In January 2006, Manchester United had their backs up against the wall. The press told us our club was in decline and after winning nothing the season before, not even seriously competing for the title the season before, we were in desperate need for a trophy.
We’d enjoyed a relatively easy run in the League Cup, knocking out Barnet, West Brom and Birmingham, before being drawn against Blackburn in the semi-finals. The first leg was away and started well, with Louis Saha, the competition’s highest scorer that season, opening the scoring with half an hour played. But Pedersen equalised five minutes later and the game finished 1-1, with it all to play for at Old Trafford.
Ruud van Nistelrooy opened the scoring early on but against Blackburn equalised, this time through Steven Reid. Ruud had the opportunity to put us ahead through a penalty, which the Blackburn lot were furious had been awarded for handball, but Brad YSB Friedel made a great save. And like always with Friedel, he had a great game against us, making world class saves.
Now I was sat down the opposite end of the ground to the tunnel for this game but it was obvious after the half-time whistle went that something was kicking off. The players all started legging it down the tunnel and that side of the stadium roared.
Robbie Savage recalls what happened that evening in his autobiography.
Brad Friedel had just saved a Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty and a few minutes later I went into a challenge with van Nistelrooy in the bottom corner. To be fair, I tried to nail him. He got up and said a few things and then when we ran off at half-time Rio ran 50 yards to barge into me and also had a word. Now I’ve always got on well with Rio. He is a great player and a lovely guy. But that day I saw red. I chased him into the tunnel and lashed out with my feet. I think I booted him up the bum. Then Rio got very aggressive and grabbed me. Before I knew what had happened, out of nowhere all these security guards appeared. They pinned me against the side of the tunnel. Then someone hit me from behind – a proper punch to the back of the head – although that one wasn’t Rio. The lads piled into the tunnel and there was a lot of yelling. Then the security guards let me go by which time there was a lot of chaos in there. But I was ready to stand toe-to-toe with anyone. I always will – I don’t care how big they are.
Ooh yeh Robert, ‘cos you’re well ‘ard.
The game finished 2-1, with Louis Saha scoring a fabulous goal. The ball looked as though it was behind him but he struck it so well on the volley soon after the second half started. Nemanja Vidic made his United début and we booked our place in the League Cup final, which we went on to win 4-0.
What does the BBC say? The first half ended in controversial fashion as players raced into the tunnel signalling some sort of fracas between the two sets of players. Whatever happened only served to inspire United as they overpowered Blackburn after the interval.
Decline? No, this competition was just the beginning of our more recent dominance, which included three league titles, the European Cup and a further two League Cups. Cheers Rob!