As part of our HITC Sport 92 series, Vincent Ralph looks at a Manchester United goal that ultimately led to their first double.
In January 1990, a goal was scored that many claim saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job. But four years later, another goal would prove just as important.
Long before he was a Sir, a striker with few other footnotes in Manchester United’s history scored a winner that has been mythologised as the goal that allowed Ferguson to build his legacy.
That goal was Mark Robins’ strike against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round.
Three years after taking over at Old Trafford, Ferguson was still no nearer to winning his first trophy. But Robins’ goal sealed a win against an impressive Forest side that proved the catalyst for a cup run ending in a triumphant final four months later.
To highlight the importance of the win, it is worth pointing out where United finished in the league that season. They finished 13th, five points clear of the relegation zone.
So it makes sense that the goal that set them on their way to success – both that season and for many more to come – is hailed as the most important of them all.
But it was in the same competition four years later, this time in a semi-final, that Mark Hughes scored what many would call the “other” defining goal of Ferguson’s reign.
Trailing 1-0 to Oldham Athletic entering the last minute of extra-time, Hughes scored a volley that had become his trademark. Only this one was even better.
Leaning back so much he was almost horizontal, he somehow managed to guide the ball into the top corner, leaving the Oldham ‘keeper motionless.
It was possibly the first example of a Fergie-time goal; of a team refusing to give in even when good football eluded them and they resorted to head-tennis and outstretched limbs.
While the build-up was far from pretty, the end result was the same unbridled elation for players and fans alike.
United would win the league by eight points that season. But it was Hughes’s strike that allowed them to go one better. It spoke of a team who had removed the albatross of league failure from their neck a year earlier and were now winning trophies…plural.
Ferguson’s team won the replay 4-1, before scoring as many against Chelsea in the final without reply.
It was to be their first double. A catalyst every bit as important as the FA Cup win of 1990, as a second double and then a treble would one day follow.
Would United have been as successful without Hughes’s strike?
That is as impossible to answer as whether or not Ferguson would have remained had Robins not scored four years earlier.
The truth is every goal is a catalyst for something. And often we don’t even notice until hindsight allows.
Ole Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham’s strikes against Bayern Munich…Ryan Giggs’s run and finish against Arsenal that same year…and Steve Bruce’s double against Sheffield Wednesday that prompted jigs of delight from his manager: every one of them was legacy-defining.
But if Hughes hadn’t saved United that day, one trophy wouldn’t have become two. And when you consider what happened afterwards, it told everyone that as good as they were becoming in the league, they were just as up for the cups.
image: © edwin11