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Sammy McIlroy in action.

Goal of the Day: McIlroy's Dutch delight

With the current-day Manchester United squad set to face AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League, take a trip down memory lane to 1976, when the Reds marked our European return with a win against Ajax at Old Trafford...

Date: 29 September 1976, Old Trafford, UEFA Cup first-round second leg

Background: After a seven-year hiatus, United were back in Europe. A third-placed finish, in our first campaign back in the top flight since promotion, had earned Tommy Docherty's side a passage into the UEFA Cup, and our first-round opponents were none other than Dutch giants, Ajax. In the first leg, the Reds put on a sturdy defensive display against the four-time European Cup winners in Amsterdam, but were ultimately beaten 1-0 courtesy of a first-half stoppage-time strike from captain, Rudi Krol. Both sides returned to a raucuous Old Trafford for the second leg and, as half-time approached, Lou Macari levelled the scores on aggregate, bundling home when Gordon Hill's initial effort was saved.

The goal: Following the interval, United continued to push for a winner and, after having an attempt turned over the bar by keeper Piet Schrijvers, McIlroy eventually found the route to goal. In the 66th minute, Jimmy Nicholl's cross from the right was controlled brilliantly by Steve Coppell inside the box. The England international played in Brian Greenoff and, with the keeper having already committed himself, the defender pulled the ball back for McIlroy to tap in to an empty net to give Docherty's side the lead on aggregate.

What happened next? With progression to the second round of the UEFA Cup now in our hands, United did not sit back and tried to score a third. A fortunate bounce of the ball from a goal-kick led to Coppell being played in on the left. His venomous left-footed strike from just inside the box forced a decent save at the near post by Schrijvers. Fortunately though, our two goals at Old Trafford proved to be enough to advance to the next round, where the Reds were ultimately knocked out of the competition by Juventus, however this result marked United's return to Europe's big stage.

Reaction: “Once it went to 1-1, that shook them up a little bit,” said McIlroy. “They had to change their game-plan, they had to score. The United supporters roared us on.” 

“You'd seen the great players that played in 1968: Law, Charlton, Best and David Sadler and people like that,” Hill told The Independent. “You saw the way they did it, and said: 'We're back and going for the same trophies as you guys had gone for, so we'll give it everything we've got.'”

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