On This Day: United's historic 'Double Double'
It was 24 years ago today (11 May) when United sealed a glorious Double Double with victory over old rivals Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup final.
Here’s a recap of our run to cup final glory…
ROUTE TO WEMBLEY
Like our Premier League success that season, the FA Cup campaign was not without its early wobbles. The third-round replay victory at Sunderland came via a last-gasp winner, before Reading were dispatched 3-0 to set up a fifth-round meeting with Manchester City. Goals from Eric Cantona – a man possessed since his return from suspension – and Lee Sharpe consigned Uwe Rosler’s early strike to memory. That same duo took care of Southampton in the quarter-final to set up a semi-final clash with Chelsea. For the third time in five rounds United came from behind, in a thrilling encounter at Villa Park, where a quickfire brace from Andy Cole and David Beckham overturned Ruud Gullit’s first-half goal.
With extra-time in prospect on a January night at Roker Park, Sharpe’s swirling injury-time cross from the left met the spring-heeled, salmon leap of Cole, sending United through to the fourth round at plucky Sunderland’s expense.
No contest. Having returned to the fray in October, Eric Cantona ended his season as he’d belatedly begun it, with a goal against Liverpool. His cup-final winner was his fifth of the competition – the first being an equaliser with just 10 minutes remaining against Sunderland that earned United a second bite at the second-tier leaders. The goal sparked an unstoppable charge that powered all the way to the old Wembley.
It doesn’t get much sweeter: United’s history boys (or ‘kids’, if you’re Alan Hansen) downing Liverpool’s infamous ‘Spice Boys’, who had turned up to the game in white suits, as Gary Pallister remembers.
“It was massive. If you’re playing Liverpool in a cup final it doesn’t get any bigger than that,” our former centre-back told MUTV Group Chat. “They’re still the arch-enemy, the one you always look for on the fixture list and when you go to play them in a cup final the build-up is something different. Obviously when you get them turning up in white suits as well, it just adds a bit more flavour to it!
“I can actually remember standing on the Wembley turf. We went out first. We were milling around, sampling the atmosphere, and they all walked out in their suits and we just all looked at each other and went ‘wow, really?’ It was one of them surreal moments, you know what I mean? I remember talking to Barnesy [Liverpool captain John Barnes] afterwards and he was like, 'I can’t believe we turned up in these suits'. It was a little bit of extra motivation, I guess!”
The game itself wasn’t a great spectacle. With one moment of quality needed to win it, that man Cantona, skipper for the day, found it. With four minutes remaining, David James’s punched clearance fell via a slight deflection to the Frenchman, lurking on the edge of the penalty area. Taking a split-second to jump backwards and readjust his balance, Eric somehow crashed his half-volley home through a crowd of five defenders. It was the moment that completed his own personal journey of redemption, and made United the first club in English football history to win two Doubles.
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