FootballPremier League

Man Utd Classics: The Steve Bruce brace that propelled the Red Devils to Premier League glory

April 10, 2020

THERE was no board held up by the benches to say how long time added on would last, not then. Referee Michael Peck had injured a calf muscle which held up play between Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday on April 10, 1993. The game would go beyond the 90 minutes, but for how long?

Peck’s linesman John Hilditch replaced him and awarded Sheffield Wednesday a penalty four minutes later. John Sheridan, raised in a house a mile behind the Stretford End, scored it in the 65th minute after Chris Waddle had been brought down by Paul Ince. “A blatant offence,” recalled Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Bryan Robson came off the bench.

“My experience possibly helped us get a grasp of things,” said Robson. It did, his energy and determination did make a difference, but Wednesday were holding on under the bombardment of their goal at the Stretford End.  

Not again. The league had been thrown away the previous season when a late collapse started at Easter with a home defeat to Nottingham Forest. United’s failure to win four games saw them nervy and jittery as they finally choked at Anfield of all places amid cries of ‘Have you ever seen United win the league?’ Leeds United took advantage to become the last ever winners of Division One.   

Manchester United fans were stunned and depressed. They’d been confident. One idiot even put ‘Champions at Last’ on the cover of a fanzine he edited.

In 1992-93 the league may have been rechristened the Premier League, but it was all too close to deja vu. United beat Liverpool at Anfield on March 6, 1993 to stay in a three-way title race with Aston Villa and Norwich City, but then United lost at Oldham Athletic, drew at home to Villa, drew at Manchester City, drew against Arsenal before beating Norwich away in a vital game. They needed that but it wasn’t title winning form as United readied to play Wednesday.

Villa were top, United second a point behind with Norwich a point behind United in third. Liverpool, champions only three years earlier, were 13th. Sheffield Wednesday were tricky opponents. “Our record against them is bloody awful,” said Ferguson of an “experienced” foe. Big Ron’s side defeated United in the 1991 League Cup final by a single Sheridan goal. “A serious disappointment…he was a Manchester lad and United fan,” rued Ferguson after that one.

In 1992-93, United had coveted their star striker David Hirst but ended up signing a Frenchman called Eric instead. Wednesday led 3-0 at Hillsborough on Boxing Day before that same Eric set up two for Brian McClair before scoring the equaliser himself in front of a massive away following. Lee Sharpe was brilliant that day, but Cantona grabbed the headlines.

But that great comeback would have been for nothing if United couldn’t beat Wednesday, seventh in the table, at home. “Leagues can be won and lost in Easter week,” said Ferguson. “It is a minefield in which many a team’s ambitions have been blown away.”

There could be no choking. It was the first day that a large section of the Stretford End was open after being redeveloped throughout that season, but with five minutes to play a United side consisting of Schmeichel, Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Sharpe, Pallister, Cantona, Ince, McClair, Hughes and Giggs, with Robson on as sub, were still losing.

“I began to think that this was a game we were not going to win,” said Ferguson, whose “lobbying” of the linesman who was now the referee by tapping his watch had been noted. “I am sure it had a bearing on the amount of time added on,” he said. “But all our players had chances and it seemed like we wouldn’t score if we played until midnight.”

With three minutes left, Denis Irwin crossed from a corner and Steve Bruce put his head in front of a defender. At the same time. Robson charged into Phil King who was marking the post.

"Nothing frightened Brucie," said fellow defender Paul Parker. "Nothing was impossible. He had more determination than anyone. He won more headers at 6ft than the average centre back at 6ft 4in, and it wasn't always easy – you could tell the cost by looking at his nose." 

1-1 and there was better news to come as Ferguson learned that leaders Villa had drawn at Coventry. A draw wouldn’t be a bad result. Ferguson tried to convey that to Robson, to bring calm on the pitch. Robson couldn’t hear anything. Besides, Old Trafford was having none of that as it roared the players forward with primal screams.
 

Ferguson stood on the touchline directing operations and calculated four minutes to play. Trevor Francis, his opposite, signalled continuously to the referee that time was up. United attacked. Gary Pallister, yes, Gary Pallister, hit a cross into the penalty box and his foil, Bruce, was in the path as it deflected off Nigel Worthington. Bruce headed past Chris Woods into the corner of the net.

Bedlam.

Assistant manager Brian Kidd ran from the dug out and knelt on the pitch, pounding the earth with his fist and thanking a god he usually conversed with at Sunday morning mass in North Manchester. Kidd looked like a madman, lost in a deafening noise, a cathartic release. Then he danced with Ferguson, whose blazer flapped in the wind. Kidd can’t dance. Not that any of this mattered.

“He never lived that dance down,” recalled Robson. “But it showed what the three points and a title would mean to the club. It was a massive win for me because it demonstrated that, even coming on for the last quarter, I could still make a real contribution to the team effort.”

Francis complained to Ferguson that United had won in the second leg, but in a jokey manner.

Victory saw United, who’d lost the first two games of the season, go top with five games left. It also enabled the team to relax, confident in their own ability. While rival fans complained about the seven minutes of injury time (Ferguson calculated that night that it should have been twelve minutes, not seven), United went on a seven-game winning run which took them to the end of the season.

It brought a first title in 26 years at home to Blackburn, but those two late, great Easter goals against Sheffield Wednesday were the key.