10th April 1993, Old Trafford.
Sheffield Wednesday were the visitors for a 3pm Easter Saturday fixture. Back then, the demands of live television didn’t dominate the fixture itinerary like they do now. Yes, it was the first season of Sky TV’s broadcasting deal which has transformed the game and lasted ever since, but there were generally live games on a Sunday and Monday only and the traditional kick off time was the norm rather than the exception.
With 36 games of a 42 game season behind them, Manchester United were in a battle with Aston Villa for the title; Norwich City had been in the mix too until a 3-1 home defeat to United 5 days before had effectively made it a two horse race.
United’s previous encounter with Wednesday that season had been at Hillsborough on Boxing Day. The home team had raced out to a 3-0 lead, only for two second half Brian McClair goals and a late Eric Cantona equaliser to earn a valuable point for the visitors. Wednesday were a strong team, with the likes of Chris Woods, Roland Nilsson, John Sheridan and Chris Waddle in their ranks, but the United team for this Old Trafford clash was full of genuine legends in waiting, lining up as follows:
Peter Schmeichel; Paul Parker, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin; Lee Sharpe, Paul Ince, Brian McClair, Ryan Giggs; Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes.
Sir Alex Ferguson had actually described the game as being ‘win or bust.’ The match was goalless when, on the hour mark, there was a stoppage as referee Michael Peck was injured and replaced by linesman John Hilditch. Within five minutes, Hilditch had awarded a penalty to the visitors, which was converted by Sheridan.
About 140kms south at Villa Park, United’s title rivals were goalless at home to Coventry. If the results stayed the same, Villa would top the table with five games to go.
As Bryan Robson was on the bench, Steve Bruce was the on-field captain. With frayed nerves around the ground and time running out, United were awarded a corner after 85 minutes and forward strode Bruce and his centre back partner Pallister. Between them they’d scored three league goals all season, all to Bruce – and two of those were penalties.
As Irwin delivered the Stretford End corner, it looked a poor effort; Bruce had to back up towards the edge of the 18 yard box where he made contact and sent a superb header past Woods in goal. United were level.
Ferguson wrote about what was to follow in his autobiography ‘Managing My Life’ so I’ll hand over to him at this stage:
‘From the moment we equalised, I stood on the touchline directing operations, cajoling the lads, praising them. Trevor Francis, the Wednesday manager, was signalling to the referee that time was up when we won a free kick. Ryan Giggs took it… it ended up on the other side of the pitch when Gary Pallister raced out to regain possession and, without looking, he hit a really good cross in that landed in Brucie’s path. I was right in the line of the ball as it arrowed its way into the corner of the net….That night I watched the video of the second half and used my stopwatch to time all the stoppages for injuries and substitutions. There should, in fact, have been an additional 12 minutes.’
Bruce had scored the winner in the 96th minute and there was pandemonium on the pitch, the bench and amongst the vast majority of the 40,102 in attendance. The game was over at Villa Park, it had finished 0-0 and United were top of the league. They would go on to win their last five games and secure their first league title since 1967, by 10 points. They went on to win 12 of the next 20 Championships with Sir Alex in charge for all of them. But on the Easter Saturday afternoon that kickstarted all that success, the term Fergie Time was born.
We would hear it many, many times in the years that followed.
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