with two late headed goals, the second one in the 97th minute. The Red Devils won their next three games against Coventry City, Chelsea and Crystal Palace respectively, to put them within a whisker of the title.
On 2nd May 1993, Aston Villa lost at Oldham, effectively making United champions of England for the first time since 1967, their 8th title overall. Had Villa won their game at Old Trafford, and it did look like being one of those days when Staunton scored, the title drought might have gone on even longer.
United’s exit from the Champions League against Sevilla shows such a marked difference in the various attitudes between then and now. When the Red Devils went a goal down against Villa, despite the fact that they had controlled the game, they didn’t lose heart. They battled to get back into the game, fully deserved the point and would have been good value for all three. The toothless way that Mourinho’s men went out of the Champions League makes you think that, had they been in that game against Villa, after the first goal went in, two or three more probably would have followed it.
Back in 1993, even though Alex Ferguson’s team were yet to achieve their greatest triumphs, they had a team of winners. The current crop have a fair way to go before they can be labelled as anything but also-rans. Based on the game against Sevilla, despite the individual talents of some players, there is little to suggest that they have the character to do so.
Added by Philip Meese on 14/03/2018 13:55:50