Date: Sunday, 1st October 1995
Manchester United: 2 ( Butt, Cantona )
Liverpool: 2 ( Fowler, 2 )
Eric Cantona placed the ball onto the spot, looked David James in the eyes before his run up, then proceeded to send the England keeper in the opposite direction. Cantona was back! His eight-month exile from the game was up. In the January of 1995, Eric Cantona famously attacked a Crystal Palace fan as he was sent from the field of play. On this day, October 1st 1995, the Frenchman began repaying his debt to United.
A Liverpool game at Old Trafford, or Anfield for that matter, is normally classed as one of the biggest games of the domestic season. So it was some coincidence when the fixture computer threw up this match on the day of which ‘King Eric’, would return.
Old Trafford was in the middle of its transformation and with only the bottom tier of the soon to be Sir Alex Ferguson stand, open to the public, a crowd of just under 35,000 were there to see the second coming of a certain Frenchman. Liverpool on the other hand, were in no mood to be just the bridesmaid.
The game couldn’t have started any better, if you’re a Red Devil of course. Andy Cole swept a ball out to the left flank to Cantona who took the ball into the channel and unmarked, drifted a left-footed cross into the Liverpool penalty area. Nicky Butt’s run into the box was timed to perfection. The young midfielder managing to prod the ball home after gently cushioning the ball into his stride. Just over a minute on the clock and United were leading. A magnifique start for the return of Cantona, and of course, United.
Liverpool were not here to sit and look pretty, despite them wearing one of the worst away kits of all time, probably. Jamie Redknapp in acres of space, sprayed the ball out to Robbie Fowler, lurking just outside the left-hand corner of United’s penalty area. The Liverpool forward took one touch and drove an irresistible strike past Peter Schmeichel, into the Dane’s near post. Schmeichel, clearly expecting Fowler to go across his goal, just waved it by.
With both sides cancelling each other out, the game rolled into halftime. Sir Alex had said pre-match that he didn’t know how long Eric would have in his legs, after such a lengthy lay off. David Beckham was brought on to replace goalscorer Nicky Butt, suffering from a slight knock.
The visitors kicked on after the restart. Michael Thomas playing a lovely ball down the left-hand channel into the run of Robbie Fowler, this time though marshalled by young full-back, Gary Neville, Fowler showing his experience, shoulder barged Neville off the ball before darting into the penalty area and dinking the ball over the onrushing United keeper. Again Schmeichel helpless as it sailed past him into his empty net. The Stretford End in disbelief. A day in which was supposed to be a celebration of Cantona’s return, had soured into watching a small percentage of away fans, singing Your Never Walk Alone, in the corner.
But fear not! As all superheroes tend to come and save the day. Cantona was most def a United superhero. David Beckham, not known for his tough tackling, clattered into Thomas, sending the ball into the path of Cantona. The Frenchman, taking the ball in his stride, elegantly glided towards the Liverpool penalty area before releasing a through ball into the path of the onrushing Ryan Giggs. Giggs had broken his neck getting into the area, only to have been judged to be fouled by Jamie Redknapp. The contact looked minimal but Giggs went tumbling and David Ellery pointed to the penalty spot.
Cantona was United’s penalty taker and had never missed one before in his career. Cantona, placing the ball on the spot, was being wound up by Liverpool defender Neil Ruddock. Eric was not to be toyed with. He gazed towards David James before starting his run up and side-footing the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. David James had dived the wrong way and was soon to be picking the ball out of his net.
Old Trafford was sent into raptures. The enigmatic Frenchman had rescued United and started his one-man assault on the Premier League title. United would go on to lift the title this season. After the Christmas period, United would win seven games by the scoreline of 1-0, all seven wins coming from Eric Cantona goals.
Long live the king!
Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Lee Sharpe, Nicky Butt, Roy Keane, Andrew Cole, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs
David James, Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, John Scales, Michael Thomas, Steve Harkness, Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, Neil Ruddock