The 1989 – 1990 season was quite an interesting one for United. The pre-season of 1989 saw plenty of speculation in the press regarding the ownership of United. Apparently the then chairman Martin Edwards was looking to sell the club. There had been takeover speculation surrounding the biggest club in the world before, notably involving Robert Maxwell, thankfully nothing came of that. However as the 1980’s were coming to end another person decided to throw his hat in the ring, Michael Knighton. There has been plenty that has been written about this episode in United’s history so I won’t go on about it. Suffice to say though, Knighton’s takeover bid never succeeded despite him running out onto the Old Trafford pitch towards the Stretford End early in the season. United began that season quite well with the 4 – 1 walloping of recently crowned champions Arsenal. United wouldn’t win again in the league for another four games which was the 5 – 1 thrashing of south east London club Millwall. It’s true that United would see a number of disappointing results in the league that season, they would finish mid table, but there was something happening at Old Trafford back then. Alex Ferguson had only been at Old Trafford for about four years, his mandate was to restore United to the top of league and bring back silverware to United on a regular basis. That meant a major rebuilding of the club from top to bottom, a huge task that would take time but as the new decade beckoned things were beginning to fall into place. New faces would come into the club and players would leave, some departures had the United faithful doubting if Fergie knew what he was doing. Anyway, those seeds that Fergie planted upon his arrival at the club late in 1986 would begin to bear fruit. Fair to say the United fans had to go through a long period of patience but that patience was about to pay off big time. So as mentioned, the league that season was nothing to write home about and United’s interest in the League Cup ended in October after a third round 3 – 0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. It was to be in the FA Cup of the 1989 – 1990 season that Manchester United under Alex Ferguson would begin a golden period for the club previously unseen in English football.
It all began in the third round of the Cup that January, away at the City Ground home of Nottingham Forest. It’s a game that has often had pundits and fans alike wrongly state that that was the game that saved Fergie’s tenure at United. The truth is his job was never in doubt, the powers that be at United could see what Fergie was doing behind the scenes at Old Trafford, they had no intention of sacking Ferguson no matter what happened at Forest, or anywhere else for that matter. Before a tiny crowd of just over 23,000 United won the game 1 – 0 thanks to a Mark Robins goal. In the fourth round another 1 – 0 away win saw United past Hereford United. The fifth round saw United travel up to the north east for a meeting with Newcastle United, the Red Devils drove back to Manchester with a 3 – 2 victory, United’s cup run had well and truly started. Next up was another away tie in west Yorkshire at Sheffield United, a single goal by Brian McClair was all that was needed to see United through to the semi finals. United then experienced a couple of games with close neighbours Oldham Athletic, two semifinal games that would go down in the history of the FA Cup for their excitement and great football by both teams. The first semifinal took place at Manchester City’s former home Maine Road, and it went to extra time, a thrilling and edge of the seat match for all concerned. It was Oldham who took the lead early in the game in the fifth minute thanks to an Earl Barrett goal. United equalised on the half hour mark thanks to a Bryan Robson goal, Robbo being Robbo was something United would need. In the final quarter of the game Neil Webb made it 2 – 1 to United however Oldham weren’t finished, only a couple of minutes later Ian Marshall gained parity for Oldham with a well struck effort. Into extra time and it was United who drew first blood thanks to a Danny Wallace goal, not surprisingly Oldham drew level after Roger Palmer found the United net. The two teams met again for the replay again at Maine Road a few days later in another edge of the seat encounter. Thankfully for the Red Devils two goals scored by Brian McClair and Mark Robins was enough to see United through to the final. Andy Ritchie’s goal for Oldham late in the game scant consolation for a team that had given so much to that seasons FA Cup.
In the final United met south London club Crystal Palace who were then managed by former United Great Steve Coppell. Palace had just beaten Liverpool in their semifinal so they were quite confident of upsetting the apple cart once again. Thinking back to this final it had a 1976 FA Cup final feel to it, the minutes leading up to the ref blowing for the beginning of the first half were filled with trepidation for this United fan, United were favourites but I couldn’t help thinking back to 1976 and what happened then. Well, this final would again see United needing a replay, Palace played very well on that Saturday, lifting their game like they had to do to beat Liverpool in the semifinal. It was a final that would see the emergence of Ian Wright in the English game, an energetic and very able player indeed. The match finished 3 – 3 after extra time. It was that confidence that saw Palace take the lead through a Gary O’ Reilly goal in the eighteenth minute, United needing once again Captain Marvel Bryan Robson to equalise which he did about seventeen minutes later. After that it was the Mark Hughes and Ian Wright Show, both players scoring a couple each. That’s how it ended 3 – 3, the replay would take place a few days later. The replay was a much more calmer experience for United fans, United controlled the game from the off, the Old Trafford side determined to make sure they got their hands on the trophy this time after that edge of the seat first game a few days previous. Lee Martin wrote himself into the United history books on the hour with a well struck shot which found the roof of the Palace net, it was a much deserved goal by United, they were bossing the game throughout. That Lee Martin goal was all United needed to lift the Cup, Bryan Robson lifting the Cup for the third time for United. As I mentioned earlier United were about to flower into the best team the English game had ever seen, that Cup Final win of 1990 the starting pistol of a glorious time under Alex Ferguson.
... only for Hughes to equalise with minutes to spare.