“And Solskjaer has won it!” “Bruuuuuuuuuuuce!!” “Van Der Sar saves!!!” We’ve all heard the commentary, lived the moment, gone berserk, fallen down three rows of seats or wrecked the living room. United and comebacks are like cheese and pickle, Morecambe and Wise or City and gross financial irregularities (allegedly of course). Fergie Time became an integral part of the United vocabulary as last minute winners weren’t so much cherished as expected. In many ways it’s one of the reasons United became so hated. We’d lull teams into a false sense of security, allow our rivals to believe we were on the verge of losing, of not winning that title or final then….bang. We’d prevail with a last-minute goal or unexpected comeback to break hearts and spirits and induce enough anger to make a Trump rally blush.
Tiger Woods may have worn the green jacket after over a decade in the sporting wilderness but United have been there done that and worn the t-shirt when it comes to the comeback. Who knows, maybe another one is on the horizon?
Here’s my own personal top five times the Reds had you reaching for your Luger only for you to end up running down the street naked singing United songs…
5. Manchester United 1 Oldham Athletic 1. FA Cup semi-final 1994.
Cast your mind back long ago, if you can to a time when United hadn’t won doubles and trebles and made the World Club Cup a decennial occurrence but were actually chasing our first real chance of a League and Cup double. Having lost the League Cup final earlier in the season, United’s chance of a domestic treble had been ended, ironically by former manager Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa side. The double was still on though and for a team that was dominant in the league beating relegation scrapping Oldham in the FA Cup semi final should have been a formality. Unfortunately no one bothered to tell Joe Royle’s team the script and left back Neil Pointon put the Latics ahead during extra time after a 90 minute stalemate, before Hughes, leaning back volleyed from just inside the area. There was only ever going to be one outcome, as United fans went wild. Oldham lost the replay 4-1 and were relegated – almost achieving the opposite of what United did as the Reds went on to win the double with a 4-0 battering of Chelsea. But it was all seconds away from ending in disaster.
4. United 2 v Liverpool 1. FA Cup fourth round 1999.
When Michael Owen put Liverpool ahead early in the game at Old Trafford and the visitors held onto the lead for 86 minutes it looked like it was going to be one of those awful games you’d want to forget. Not only were United being dumped out of the cup by our arch rivals in our own backyard, not only did it end the talk of any ‘treble’ but it also came after only a few minutes as the Reds huffed and puffed but failed to truly make a mark on a resilient Liverpool side. That was until a certain Norwegian striker got involved. Dwight Yorke’s equaliser late on sent the home fans doolally but it was Ole’s late, late winner that truly set the tone for United’s season and a taste of things to come that would be even more dramatic than a last-minute cup winner against our most hated opponents.
3. Manchester United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1. Premier League 1993.
Before there was Ole, and Teddy, or John Terry’s slip or even Sparky’s equaliser there was Bruce. Forget all this nonsense about who the greatest centre back in the history of the Premier League was, what matters is which centre back not only captained a side to several titles, but also managed to score the two goals that set them on their way. United’s title challenged was faltering and a loss to Sheffield Wednesday would’ve given first-placed Aston Villa one hand on the title. A John Sheridan penalty looked to be sending the title to Birmingham for the first time in over a decade, before Bruce made sure its destination was likely to be Manchester for the first time in over 25 years. Bruce’s first header in the 86th minute caused a frenzy inside the ground, his second had Sir Alex and Brian Kidd on the f*cking pitch!! That’s how you do a comeback and few defenders, skippers or men could rise to the occasion the way the strangely underrated Bruce did. What a legend.
2. Juventus 2 Manchester United 3 Champions League semi final 2nd leg 1999.
A 1-1 draw in the first leg had given United a good, if not great chance of going through, but the wheels well and truly came off early in the return leg in Turin. Two Filippo Inzaghi goals in the space of 11 minutes made United’s chances of making the final about as likely as Inzaghi going a whole game without being caught offside but a certain Roy Keane had other ideas. United WERE going to Barcelona, Keano was adamant and being banned for the final didn’t bother him. After scoring a ‘captain’s goal’ Keano stuffed Davids and Zidane in his pockets and dragged the Reds through to glory as Yorke got an equaliser and Cole a winner. Full speed ahead Barcelona!!!
1. Some game at the Nou Camp 1999.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s half time team talk is something of a blur for many of the players who featured for United that famous night in the Nou Camp, but one thing that’s etched in memory of all of them is the manager saying “imagine walking past the trophy and not being able to touch it.” That’s almost what happened as Mario Basler caught Peter Schmeichel flat-footed (the ‘Great Dane’ was awful that night – don’t @me) to give the Germans an early lead, a lead they should’ve extended but didn’t mainly thanks to the woodwork. We all know the rest, Beckham’s cross, Giggsy’s “pass”, Teddy’s equaliser, before the greatest manager in the history of association football got the winner. No matter what happens this season or any other for that matter, nothing will eclipse that night in May when in the dying moments of the biggest game in their history, on Sir Matt Busby’s birthday, Manchester United achieved the greatest comeback in sporting history. And it was Solskjaer that won it!