United back on the road in the cup
Manchester United fans are already eagerly anticipating our opening game of 2024, following Sunday's Emirates FA Cup third-round draw.
The Reds have been paired with Wigan Athletic in the first away draw since Erik ten Hag took charge of the team.
A local game, with hopefully a sizeable away allocation, adds a bit of sparkle to these occasions and, although we played at Nottingham Forest in the two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final last term, and at Wembley, of course, this is a long-awaited chance for travelling fans to relish the special cup atmosphere on the road.
Our 193rd away game in the famous competition is our first since losing 3-1 to eventual winners Leicester City in March, 2021. There were no spectators present due to the Covid restrictions, as was the case when beating Norwich City, so the last time the Red Army cheered us on in an away FA Cup tie was back in March 2020.
Luke Shaw opened the scoring before Odion Ighalo netted twice in a 3-0 victory against Wayne Rooney's Derby County in the fifth round.
That certainly feels a long time ago and, if you factor in the Carabao Cup as well, it's a similar story. Only a smattering of Everton fans were allowed to be present when we defeated the Toffees towards the end of 2020 and, as a win at Manchester City was part of a two-legged semi-final in the previous season, you have to go back to October 2019 for a tie earlier in the domestic cup competition.
That was when Marcus Rashford scored twice, including an incredible free-kick from long range, in a 2-1 success at Wednesday's Premier League opponents Chelsea.
Hence, it's no surprise that some fans will feel it's been quite a wait to experience that buzz of following the Reds on the road to Wembley, a tradition that spans generations of match-going supporters.
The fact that Wigan's DW Stadium is nearby and holds some fond memories for United fans is also a welcome bonus.
The League One side were in the top flight as recently as 2013, the year when they lifted the FA Cup under Roberto Martinez, beating Manchester City in the final, with a goal from Ben Watson.
We have had eight away matches with the Latics in our history, winning seven of them, the only exception being an extremely costly 1-0 defeat in the context of the Premier League title race in 2011/12.
Our first visit to Wigan, in 2006, was won 2-1 at the death, through a Pascal Chimbonda own goal, and we have also had 5-0 (2009) and 4-0 (2011) victories there.
However, the two most memorable fixtures were massive in terms of winning the Premier League. On the final day of the 2007/08 term, Ryan Giggs added to Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty opener to seal a 2-0 triumph that made it 17 titles for the club, pipping Chelsea to top spot by two points.
It was some way for Giggs to mark matching Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time appearance record, earning an embrace from the great man after the final whistle.
A year later, we were trailing to a Hugo Rodallega effort and fearing being blown off course, until Carlos Tevez levelled and Michael Carrick struck a sweet winner, four minutes from time. It left us needing only a point to ensure Liverpool could not beat us to the Premier League trophy.
United's game with Wigan has still to be scheduled but it will be our opening fixture of 2024, around the weekend of 6/7 January.
Shaun Maloney is the current manager, the only man to score a winner for Wigan against United, in the 2012 game previously mentioned. Maloney's men knocked York City out in the second round on Friday night.
Our last match of the calendar year is in the Premier League, away to Nottingham Forest on 30 December (17:30 GMT kick-off).