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How a frenetic 3-goal swing saw Liverpool stun arch-rivals Man United

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There was plenty to lament about Liverpool in the mid-1990s, but one classic match involved a dramatic comeback after being 3-0 behind to Man United inside 23 minutes.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Reds were the team to beat in English football, enjoying a dominance that saw 11 league titles in 20 seasons, plus four European Cups in seven years.

In the nineties, however, Liverpool were on the slide, and more painfully, United had emerged as the force the Reds once were.

Alex Ferguson’s men ended a 26-year drought for a league title in 1992/93, in what was the inaugural Premier League season, and their stranglehold on the domestic game was only just beginning.

In January 1994 United strutted into Anfield looking to make a statement against their most bitter rivals – what happened next would prove to be a classic encounter and left Ferguson bemoaning: “That’s the first time I’ve ever lost a three-goal lead.”

 

The match

Graeme Souness, Liverpool manager, 1991 (Picture by Ross Kinnaird EMPICS Sport)

In truth, there was little doubt over who the champions were going to be in the 1993/94 season, with Ferguson’s men 10 points clear by the time they headed to Merseyside.

On the flip side, Graeme Souness’ Liverpool were languishing closer to mid-table – eighth, to be precise – as their post-glory struggles continued.

The Reds’ starting lineup may have featured the likes of John Barnes, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush, but Julian Dicks and Neil Ruddock were inadequate picks in defence and they were a mediocre outfit overall.

All that to say, United were clearly the favourites on that cold January evening, and for a while, it looked as though humiliation was on the cards for the Reds.

In a blistering first quarter, the visitors were too strong for their limited opponents, despite their missed opportunities, as those inside Anfield witnessed a nightmare coming true before their eyes.

LFC XI: Grobbelaar; Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Dicks, Clough, Barnes, Redknapp, McManaman, Rush, Fowler

It took United just eight minutes to open the scoring when Eric Cantona’s raking pass was clinically headed home by Steve Bruce.

Bruce has been the scourge of Liverpool as a manager too many times to remember – his Newcastle side drew twice against them last season – but he was a pest during his playing days, too.

A young Ryan Giggs then doubled United’s advantage with a clipped effort past Bruce Grobbelaar, before Denis Irwin’s inch-perfect free-kick found the top corner to see the Anfield scoreboard read a stark 0-3.

Fortunately, Liverpool managed to stem the flow almost immediately.

Nigel Clough, ultimately a disappointing signing, fired home from distance to give Souness’ side hope just two minutes after Irwin’s goal, but it still felt like a consolation.

It was then 3-2 before half-time as the game flipped on its head, as Clough, enjoying his most productive game in a Reds shirt, again beat Peter Schmeichel in ruthless fashion to breathe new life into Anfield.

Given some of the drab 0-0 draws that have taken place between Liverpool and United in recent times, it seems scarcely believable that one of their past meetings was 3-2 at half-time!

An intriguing second half ebbed and flowed, but it looked as though United had ridden the storm and earned another three points in champion-like fashion.

The much-maligned Ruddock had other ideas, though, bulleting home a 79th-minute header from Stig Inge Bjornebye’s cross and sending the home fans wild, with it now United’s turn to sit in silence.

“That was an outstanding advert for football,” said Souness post-match. “Though I can’t say I enjoyed our naive defending in the first 20 minutes.

“Yet once Nigel scored the first goal, I felt there was something in it for us because
the history of this club shows that we are capable of coming back from anything.”

It isn’t a season that Liverpool should ever look back on with any great fondness, but this spirited draw was a notable high point, causing frustration for Ferguson in the process – that was never a bad thing!

 

What happened next?

Roy Evans (Malcolm Croft/PA)

Well, United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel claimed he was temporarily sacked the next day!

“It was my fault, that is what Fergie said,” he explained. “Because all my goal-kicks had gone straight to Razor Ruddock. It was ridiculous and I reacted, giving him a lot of abuse.

“The following day he called me into his office and sacked me. I didn’t want to stay anyway. So I said ‘Fine’.”

If only he had actually have left Old Trafford…

Meanwhile, Souness’ time as manager was in complete contrast with his legendary spell as a player, with the Scot a huge disappointment in charge of Liverpool.

In fact, it was only a few weeks after the United game that he resigned from his post, following an underwhelming spell that may have brought an FA Cup win, but also far too many negatives.

Roy Evans arrived in Souness’ place and began to stabilise matters on and off the pitch, even if he was unable to guide the Reds higher than eighth place in 1993/94.

He would build a brilliantly entertaining side in the coming years, playing a rich brand of attacking football and winning a League Cup in 1995 with a season-best finish of third.

McManaman and Fowler were the focal points of that team, dovetailing to great effect, and it could be argued that only the relentlessness of United prevented league glory from coming Liverpool‘s way.

That 3-3 draw will forever live long in the memory and it remains the highest-scoring Premier League game between English football’s two most successful sides – joint with the Reds’ 4-2 win at Old Trafford in May.

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