#Treble99: When Solskjaer scored four at Forest
As our series looking back at the Treble-winning season of 1998/99 continues, today (Wednesday) marks 20 years since Manchester United's extraordinary 8-1 win at Nottingham Forest - which remains both the biggest away victory for the club and for the Premier League as a whole.
If ever Sir Alex Ferguson felt a pang of guilt for leaving a player out of his starting line-up, it was most likely that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the cause of it.
The Norwegian was a consummate professional who would rarely complain and instead went dutifully about his business. "I’m sure he hates being called a super-sub, and it’s unfair, but the fact is…he is”, noted Ferguson after the game.
That Solskjaer had the ability to read a match and make an impact on it was undoubted, as he so brilliantly exhibited with a quite remarkable performance as a substitute in an 8-1 rout at the City Ground.
"In a nutshell, we got murdered," was the pithy parlance used by Nottingham Forest boss Ron Atkinson in summing up his team’s obliteration from the merciless magnificence of United’s attacking talent.
Even a cursory glance at the Premiership table indicated a huge gulf between pace-setters United on 47 points and bottom-of-the table Forest with a paltry 16, but the Reds’ biggest win of the campaign was an irresistible example of what the team’s competitive forwards were capable of; Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole grabbed two apiece, but were outdone in 14 incredible minutes in which substitute Solskjaer grabbed four goals – and the headlines, too.
Forest’s full-back-turned-winger Alan Rogers equalised on six minutes from a breakaway attack; however that was a brief and quickly forgotten flirtation with joy for the home side as, a minute later, Cole restored the lead, racing onto Jaap Stam’s searching ball forward before rounding Dave Beasant and slotting home.
Considering that blistering start and the eventual scoreline, it’s surprising that United took until the 50th minute to extend the advantage. Cole reacted quickly and finished neatly on the rebound after Beasant saved a shot from Yorke, who then added a fourth on 67 minutes when Jesper Blomqvist’s cross hit John Olav Hjelde and the post before United’s no.19 tapped gratefully into an open goal.
At that point, Solskjaer admits: "I was sitting on the bench thinking, 'I’m not coming on today, Andy and Dwight are on fire.' But the manager told me to get changed and Jim Ryan had a few famous last words: 'We don’t need any more goals, just keep the ball. Pass it and play it nice and simple.' But, of course, I don’t like to do it that way, do I?"
With 18 minutes to play, Solskjaer replaced Yorke, whose smile Alex Ferguson later admitted looked ‘a little fixed’, having been on a hat-trick himself. But what came next from Solskjaer was simply stunning.
On 80 minutes, Gary Neville scampered to overlap Beckham and crossed for the simplest of Solskjaer’s goals at the far post. Then with two minutes of normal time left, Beckham set the Norwegian running through a Forest defence stood still as trees, and while his attempted lob was stopped by star-jumping Beasant, Solskjaer dropped a shoulder, rounded the keeper and arrowed a shot into the top corner.
United’s players were in their element, and so was Solskjaer. Scholes teed up the substitute’s hat-trick, the striker pulling down a dinked pass and volleying pitilessly past Beasant. His fourth – 13 minutes and 49 seconds after the first – came after Nicky Butt’s pull-back and Scholes’s scuffed shot, which Ole just guided into the far corner.
"Ole was a connoisseur of the game," Cole claimed years later. "He used to watch from the bench to see how he could hurt people.
"He used to get in great positions because he watched the game and realised the centre-halves were tired, or maybe he would work one individual more than the other. Ole was ridiculous from the bench, absolutely ridiculous."
Nobody could deny Solskjaer his moment, nor United the fully warranted praise for an outstanding team display. "United are a magnificent side and proved it today,” Atkinson conceded. “We contributed a bit towards it as well, but they were quality all over the field."
Of Solskjaer, he quipped: "Good job they didn’t put him on earlier!"
Nottingham Forest 1 (Rogers 6)
Manchester United 8 (Yorke 2, 67; Cole 7, 50; Solskjaer 80, 88, 90, 90)
Nottingham Forest: Beasant; Harkes, Hjelde, Palmer, Armstrong (Porfirio 74); Stone, Johnson, Gemmill (Matsson 57), Rogers; van Hooijdonk, Darcheville (Freedman 26). Subs not used: Crossley, Bart-Williams
Manchester United: Schmeichel; G.Neville, Stam, Johnsen, P.Neville; Beckham, Keane (Curtis 72), Scholes, Blomqvist (Butt 76); Yorke (Solskjaer 72), Cole. Subs not used: van der Gouw, May
Booked: Keane, P. Neville
Man of the Match: David Beckham
The goal-getters grabbed all the headlines, but Beckham’s passing was utterly sublime and underpinned much of United’s attacking play. He did it in the face of yet more abuse from the stands, too, though he soon helped silence Forest fans.
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