April 10th 1993 might not be a date that many people remember but 27 years ago today, history was changed for ever at Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson had joined United on the 6th November 1986 but had never won League Division One, having finished 11th, 2nd, 12th, 13th, 6th and 2nd, respectively.
The previous season, 1991/92, had been the toughest to take. United, with a young Ryan Giggs and new signings Peter Schmeichel and Andrey Kanchelskis in the side, led the league for much of the season and it had looked as if the 25-year wait for a league title was about to end.
On the 18th April, United had 75 points with four games left to play and were two points ahead of second placed Leeds United – including Eric Cantona – with a game in hand. But United started to get nervous. They lost their next game away to Nottingham Forest while Leeds beat Coventry 2-0 at home, putting them one point ahead.
But the Red Devils’ fate was still in their own hands as they travelled to bottom-of-the-table West Ham to play their game in hand. It was a dreadful performance and United lost 1-0. They lost again to Liverpool the following weekend and Leeds beat Sheffield United 3-2, clinching the title.
It was a similar story up until that day in 1992/93. United had been leading the first Premier League for most of the time since Christmas but were faltering, having won only one in five, and Aston Villa had taken over at the top. It was looking as if nerves were going to get to Ferguson’s United again.
Villa played at 2pm that day and the nerves also started to get to them. They registered a dull 0-0 home draw with Coventry City. United went onto the Old Trafford pitch at 4pm knowing that a win would put them back on top but that a loss would pile the pressure on them.
When Paul Ince gave away a soft penalty in the 65th minute the atmosphere inside Old Trafford was one of anxiety, frustration and fear. The talismanic Cantona, who had moved across from Leeds in November, had not provided a breakthrough for United, Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe looked nervous on the wings and Mark Hughes and Brian McClair were not getting any chances as Wednesday parked the bus.
The last four minutes of that game left on the clock plus the six minutes of injury time were arguably the most important ten minutes of Manchester United’s modern day history. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say, and that man was United’s captain Steve Bruce. A centre back.
Bruce scored two powering headers in those ten minutes and as the second went in, something changed at Old Trafford. Everybody who was there knew it. Sir Alex and his assistant Brian Kidd were dancing on the pitch. The fans were dancing in the aisles of the stands. The tension had been broken. The 26-year curse had been broken. The league wasn’t won yet, for sure, but somehow, everybody knew that what Bruce had done had transformed United.
And so it proved. United won every one of their remaining games that season and the pressure told on Villa, whose capitulation against Oldham Athletic on Sunday May 3rd gave United the title with two games to spare. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Cantona has gone down in history, of course, as the man who turned Manchester United from a team of nearly-rans into a team of champions. But it was Steve Bruce, on the 10th April 1993, who changed the course of history.
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