Back where it all began: Hughes sparks United, Cantona blunts Blades, Canaries bounce back

    To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League @Sid_Lambert goes back to where it all began, taking us through the ups and downs of the 92-93 season.

    Hughes sparks United

    Manchester United 2 – 2 Liverpool, 18 October 1992

    Some heroes wear capes. Some are softly-spoken Welshmen with a mop of curly hair.

    Mark “Sparky” Hughes came to Manchester United’s rescue once again in a thrilling Super Sunday encounter with arch-rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

    The game was played out in a slightly eerie atmosphere in front of the Sky cameras. With the Stretford End under reconstruction, one end of the ground was a building site and the ball had to be retrieved by a lone observer in a hi-vis jacket.

    Before the game, most observers had expected United to bulldoze Liverpool with ease. Graeme Souness’ side had endured an appalling season to date and the tide was turning against him in Merseyside.

    Ravaged by injuries and poor signings, Liverpool were out of form, out of players, and Souness was running out of time.

    Liverpool’s back line had more changes of identity than Mr Ben and, with Mark Wright and Nick Tanner struggling, Torben Piechnik was offered a starting berth alongside Steve Nicol. In midfield there was another start for Jan Molby, who was at the stage of his career where he looked like he was permanently six months pregnant. And up front Ronny Rosenthal, still reeling from the open goal miss against Aston Villa, partnered Ian Rush.

    Despite the deficiencies in their squad, it was the visitors who took a deserved lead. Don Hutchison cut in from the right wing and let fly. The ball took a wicked deflection off Steve Bruce, leaving Peter Schmeichel sprawling.

    The second goal had no element of fortune about it. Rosenthal twisted and turned in the penalty area leaving his marker for dead, offering the simplest of tap-ins for Ian Rush. It was a record-breaking moment for the Welshman, his 287th goal in Liverpool colours (overtaking Roger Hunt’s record), and also his first in the Premier League.

    Liverpool were flying. Young Steve McMananam, who looked like he’d lose a fight with a bus ticket, and Hutchison ran at United with purpose, while Rosenthal made a continual nuisance of himself in attack.

    United were shell-shocked and Alex Ferguson made a curious second-half substitution to spur his team back into the game. Back then the United manager wasn’t blessed with the sort of squad depth that characterised his teams later in the decade. There were no Sheringham’s or Solskjaer’s to call upon at this point. Instead Ferguson had to deal with more meagre attacking resources.

    So off went the rapid feet of Andrei Kanchelskis and on came the rather more pedestrian, but magnificently perma-tanned, Clayton Blackmore. The latter brought some calm to the midfield and duly crafted United’s response. A clever chip found countryman Mark Hughes in the channel between centre-halves and full-back. Having spied Bruce Grobbelaar daydreaming off his line, Hughes produced an outrageous lob-volley that bounced over the Zimbabwean into the net.

    With ten minutes to go, another Ferguson intervention changed the game. Only this time it was the manager’s son who took the credit. Darren, who’d endured an otherwise ordinary afternoon in midfield, clattered Molby and the Liverpool playmaker was stretched off after a long delay.

    The injury time proved crucial. With seconds to go, Giggs raced down the left and his cross found the diving head of Hughes to score a dramatic equaliser. Three-quarters of Old Trafford erupted and even the construction worker struggled to contain his excitement.

    Hughes, the archetypal scorer of great goals but not a great goalscorer, was nonchalant about his contribution afterwards. However, Ferguson knew that he couldn’t keep relying on him to save the day. His side’s lack of goals had cost them the title the previous season. Bids for David Hirst and Alan Shearer had failed, whilst new signing Dion Dublin was facing a long injury lay-off.

    If Ferguson didn’t find a striker soon, the title was surely out of reach.

    Cantona blunts Blades

    Leeds United 3 - 1 Sheffield United, 17 October 1992

    Leeds’ Jekyll and Hyde season continued as they blunted Dave Bassett’s Blades in a full-blooded Yorkshire derby.

    The reigning champions were loitering around the lower reaches of the league, their impressive home form matched only by their ineptitude on their travels. Having been hammered at Ipswich before the international break, they bounced back with a typically powerful performance at Elland Road.

    The star of the show was Eric Cantona.

    The criticism of Leeds was that they were becoming one-dimensional in both attack and defence. Last season their direct football had made Lee Chapman their main source of goals. But the experienced target man was a year older and slower. And Blackburn’s new superstar Alan Shearer was showing the world that it was possible to be big and strong, and still move above a snail’s pace.

    Cantona, the walking antithesis of Howard Wilkinson’s percentage football, gave them something different. His delightful chip – with his weaker foot – was nodded in by Chapman and the Frenchman’s physical presence gave Gary Speed, whose haircut made him look like the sixth member of Take That, the space he needed to put Leeds into a 2-1 lead. Chris Whyte sealed the win which left Wilkinson with plenty to ponder ahead of his next away trip.

    The ease of United’s equaliser served as a reminder that Leeds needed defensive reinforcements, particularly at full-back. If he could bring in some quality there then maybe Leeds could build towards a top-three finish.

    After all, they had Eric Cantona. Anything was possible.

    Canaries clip Rangers

    Norwich City 2 - 1 QPR, 17 October 1992

    Mike Walker wasn’t reading the script. Norwich had their fun. Their little flirtation with the top spot. But the 7-1 hammering at Ewood Park was meant to bring them down to Earth, and perhaps to mid-table where they belong.

    Only it didn’t.

    The Canaries bounced back from the bollock-crushing at Blackburn and beat Queens Park Rangers in a cracker at Carrow Road. It featured a virtuoso display from young Chris Sutton, who started the season at centre-back and was now flourishing as a centre-forward.

    QPR, another of the season’s surprise packages, started brightly. Gary Penrice, fresh from two goals against Tottenham, missed an early chance to put them in front. Meanwhile Sutton, all arms and elbows, was enjoying the physical contest with Darren Peacock.

    Peacock, sporting a long flowing mane that was typically found in the WWF, took the wrestling a little too far. The Rangers defender dragged Sutton to the ground and Mark Bowen converted the spot-kick.

    QPR nearly equalised in bizarre fashion when Ian Culverhouse cannoned a clearance with such ferocity that it hit his own bar twice before bouncing off the line to safety.

    The second goal was classic centre forward play. Daryl Sutch, filling in for Ruel Fox on the right flank, curled a delightful cross towards Sutton who buried the header past Jan Stejskal. A late reply from Bradley Allen gave the visitors hope, but Norwich retained their unbeaten home record.

    About the author: Sid Lambert is a football writer who has recently released his highly-acclaimed book Cashing In. It tells the story of Ray Cash, a 19-year-old footballer making his way through the murky world of the Premier League back in 1992, when football changed forever. You can buy it here.