The memories of the 2006-07 season are among some of my favourite as a United fan, for a whole host of reasons. We had started the campaign roundly written off. It didn’t even matter that Roman Abramovic and Jose Mourinho were going to dominate English football indefinitely, because apparently we didn’t have the team capable of getting close to them anyway.
On the back of winning the league, they signed Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko. In contrast, we’d sold Ruud van Nistelrooy without replacing him, had the young and, as yet, unproven Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in attack following a bust up at the World Cup, no replacement for Roy Keane other than Michael Carrick. We were left to hope that maybe this would be the season that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could return to fitness and bang in a few goals to plug the gap. We’d finished eight points behind in second the season before. How many points behind would we fall this year?
Yet we started the season well, singing every week to ask whether Mourinho was listening and looking after our trophy, because we were coming to take it back. I can’t remember how much of this sung was just in jest initially, but as the season rolled on, and we managed to keep ourselves ahead of Chelsea, just, it started to look like becoming champions again was a real possibility.
There were so many incredible games that season, in the league and in cup competitions, with us just a couple of games short of winning the Treble again. We reached the Champions League semi-final but didn’t have enough in that second leg against AC Milan, ravaged by injuries and exhaustion, and were dead on our feet by the FA Cup final against Chelsea, when we were just minutes away from the end of extra-time and penalties before Didier Drogba scored the winner (spoiler alert: we didn’t have to wait long to get our own back for that one).
But what was your favourite of the 2006-07 season?
Your favourite league game of the 2006-07 season?
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) March 29, 2020
We travelled to Anfield at the beginning of March with a nine point advantage over Mourinho’s team, having played a game more than them. We knew we could afford to drop points against Liverpool and, the way much of that game played out, we were comforted by that knowledge.
Liverpool had pretty much all the big chances, with the likes of Craig Bellamy and Peter Crouch coming close in the first half, but we managed to go in at 0-0 for half-time. Our hated rivals came out stronger again in the second half, with John Arne Riise and Steven Gerrard coming close. Bellamy had a goal ruled out for offside and the game became unbearably tense.
In the final minutes, we kept booting the ball forward but nothing came of it. Louis Saha was right to feel disgruntled when Martin Atkinson waved away his penalty appeal after Daniel Agger took his leg out from under him with 12 minutes left to play, but coming just a minute after Jermaine Pennant’s dive in the box, the referee didn’t fancy it.
As Liverpool went to clear one of United’s last ditch attacks, Xabi Alonso pulled Paul Scholes back, leading our midfielder to inexplicably turn and jump in the air, swinging for the Spaniard. He missed but Atkinson showed no hesitation in showing the red card. “Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio!” gleefully chanted the Anfield crowd, feeling as though this was the boost they needed to finally get the game won.
Liverpool immediately responded, pumping the ball forward to Crouch time and again, with Edwin Van der Sar pulling off a fantastic save to deny the striker in the 88th minute. United started wasting time, exhausted from the defending, and as the four minutes of injury time were announced over the tannoy it was the home crowd who got excited.
With Liverpool eager to win the ball back, Ryan Giggs was fouled on the edge of the area, and as he discussed the plan for the freekick with Cristiano Ronaldo, the camera zoomed in on Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the latter already having two goals against the scousers to his name, one of those just a few months earlier in our 2-0 win against them at Old Trafford (BRAP!).
United had just four men to aim at in the box, with Liverpool bringing every player back to defend, with us clearly mindful of the counter attack that would likely follow the freekick. We needn’t have worried.
Ronaldo got his freekick on target at the near post but it stung Pepe Reina’s palms and he could only divert it out in to the path of John O’Shea. The unlikely hero lifted the ball in to the roof of the net and our away end lost the plot. Gary Neville jumped in to the arms of Van der Sar as O’Shea and Ferdinand tore down the pitch to get to our fans. “We shall not be moved!” we sung on repeat, before chants of “we’ve only got 10 men!” at the final whistle.
Having come back from a goal behind the weekend before to beat Fulham 2-1, courtesy of that Ronaldo goal, the victory at Anfield allowed any insecurities or doubts about the mentality of this squad to disappear.
“The 90th minute at Anfield, in front of the Kop… Gary Neville’s just told me that is his dream and I’ve just gone and done it!”
The game you should have picked was the 4-2 at Goodison Park, one of the best games during the Sir Alex Ferguson reign, and certainly in the past 15 years. With four games of the season left to play, we were just three points ahead of Chelsea at the top of the table.
We travelled to face Everton, who were fifth in the league, while Chelsea hosted Bolton, who were sixth, at the same time.
After 12 minutes, Everton went 1-0 up after Alan Stubbs’ free-kick from distance deflected in off Michael Carrick. There was some relief for United fans though, when Lubomir Michalik put Bolton 1-0 up at Stamford Bridge on 19 minutes, but that was short-lived, with Salomon Kalou drawing Chelsea level. Before half-time, our title rivals had gone 2-1 up.
With Cristiano Ronaldo rested on the bench, this game taking place just days after we had come back at the death to beat AC Milan 3-2 in the Champions League semi-final, we had faith we could turn it all around. However, just five minutes in to the second half, Everton were 2-0 up thanks to an absolutely incredible goal by Manuel Fernandes.
As it stood, Chelsea were level with on points with three games left to play, the penultimate game of our season taking place at Stamford Bridge. Having lead the table all season, we couldn’t throw it away now, but it looked as though we might.
10 minutes in to the second half, Kevin Davies drew Bolton level, giving us some belief, but Bolton’s goals weren’t much use to us if we couldn’t score our own.
With an hour played, Ryan Giggs stepped up to take a corner. It was awful and went straight to goalkeeper Iain Turner, who had returned from his loan spell in the Championship to replace Everton’s no.1, Tim Howard, who was on loan from us and therefore illegible to play. Turner dropped the simplest of catches and O’Shea, who else, was there for the tap in. He was deadly in front of goal that season, hitting the target with 100% of his shots and scoring 80% of them! (Ok, it was four goals from five shots).
Seven minutes later we were level, with Ronaldo being sent to warm up the second O’Shea’s goal went in. Carrick delivered a corner, Ronaldo rose to meet it in the air, and following a scramble on the goal-line, Phil Neville booted it in for us. The clearance was there to be made with his left foot but he opted to go with his right and then feigned disappointment.
10 minutes later we were ahead, this time thanks to Wayne Rooney. The composure he showed to allow Tony Hibbert to slide in, before taking the ball past him and slotting it in to the far corner, was incredible. He kissed the United badge in front of the Everton fans, who’d been giving him shit all day, before turning to the delirious away end.
We just needed to see the game out and Rooney duly obliged, dicking around at the corner flag, much to the irritation of the scousers behind the goal. Then, in the 93rd minute, Rooney played the most perfectly weighted pass in to the feet of Chris Eagles. By this point, we just wanted time to disappear, so it didn’t really matter what the academy graduate did with the ball, as long as he kept it. His legs threatened to buckle beneath him but he managed to pull himself together and curled the ball in to the bottom corner. The way our players screamed as they celebrated that one! Five points clear! They knew it like we knew it. We were going to win the league!