Exact memories of the action at the Manor Ground that afternoon are, perhaps unsurprisingly, sketchy. Though John Aldridge, the first person to breach Ferguson’s defences, cheerily recalls how he “conned me old mucker Kevin Moran,” going down over the Irishman’s trailing leg to win a spot-kick, he remains convinced that the game finished 2-1. Still, who was to know the significance the encounter would assume in 2011? For the United players, still coming to terms with Big Ron’s departure on the Wednesday, it was just another new man at the helm: one admittedly with a burgeoning reputation after dismantling the Rangers-Celtic duopoly with Aberdeen.
Even a man with as sharp an eye for detail as Arthur Albiston, then 29 and already an OT veteran of 12 years, struggles to recall much of what happened on the pitch. “They had a decent, strong side and had just come up the leagues,” he says. “Ray Houghton and John Aldridge for starters, and a couple of gorillas at the back in Malcolm Shotton and Gary Briggs – they were an organised team. And it was a difficult ground to go to, very tight and compact. The nation’s eyes were on us and everybody other than United supporters were hoping we would get beaten – that’s exactly what happened.” Aldridge agrees that the pressure on United was a factor. “The hype was to our advantage. The day was all about Ferguson, and that helped us immensely.”
“The manager obviously didn’t know at the time that almost everybody was probably anti- United, but over the years he’s used that to his advantage, I would think – you’ve got to!” Albiston continues. “He probably thought after that first game that we had a team that was underachieving and he’d have been right. We were in the bottom four, which was just awful for a club of that size.