Premier League wins that galvanised United
Manchester United might be the most successful club in the Premier League's 30-year history but even the Reds' best seasons had spells which were far from plain sailing.
Here we recall four occasions when the men from M16 produced a much-needed win after a disappointing start to a campaign or, in the case of 2005/06, a victory at Old Trafford while playing the unfamiliar role of underdogs.
SOUTHAMPTON 0 UNITED 1 (1992/93)
The Reds lost each of our opening two Premier League fixtures, at Sheffield United and at home to Everton, leaving us rooted to the bottom of the division’s first-ever published table on the evening of 19 August 1992. Another disappointing result followed, as newly promoted Ipswich Town held us to a 1-1 draw on their visit to Old Trafford, with Denis Irwin sparing the blushes following Chris Kiwomya’s opener. The fallow run looked set to continue as we struggled to find our way past Southampton at the Dell, only for Dion Dublin – in his first top-flight United start – to steal in at the back post and tap home an 89th-minute winner.
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It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, with Gary Pallister and Brian McClair both misdirecting their efforts, but it was enough to get us off the mark and we’d go on to win each of our next four games without conceding. Dublin broke his leg in the very next fixture, however, and, in truth, United’s fortunes wouldn’t really start to turn until the arrival of a certain Eric Cantona in late November.
UNITED 2 WEST HAM 1 (1995/96)
“You’ll win nothing with kids.” All these years on, it stands as one of history’s great unfulfilled prophecies, but in August 1995, Alan Hansen’s Match of the Day monologue wasn’t as outlandish as it sounds. United, with Cantona still serving his eight-month suspension, had ended the 1994/95 campaign trophyless – a rarity in that decade – and then sold key first-teamers in Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis. In our season opener, we were well-beaten by Aston Villa, a result thought to be so demoralising for Alex Ferguson’s emerging young side that it prompted Hansen’s prediction. The boss knew best though, keeping faith with the kids for the visit of West Ham. Goals from Paul Scholes and Roy Keane, either side of Steve Bruce’s own goal, in front of a North Stand under construction, gave us a vital three points and kickstarted a run of 10 wins in 13 games.
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UNITED 1 CHELSEA 0 (2005/06)
Ten years later, the Reds were on a miserable run of form at the beginning of November. A couple of dull Old Trafford draws, followed by cataclysmic away defeats at Lille and Middlesbrough, left fans dreading Chelsea’s trip up north. Jose Mourinho’s champions were unbeaten in 40 top-flight games, winning 33 of those, including 10 of their opening 11 fixtures of that season. A Blues victory would have opened up an unthinkable 16-point gap between the sides, but Darren Fletcher’s looping header and a backs-to-the-wall defensive performance gave us the win on the 19th anniversary of Sir Alex’s appointment. Chelsea still won the title, but United rallied from our poor start to finish second, also adding a League Cup triumph as a young Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo began to flourish.
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CHELSEA 0 UNITED 2 (2019/20)
Another win over Chelsea, this time a lot later in the season, concludes our round-up. United were at a low ebb in January, even as Bruno Fernandes’s arrival from Sporting brought some flickers of hope during a goalless home draw with Wolves which made it just nine wins from 25 Premier League games for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Reds ahead of the winter break. United travelled to Marbella for a warm-weather camp and reconvened at Stamford Bridge on a Monday night in February, with the Blues threatening to pull away in the final Champions League spot. Strikes from Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire put paid to that idea in front of a buoyant away end. We’d go on to win eight of our final 12 games – drawing the other four – to finish third following a three-month pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic.