“Monday night football? It’ll never last.” We all proclaimed when the idea was first announced back in 1992.
But this was the Premier League. Sky’s new incarnation and a “whole new ball game,” as we were promised more coverage than ever before and all on a new subscription only satellite platform – not to mention the joy of long away trips to far-flung places which were made even more tricky by some pretty obscure kick-off times.
The 1992/93 season may well be remembered by United fans as the year the club finally ended their 26-year wait for the league title, but while the campaign ended in glory, it’s easy to forget how badly it had all begun.
After the heartbreak of the previous season, which saw United pretty much gift the title to Leeds thanks to a pretty dismal Easter period that came to a head on a dreadful Sunday lunchtime at Anfield, the only thing that consoled some Reds was the thought that they would come back stronger the following season to finally get the job done.
But as it turned out they couldn’t have got off to a worst start, leading many United fans to fear they really had blown their big chance and would never live to see the day Manchester United were crowned as champions once again.
Having lost their first two games, away to Sheffield United and a thumping 3-0 reverse at home to Everton, a 1-1 draw at home to Ipswich Town provided the only point of the season after three games and there seemed to be no sign of any change in fortune as the autumn months approached.
Next up was Southampton away at The Dell as United made their debut on Sky’s newly conceived Monday Night Football “show”.
Yes, that’s right. Players and fans alike would face a 400 mile round trip on a Monday night for a league fixture. And for anyone who had their doubts about such an expensive trip that wouldn’t see them get home until the early hours of the morning, we were promised the novelty of a live concert on the pitch at half-time, not to mention a chorus line of dancing girls. Oh we could hardly wait!
Fergie’s team travelled to the south coast low on confidence after such a poor start and were sitting second from bottom of the table before this tricky looking fixture against a team that contained names such as Tim Flowers, Matthew Le Tissier, Ken Monkou and Kerry Dixon.
And if United fans weren’t pessimistic enough, this was the very same opposition that had dumped the team out of The FA Cup on penalties at Old Trafford the previous season.
But it was United who had the better of the first half on a wet and windy night, going close with efforts from McClair and Hughes. And as the second half followed suit, with chances being squandered as quickly as they arrived, the game seemed to be heading towards a goalless draw and a point that would have doubled United’s tally seemed like a good outcome after all.
However, the Reds were awarded a free kick out on the right hand side with just two minutes remaining and although the beleaguered fans weren’t to know it then, they were about to witness the first of many last-gasp goals that would become a staple over the next 20 years or so of watching United.
Darren Ferguson’s cross was ordinary at best, but it appeared to catch the Saints defenders on the hop, and as the ball glanced of Brian McClair’s head six yards out, summer signing Dion Dublin couldn’t miss when presented with an unguarded net.
Those behind the goal who had made the journey went delirious, more in relief than anything else as they couldn’t have known just what that goal and that victory would lead to.
But as it turned out, that Monday night win at The Dell was to be the first of five straight wins which would propel United to third in the league and back into contention for a title challenge that many couldn’t have dreamed of back in the late summer.
And as we all know, the rest is history.
So as today’s United face another long trip to the south coast on a Monday night some 22 years later, not to mention on the back of four consecutive victories themselves, who dares to believe that this fixture could once again be the springboard to yet another unlikely title challenge?