The dawn of the 1990's saw Alex Ferguson collecting his first silverware as Manchester United manager, and Liverpool winning their last League Championship with an ageing team. The tide was turning…
Fergie's first FA Cup, achieved after a replay against Crystal Palace, seemed at the time to be a stand-alone success, one that possibly saved his job after another poor season in the League. But nine years later, it seemed that Lee Martin's winning goal against Palace lit the fuse for an explosion of unprecedented success.
First and foremost, winning the FA Cup in 1990 allowed United to make their return to European competition after an absence of five years. Far from being rusty, they went all the way to the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam where their opponents were Barcelona, the former club of United striker Mark Hughes. Two goals by Hughes sealed the match 2-1 in Fergie's favour in May 1991, 23 years after the club's previous triumph in Europe.
The other long wait, for that elusive League Championship, very nearly ended in April 1992. The Reds had already won Fergie's third trophy in March, the League Cup, and were in a two-horse race with Leeds. Liverpool were out of the running, but they still had a say in the destiny of the title, beating United 2-0 at Anfield to ruin their challenge.
The 1991/92 title would be remembered in Manchester as the title that United lost, rather than the one that Leeds actually won. Leeds, after all, were not the greatest of football powers in the 1990's and their star quality was further reduced when they allowed one of their best players to join Manchester United in December 1992.
In selling Eric Cantona to Old Trafford, the Yorkshire club practically handed over the keys to the League Championship. The Frenchman brought that little extra bit of magic that had been missing from United's previous campaigns and was an instant hit with the Mancunian faithful, scoring nine goals to help the Reds win their first title in 26 years.
In the following season 1993/94, the team virtually picked itself en route to an historic League and FA Cup Double, with Cantona sporting the number seven shirt that had been Bryan Robson’s property for so long. The number one, meanwhile, was undoubtedly Peter Schmeichel, arguably the best goalkeeper ever seen at Old Trafford.
Cantona’s eight-month absence from January 1995, following his clash with a fan at Crystal Palace, proved to be United’s undoing as they tried to defend their Double. They lost the title by one point to Blackburn Rovers and then lost the FA Cup final by one goal to Everton. The former champions were hampered at Wembley by an injury to Steve Bruce, the brave captain who was a defensive rock in the early 1990’s.
Bruce also missed the following year's FA Cup Final, at the end of the 1995/96 season, but this time the result was rather different. Liverpool stood between United and a