This was stretched into a run of 16 victories in 18 matches, including a 2-1 home triumph over leaders Wolves in February, which drew them level at the summit with Stan Cullis’s ruthlessly efficient Molineux machine – Charlton contributed the late winner – and a 6-1 Good Friday drubbing of Portsmouth at Old Trafford to lift the Reds to the top of the table with only six games to play.
An astonishingly unlikely fairytale seemed possible, only for Busby’s boys to falter in the final straight, losing at Burnley, then dropping further points at Luton and Leicester, allowing Wolves to stretch away to lift the crown by a six-point margin. Still, United cemented second spot emphatically, five points clear of third-placed, Arsenal, a sensational effort given the calamity that had overtaken the club so recently.
Praise was heaped on Charlton, and deservedly so, but Viollet’s tally of 21 goals and Scanlon’s 16, with Bradley adding a dozen in only 24 games, were also massively valuable, while Quixall’s modest return of four did not reflect his colossal input as the deep-lying play-maker.
At the back, Gregg was a tower of strength in goal, though the usually rock-like Foulkes was not at his most commanding at right-back, not relishing the captaincy and struggling grittily through his ongoing trauma as a crash survivor. Recognising the problem, Busby gave him a rest in the spring before recalling him at centre-half – ultimately his specialist position, in which he was to taste serial glory in the years ahead – for the last few games.
There were mammoth contributions, too, from two other full-backs, Ian Greaves and Joe Carolan, while Ronnie Cope was a classy central bulwark and Freddie Goodwin laboured shrewdly at right-half. Meanwhile young Wilf McGuinness – destined ultimately to briefly succeed Busby as Old Trafford boss – enjoyed the finest season of his career at left-half, granted his first extended senior run following the death at Munich of his close pal Duncan Edwards.