The pressure on manager Ron Atkinson after last season’s failed title challenge remained strong after United lost their opening three games of the season, and despite some decent results in the following few weeks, United bowed out of the League Cup in a fourth round replay defeat at Southampton, prompting the dismissal of Atkinson on 6 November 1986 after more than five years in charge.
Alex Ferguson was confirmed as Atkinson’s successor within hours, recruited from Scottish side Aberdeen, where he had enjoyed considerable success in the previous seven years. United recovered well in the league after his appointment and finished 11th, managing to scratch up some impressive results including winning both of their league clashes with Liverpool (results which helped deprive Kenny Dalglish’s side of the league title), a 4–1 home win over Newcastle United on New Year’s Day 1987, a 2–0 home win over a resurgent Arsenal and a 2–0 win at Old Trafford in the Manchester derby which helped push City towards relegation. Their win at Liverpool also made them the only team to win at Liverpool in the league all season.
However, United were prevented from finishing even higher in the league by a few disappointing results after Ferguson’s arrival, beginning with a 2–0 defeat in their first game under Ferguson at Oxford United, losing both of their clashes with newly promoted Wimbledon, being beaten at Old Trafford by Norwich City just after Christmas and suffering a 4–0 defeat at Tottenham near the end of the season, although by the time of the Tottenham game it was mathematically impossible for United to either win the title or suffer relegation (there was no prospect of European qualification due to the ongoing ban on English clubs in Europe following the Heysel disaster two years earlier). United also failed to win any another away games in the league apart from the visit to Liverpool on Boxing Day.
Story of the season
During the close season, there was speculation that manager Ron Atkinson was about to be sacked and that Aberdeen manager Alex Fergusonwas going to be appointed in his place. Atkinson tried to fight back and prove the critics wrong. He attempted to sign the England defender Terry Butcher from Ipswich Town, but lost out to Rangers (who were managed by the former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness).
On 8 August, dozens of Manchester United and West Ham United fans were arrested following clashes on an Amsterdam-bound Sealink ferry. This sparked fears that English clubs could even be banned from contesting friendlies with foreign sides, on top of their ban from UEFA matches.
The First Division campaign kicked off on 23 August, with Manchester United losing 1–0 to Arsenal. All of United’s first three league games ended in defeat, placing them second from bottom in the First Division with only Aston Villa below them.
Their first league win of the season finally came on 13 September, when they demolished Southampton 5–1 at Old Trafford, which lifted them to 19th of 22, in a division in which they had not finished lower than fourth in any of the five previous campaigns.
A dismal league game at Old Trafford on 28 September saw United lose 1–0 at home to Chelsea, and more frustratingly United missed both of the two penalties they were awarded in the game; the first from Jesper Olsen, the second from Gordon Strachan.
In late October, experienced defender John Gidman joined neighbours Manchester City on a free transfer, but there was no talk of new additions to a hard pressed squad.There were also fears that Gary Bailey, still only 28 but out of action for nearly a year due to a knee injury, could retire from football in the near future if he failed to make a good recovery from the injury.
On 1 November, Manchester United completed a six-match unbeaten run in the league (their last defeat being against Chelsea on 28 September) by drawing 1–1 with Coventry City, but they were still fourth from bottom and speculation over Atkinson’s future as manager continued to mount.
Atkinson was finally dismissed on 5 November, the day after his team were beaten 4–1 by Southampton in a Football League Cup third round replay. It was their first defeat in a competitive game since 28 September, and their heaviest in a competitive game for 18 months. Within 24 hours, Alex Ferguson agreed to take over as Manchester United’s new manager on a four-year contract. His first game in charge took place three days later, when Manchester United’s six-match unbeaten run in the league came to an end with a 2–0 defeat to Oxford United. His first win at the helm came on 22 November when they beat Queen’s Park Rangers 1–0 in the league at Old Trafford.
Their good progress continued in December as they gained their first away league win of the season with a 1–0 win over Liverpool at Anfield. It was the first time that Liverpool lost a home game in the 1986–87 league season. Norman Whiteside scored the only goal of the game for a side who have climbed from 21st to 14th in the league since Ferguson’s appointment.
There was a setback two days later, however, when captain Bryan Robson suffered a hamstring injury in Manchester United’s 1–0 home defeat by Norwich City in the league.The quest for the FA Cup began on 10 January at Old Trafford, in a Manchester derby which United won 1–0, the only goal of the game scored by Norman Whiteside.
Four days after the FA Cup win, winger Peter Barnes became the second Manchester United player to join Manchester City that season, moving to Maine Road in a £20,000 deal.
The club’s name was tarnished again on 20 January when 26 suspected football hooligans (some of them Manchester United supporters) were arrested in police raids across England. Manchester United blew their final chance of silverware this season by losing 1–0 at home to Coventry City in the FA Cup fourth round at the end of January.
The 110th Manchester derby (a league clash at Old Trafford on 7 March) saw Manchester United win 2–0, taking them to 10th place, while Manchester City sink into 19th place (the relegation playoff place).
Later that month, Alex Ferguson expressed interest in bringing Mark Hughes back to Old Trafford after a spell in Spain which had so far been disappointing. Plans were unveiled around this time for Old Trafford to be expanded into a world class modern stadium which to resemble Barcelona’s Nou Camp.
In April, chairman Martin Edwards announced plans to introduce a ground-breaking new membership scheme to combat football hooliganism.
April also saw Manchester United complete a double over Liverpool in the North West derby with a 1–0 win at Old Trafford, counting against the red half of Merseyside’s title hopes as the title was heading for Everton.
Gary Bailey finally announced his retirement from playing on 23 April 1987, having failed to make a full recovery from the knee injury he had suffered 17 months earlier.
Manchester United’s season ended with a 3–1 home win over relegated Aston Villa, which secured them an 11th place finish in the First Division – their lowest since relegation from the top flight 13 years ago.
Goalkeeper Chris Turner and defender Graeme Hogg were put on the transfer list at the end of the season.
Bids were made for the Celtic and Scotland striker Brian McClair as well as the AC Milan and England striker Mark Hateley.
Pre-season and friendlies
|Date||Opponents||H / A||Result
F – A
|6 August 1986||Fluminense||H||0 – 0
(4 – 3p)
|8 August 1986||Dynamo Kyiv||N||1 – 1
(4 – 1p)
|10 August 1986||Ajax||A||0 – 1||23,000|
|14 August 1986||Shamrock Rovers||A||0 – 2||10,200|
|17 August 1986||Real Sociedad||H||1 – 1||Blackmore||12,826|
|2 September 1986||Hearts||A||2 – 2||Olsen (pen.), T. Gibson||10,438|
|10 September 1986||Linfield||A||3 – 0||Robson (2), Davenport||10,919|
|15 December 1986||GCC All-Stars||N||1 – 0||Whiteside||4,000|
|21 January 1987||Red Star Belgrade||H||0 – 1||10,652|
|24 February 1987||Swansea City||A||3 – 1||T. Gibson, Whiteside, Davenport||6,467|
|18 March 1987||Shamrock Rovers||A||1 – 2||Robson||8,000|
|25 March 1987||Celtic||A||0 – 1||36,000|
|10 May 1987||England XI||H||7 – 2||Hughes (4; 1 pen.), Martin, Gibson, Bond (o.g.)||16,907|
|16 May 1987||Naxxar Lions||N||9 – 0||Whiteside (3), O’Brien (2), Blackmore, Davenport (pen.), Duxbury, Stapleton||4,000|
|Date||Opponents||H / A||Result
F – A
|23 August 1986||Arsenal||A||0 – 1||41,382||15th|
|25 August 1986||West Ham United||H||2 – 3||Stapleton 40′, Davenport 46′||43,306||18th|
|30 August 1986||Charlton Athletic||H||0 – 1||37,544||21st|
|6 September 1986||Leicester City||A||1 – 1||Whiteside 52′||16,785||22nd|
|13 September 1986||Southampton||H||5 – 1||Olsen 22′ (pen.), Davenport 25′, Stapleton (2) 36′, 83′, Whiteside53′||40,135||19th|
|16 September 1986||Watford||A||0 – 1||21,650||19th|
|21 September 1986||Everton||A||1 – 3||Robson 12′||25,843||21st|
|28 September 1986||Chelsea||H||0 – 1||33,340||21st|
|4 October 1986||Nottingham Forest||A||1 – 1||Robson 73′||34,828||21st|
|11 October 1986||Sheffield Wednesday||H||3 – 1||Davenport (2) 35′ (pen.), 85′, Whiteside 83′||45,890||20th|
|18 October 1986||Luton Town||H||1 – 0||Stapleton 9′||39,927||19th|
|25 October 1986||Manchester City||A||1 – 1||Stapleton 47′||32,440||20th|
|1 November 1986||Coventry City||H||1 – 1||Davenport 31′||36,946||19th|
|8 November 1986||Oxford United||A||0 – 2||13,545||20th|
|15 November 1986||Norwich City||A||0 – 0||22,684||21st|
|22 November 1986||Queens Park Rangers||H||1 – 0||Sivebæk 32′||42,235||17th|
|29 November 1986||Wimbledon||A||0 – 1||12,112||17th|
|7 December 1986||Tottenham Hotspur||H||3 – 3||Whiteside 11′, Davenport (2) 36′, 88′ (pen.)||35,957||16th|
|13 December 1986||Aston Villa||A||3 – 3||Davenport (2) 18′, 55′, Whiteside 54′||29,205||17th|
|20 December 1986||Leicester City||H||2 – 0||C. Gibson 11′, Stapleton 67′||34,150||15th|
|26 December 1986||Liverpool||A||1 – 0||Whiteside 78′||40,663||14th|
|27 December 1986||Norwich City||H||0 – 1||44,610||15th|
|1 January 1987||Newcastle United||H||4 – 1||P. Jackson 4′ (o.g.), Whiteside 9′, Stapleton 56′, Olsen 90′||43,334||14th|
|3 January 1987||Southampton||A||1 – 1||Olsen 11′||20,409||13th|
|24 January 1987||Arsenal||H||2 – 0||Strachan 55′, T. Gibson 90′||51,367||13th|
|7 February 1987||Charlton Athletic||A||0 – 0||15,482||13th|
|14 February 1987||Watford||H||3 – 1||McGrath 26′, Davenport 48′ (pen.), Strachan 65′||35,763||11th|
|21 February 1987||Chelsea||A||1 – 1||Davenport 61′ (pen.)||26,516||12th|
|28 February 1987||Everton||H||0 – 0||47,421||12th|
|7 March 1987||Manchester City||H||2 – 0||Reid 62′ (o.g.), Robson 85′||48,619||10th|
|14 March 1987||Luton Town||A||1 – 2||Robson 88′||12,509||13th|
|21 March 1987||Sheffield Wednesday||A||0 – 1||29,888||13th|
|28 March 1987||Nottingham Forest||H||2 – 0||McGrath 12′, Robson 44′||39,182||12th|
|4 April 1987||Oxford United||H||3 – 2||Davenport (2) 25′, 35′, Robson 90′||32,443||11th|
|14 April 1987||West Ham United||A||0 – 0||23,486||11th|
|18 April 1987||Newcastle United||A||1 – 2||Strachan 41′||32,706||12th|
|20 April 1987||Liverpool||H||1 – 0||Davenport 88′||54,103||11th|
|25 April 1987||Queens Park Rangers||A||1 – 1||Strachan 49′||17,414||11th|
|2 May 1987||Wimbledon||H||0 – 1||31,686||11th|
|4 May 1987||Tottenham Hotspur||A||0 – 4||36,692||11th|
|6 May 1987||Coventry City||A||1 – 1||Whiteside 25′||23,407||11th|
|9 May 1987||Aston Villa||H||3 – 1||Blackmore 55′, Duxbury 63′, Robson 65′||35,179||11th|
Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||Result
F – A
|10 January 1987||Round 3||Manchester City||H||1 – 0||Whiteside 66′||54,294|
|31 January 1987||Round 4||Coventry City||H||0 – 1||49,082|
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||Result
F – A
|24 September 1986||Round 2
|Port Vale||H||2 – 0||Stapleton 51′, Whiteside 81′||18,906|
|7 October 1986||Round 2
|Port Vale||A||5 – 2||Stapleton 34′, Barnes 71′, Moses (2) 75′, 89′, Davenport 77′ (pen.)||10,486|
|29 October 1986||Round 3||Southampton||H||0 – 0||23,639|
|4 November 1986||Round 3
|Southampton||A||1 – 4||Davenport||17,915|
|Pos.||Name||League||FA Cup||Littlewoods Cup||Total|