Congratulations to Sir Alex Ferguson on reaching yet another incredible milestone. Whatever I may think of some of his actions whilst manager of Manchester United there is no denying that it is a tremendous achievement. I had the good fortune to be in the away end at St. Mary’s last Sunday (the 1000th game) and witnessed a late comeback that has become synonymous with Ferguson’s tenure at United. 12 league titles, goals galore and a never-ending obsession with the next trophy have contributed to the successful longevity of a man who first threatened retirement just over 10 years ago.
As Ferguson himself pointed out recently, his time at the club will probably never be equalled and when he eventually retires we will witness the last grandee of football exit the game. Tributes have rightly been flowing in the wake of his 1000th league game, 599 of which have ended in a victory. I’m sure Ferguson would look at that figure and think it probably should have been more, which brings me on to the subject today; games Sir Alex Ferguson would rather forget.
The list isn’t a big or definitive one (testament again to the achievement of Ferguson) and was compiled in a chronological format solely by me. Some may argue that I’ve overlooked games like the 5-0 drubbing by Newcastle United in 1996 but when you win the league the following May those games pale into insignificance. The criteria for me is the importance of the game and also the subsequent negative impact it had on the side. If you don’t like it go and read a Chelsea blog.
Oxford United 2-0 Manchester United, 8th November 1986
It might be surprising to hear that Sir Alex’s first league match in charge ended in defeat to Oxford United. A poor United side were turned over by an Oxford United team who only just survived relegation that season. The fortunes of both clubs have significantly differed since that day with Oxford only recently regaining their football league status. United’s first season under Sir Alex only returned one league win away from home, still he could have picked a worse venue than Anfield…
Manchester United 1-2 Crystal Palace, 9th December 1989
Ferguson’s first full season in charge saw United fall short to a rampant Liverpool but this was followed by three years of turgid football that eventually led to the famous “ta ra Fergie” banner at Old Trafford. Perhaps the nadir of Ferguson’s time in charge was reached at home to Crystal Palace. The United side was filled with names that would eventually help secure their 1990s dominance but on this depressing December night Ince, Bruce, Sharpe, McClair, Pallister and Robson were booed off the park by an increasingly impatient home crowd who watched their side slump to defeat against Palace. Some might argue the 5-1 away to Manchester City was the lowest point of Ferguson’s early years and to a certain degree that is hard to argue, however this game against Palace came near the start of an 11 game win-less run that saw United briefly flirt with relegation.
The run-in, 18th-26th April 1992
Until last season this was arguably the most crushing title loss United fans had ever witnessed. United looked odds-on at the turn of the year and entering the Easter Weekend many reds were plotting their next attendance on when the league would be won. The goals dried up and it wasn’t to be as a draw at Luton, a home defeat to Nottingham Forest and two soul destroying losses at Upton Park and Anfield meant that United were denied the last old First Division. The wait for the elusive 8th league title continued.
West Ham United 1-1 Manchester United, 14th May 1995
Some games speak for themselves. United had clawed their way back into the race with 3 close wins prior to the final day and knew a win at Upton Park meant that Walkersteel funded Blackburn Rovers would have to win at Anfield. West Ham United played out of their skin in the first half and grimly clung on as Andrew Cole and United spurned chance after chance to clinch what would have been a third successive championship.
Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal, 14th March 1998
Very occasionally you have to hold your hands up and say the other team deserved it, 1998 certainly falls into that category. Arsenal won 10 consecutive league games from March to May to secure the league and stun United. Injuries conspired against United that season and a ravaged defence was unable to cope with Arsenal and Marc Overmars who left the Theatre of Dreams with 3 points and a genuine belief they could go on to lift the trophy.
Manchester United 0-1 Middlesbrough, 23rd March 2002
A costly mistake by Juan Sebastian Veron let in Alen Boksic and meant United couldn’t extend their lead in the league table over Arsenal. This win would have put United 4 points clear but defeat left them 1 ahead and Arsenal having 2 games in hand. As a result this defeat ensured the title was no longer in United’s hands and (even though they won the next four) allowed Arsenal to win the league in Manchester.
Middlesbrough 4-1 Manchester United, 29th October 2005
Inexplicably Middlesbrough appear twice in this list but it is easy to see why. With Old Trafford showing levels of dissension, (due to results and the Glazer takeover) not witnessed since the late 1980s, Ferguson watched as his United side were demolished by the ‘boro. To make matters worse Roy Keane delivered his infamous MUTV interview criticising the performances of many players and was subsequently shown the door after a glittering career at United.
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United, 8th November 2009
Sometimes things just don’t go your way. I could have picked either game against Chelsea in this season and highlighted the luck that didn’t favour United. In the game at Stamford Bridge United played very well but were undone by a dubious free-kick and the resulting John Terry goal. The return fixture in April saw Didier Drogba score from an offside position and United miss out on a historic 4th championship in a row.
Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City, 23rd October 2011
With City winning the league on goal difference by a margin of 8 it is easy to extract the significance in this result. This game obviously wasn’t the be all and end all for the season but it’s the final entry in this list quite simply because it was 6-1, and City.