Glory Days: The 1995/96 Premier League title

Twenty-four years ago today, United – and a team packed with kids – recaptured our league crown, with victory down by the Riverside…

If you ever need reminding of the importance of grinding out results, of the significance of hard-fought 1-0 victories – and the rewards for giving youth a chance – just cast your mind back to 1995/96. 
 
That season, United spotted Kevin Keegan's Newcastle in the distance – 12 points clear at one point – and slowly but surely reeled the Magpies in. Between 22 January and 17 April, seven of the Reds' 11 league wins came by a goal to nil, five of them courtesy of Eric Cantona winners.
 
Come the final day of the season, Alex Ferguson's side needed only to better Newcastle's result to claim back the title. A 3-0 win at Middlesbrough on 5 May 1996 did the trick, with goals scored by David May, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs. 
Eric Cantona's return, and the emergence of the 'Class of '92', were key to our 1996 success.
It was classic United, starting slowly but then turning on the style after Christmas to reap the rewards. But it was also a victory against the critics who had written off the Reds after a 3-1 opening-day defeat at Aston Villa.
 
Former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen was the most vocal naysayer that day, making the now notorious proclamation:
“You can't win anything with kids. The trick to winning a championship is having strength in depth and they [United] just haven't got it.”
 
Hansen felt Sir Alex Ferguson had neglected to replenish his squad after a summer in which Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis all left Old Trafford. 
 
In fairness, he wasn't the only one who had reservations. 
But the United boss didn't rush into the transfer market because he felt he didn't have to. Instead of big-money signings, Ferguson placed his faith in the next generation, the bright young things knocking – or rather, banging – on the first-team door.
 
“To call them 'kids' is condescending,”
the boss later hit back.
“Brought up in the traditions of Manchester United, the likes of Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers are mature young men who are more than capable of winning trophies. They're good enough, so they're old enough.”
 
Not for the first time (or the last), Sir Alex's judgement proved impeccable. Those youngsters all played key roles in the title success (146 league appearances – an average of 29 each – between them), but it was captain Cantona who was the campaign's undisputed talisman.

1995/96 PL GoalsVideo

By the end of a season that, for him, only began on 1 October (he'd been serving an eight-month ban for an assault on Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons), the Frenchman had scored 14 league goals, including five winners and four vital equalisers.
 
Each Cantona strike in that dramatic title run-in did as much to erode Newcastle's spirit as it did to propel the Reds towards a 10th league title. 
 
The pressure on Tyneside was immense and it finally bubbled over when Kevin Keegan launched his infamous
“I would love it if we beat them... love it”
rant at Ferguson following Newcastle's 1-0 win at Leeds. 
 
Two weeks later the Reds were champions, United's 'kids' now crowned kings of England.
A series of Cantona-inspired 1-0 wins – including one at St James's Park – slowly eroded Newcastle's resolve.
DAVID MAY'S TITLE-WINNING MEMORIES

“We travelled to Middlesbrough on the last day of the season needing to win to be crowned champions. The previous campaign, my first at the club, we had lost the league on the last day of the season by drawing at West Ham, as we were edged out by Blackburn Rovers then beaten in the FA Cup final by Everton a week later.
 
“It was surreal how the Premier League title was decided on the last day of the season for the second successive year. And after what had happened 12 months earlier we were determined not to make the same mistake again. Not only did we win at Middlesbrough, but the following week beat Liverpool to lift the FA Cup to complete the domestic Double. 
 
“To get into a position where we had to win at Boro on the last day to win the title was remarkable in itself. We'd been written off on the first day of the season by Alan Hansen who, after our defeat at Aston Villa, told the nation that we wouldn't win anything with kids. But Eric Cantona returned after serving a lengthy suspension following his 'misdemeanor' at Crystal Palace and inspired the team.
David May and co celebrate Andy Cole's vital goal at the Riverside Stadium.
“Newcastle blew a 12-point lead and Kevin Keegan had his famous rant at the manager, who had been playing his usual mind games. I never thought for one moment we would lose at the Riverside – and we won emphatically, with a 3-0 scoreline.
 
“Brian McClair said before the game I would score, something I didn't do very often. At kind odds of 66/1, some of my mates put £10 on me – so they had a great weekend when I scored the opener! I remember my first half goal well. I went up for a Ryan Giggs corner and got up early above defender Steve Vickers, who I used as a lever, to score with a header. For a defender to score at any time is fantastic, but for me to do so in such a significant game made it even more special.
 
“Giggsy scored our second with a screamer, then Andy Cole came on as a substitute to score our third late in the game. Once we’d scored our second goal it was very much a case of keeping the ball and running the clock down. We were unaware how second-placed Newcastle were doing against Tottenham in their last game because we simply had to concentrate on our job – our destiny was in our own hands.
 
“It was an amazing feeling when the final whistle sounded and we knew we had won the Premier League, especially for Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, the Neville brothers, myself and Andy Cole as it was our first medal with United.
 
“It had been a long, hard season after chasing Newcastle for most of the campaign, but we'd managed to claw back their big lead to pip them to the title. It is all about winning at United so to complete the Double that season is something I will always cherish.”
 

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