Retro Review: The 95/96 Season : Kids, Keegan, Cantona and all that… | Manchester United News

Retro Review: The 95/96 Season : Kids, Keegan, Cantona and all that…

As part of their 23rd anniversary celebrations of covering top flight football, and while trying to convince us that it’s the best league in the world, Sky Sports have been asking people to nominate their favourite Premier League moments, particularly their most memorable last day memories.

Now seeing as (according to Sky) football wasn’t around prior to 1992, this means the most dramatic end to a season ever, when Michael Thomas scored for Arsenal at Anfield in the 90th minute to grab the league title and double from under the noses of Liverpool, has been erased from the memory banks forever as if it never happened.

But it got me thinking about some of the title run-ins United have been involved in since the conception of the Premier League, which is quite convenient really, seeing as there weren’t too many title challenges to reflect on in the years immediately prior to this period.

For most United fans though, last day memories are probably more bitter than sweet over the past 23 years.

Yes, there was the game against Spurs in 1999, which sealed the first leg of the historic treble, but it’s still hard to erase the awful memories of West Ham in 1995 and of course Aguero’s last minute winner in 2012.
But if there is one season and final day success most Reds would look at with more affection than most, it would have to be the one that took place some 20 years ago.

The 1995/96 season was looking pretty bleak for many Reds during pre-season with Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Ince all having left the club and no obvious replacements being brought in to take their place.
Instead it seemed United were going to do things the hard way as they looked to win their third title in four years having missed out so agonisingly at the end of the previous campaign.

But with Alex Ferguson favouring youth over experience many United fans were left scratching their heads at what just might unfold over the next nine months or so.
So it was with much trepidation that Reds travelled to Villa Park on a roasting hot day in August, and their worst fears were soon realised as United found themselves 3-0 down by half time, before finally being beaten 3-1. While later that night Alan Hansen would famously claim on Match of the Day that United would “win nothing with kids.”

But despite the defeat, that day was a real “I was there” moment as it signalled the beginning of a bright new era for United that many simply couldn’t have foreseen at the time.

On the team sheet that day were Butt, Scholes, Beckham and brothers Phil and Gary Neville. Household names now, but at the time a relatively unknown bunch of youth team players whose only real taste of first team action had come in the League Cup.
But despite this far from ideal start United would not lose again for another 11 games in a spell that also saw the welcome return of Eric Cantona in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool after his elongated ban following the fracas at Selhurst Park eight months previously.

And as well as launching United up the table, that run of eight wins and two draws in ten had given the new generation of United players, not to mention the supporters, the injection of confidence they needed to genuinely believe this group of fresh faced fledglings could actually fight for the title.
However, things started to fall apart somewhat as the year ended with United failing to register a win in five matches throughout November and December, a run which saw two disappointing home draws, not to mention two painful defeats to Liverpool and then Leeds on Christmas Eve.

And all of this as a resurgent Newcastle side, under Kevin Keegan, seemed to be beating all that was put before them and making top spot in the Premier League their own as United went into reverse.

But it was to be the visit of Newcastle themselves on a bitterly cold night just after Christmas that would set the tone for the incredible tussle that was to take place over the coming months.

Lagging some 10 points behind The Magpies, nothing less than a win would keep United’s faint title hope alive and it was the former Newcastle hero Andy Cole that opened the scoring after six minutes on the way to a 2-0 victory that would lay the foundations for one of the greatest title run-ins in United’s and the Premier League’s history.

What was to follow was an incredible run of just one defeat in 15 league games which saw United hot on the heels of their North East rivals as we reached the business end of the season.

And after another thrilling battle between the two sides in March had seen United somehow return from St James’s Park with all three points courtesy of an Eric Cantona strike and an inspired performance from Peter Schmeichel , United had cut Newcastle’s lead to just a single point.

By Easter, Newcastle were in free-fall due to the fact that between February and April they had won only two games out of eight, a run which included that defeat to United as well as their well documented capitulation at Anfield in a series of results which would ultimately lead to Kevin Keegan’s now famous “I’d love it” outburst at Alex Ferguson live on Sky.

The damage had well and truly been done, and United had managed to do the unthinkable, pulling-back the huge point deficit they faced at Christmas.
And, despite a 3-1 defeat to Southampton at The Dell in April, which bizarrely saw the United players change shirts at half time, their superb run meant their destiny was now in their own hands.

Having beaten Leeds in midweek and then demolished Nottingham Forest 5-0 in their last home game of the season, it meant that a win at Middlesbrough in the final weekend of the season would give United and their youngsters another league title.
Any early nerves that day were soon settled thanks to a quick David May goal, the first of three that United scored at The Riverside. And with Newcastle failing to win their final game at home to Spurs, The Reds were indeed crowned Champions for the tenth time in their history – something nobody could have predicted back in August.

If that wasn’t enough, the following week Eric Cantona’s late strike against Liverpool at Wembley in the FA Cup final secured a second league and cup double for United, who became the first team ever to achieve this feat.
Proof if we ever needed it that the kids, were in fact, alright Alan.

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