I might have called last week’s episode the penultimate edition, but I was wrong. This one is. It looks like Matt Wills is going to take the class of 94 to yet more success, but can he get the job done? You can catch up with the previous episode here
Welcome back to the fifth and final part of Return of the King – Season 2. To give you a brief recap, Eric made a swift u-turn on retirement in the summer of 97 and we reunited the squad of 93/94 to try and win the domestic treble, something they cam so close to in 1994. We also came a whisker away from reaching the Champions League final, only to be denied on penalties by Parma. A few old timers retired and we carried on into this season, with Eric determined to win the Champions league, but our form has been better than our injury list and we’re somehow on course for an unprecedented quadruple, if only the aging legs can last a bit longer…
I left you with a cliffhanger at the end of Part 4, 2-1 up against Ajax in the 2nd leg of the Champions League Semi-final, Cantona leading by example with 2 goals to cancel out Ronald De Boer’s opener to level the tie on aggregate at half time. Let’s pick up the action in the second half…
The teams kick-off the second half unchanged, but it’s a cagey affair. We know another Ajax goal will make it a mountain for us to climb, Ajax sliding the ball around slickly while I pray for no mistakes and no more injuries. Guillermo Amor tussles with Eric on the half way line and Eric shoves the Spaniard who rolls around theatrically. Eric sees a yellow and is led away by McClair. Luckily, and surprisingly, it’s his first in Europe this season, so he won’t miss the final – if we get there.
With 10 minutes to go, Amor is at it again and sucks in Keane who retaliates with a kick to the shin, another yellow. His time it is a second yellow in the competition and Keane will miss the final if we get there – 99 was not his year.
Extra time looms and I start getting nervous. I have two of my main men on yellows and an away goal will finish us. In extra time we pepper the Ajax goal, but Fred Grim, in for the injured Van der Sar is equal to it. I decide against making a change, I don’t want to disrupt anything. Ajax make a change on 115 minutes, Kees Van Wonderen is replaced by Arno Splinter, they’re playing for pens.
And on to the shoot out. I subbed Cantona off in the semi-final last year as he was recovering from injury and we went out on pens, this season, he takes the first and buries it. Arveladze equalises for Ajax and then Beckham puts us ahead. Sunday Oliseh squares things up before Kanchelskis shoots hard and low past Grim’s dive. Ronald De Boer, scorer of the away goal steps up and Schmeichel guesses right and palms it away. Advantage Utd as Giggs steps up. But he balloons it, allowing Richard Witschge to level matters again. Solid, dependable, mystery thriller author Bruce steps up and drills a fine penalty into the top corner – postage stamp accuracy from Mrs Doubtfire’s stunt double. Up steps Mariano Juan – he has to score to keep the tie alive, his shot flies towards the left hand post, Schmeichel dives the same way and gets a fingertip to it and pushes it onto the post, the ball flies across the goal-line and strikes Peter’s trailing heel and the ball bounces safely towards Juan who slumps to his knees.
The players run around crazily, Old Trafford explodes into a cacophony of sound and Eric raises his arms and slowly twists round like a conductor direction his orchesta, amazing scenes. Giggs looks relieved, Keane is solemn.
We’ll play Paris St Germain in the final.
Three days later, league action resumes. We’re 4 pts ahead of Spurs in second, with 2 games in hand, but my team are shattered. Only Schmeichel and Sharpe stay in the first 11 and Armstrong scores twice for Leicester before Scholes pulls one back for Utd, but it’s too little to prevent our 7th league defeat of the season and Spurs win to close the gap to 1 pt. We have 2 games in hand still, but the fixture list is pretty congested for us after the international break with all these cup exploits.
On the international break, Eric scores for France in a 5-0 win over Malta while England play out a turgid nil-nil draw in a friendly with Saudi Arabia, but thankfully, no more injuries.
Midweek league action and we’re playing game catch up. We’re away to Wimbledon whilst Spurs take on 19th placed Chelsea. Robson’s Middlesbrough looking well placed after promotion
We squeeze through 2-1. Ekoku cancelled out Kanchelskis, but when Alan Reeves handled in the box, there’s only one man who’s not going to wilt under pressure. We needed that too as Spurs beat Chelsea 3-0!
The 1st of May comes and it’s the first of 3 games in 4 days as we catch up our two games in hand. The squad will need some serious rotation if we’re going to claim this title and keep injury free for the FA Cup and Champions League final.
First up is Huddersfield Town away who have the Zenga-boy in goal but are languishing in 18th place, a point from safety. My jibs about Zenga are unjust, he thwarts all we have to throw at him (we have 14 corners!), until the 75th minute when I bring Sharpe on for Thornley on the left wing and his mazy run sees him jink past the aging Italian and slot for the games winner. What’s this about leaving it late all of a sudden in 1999?
Spurs beat Barnsley by the same scoreline, so we stay a point ahead but a win in our next game will seal it for us as spurs have one game left. Leeds have faded badly…
It’s almost a full fixture schedule on Bank Holiday Monday and the relegation battle looks set to be confirmed.
We’re up against mid-table Barnsley. I play Blackmore upfront with Scholes as I change the line-up yet again, but it’s two Keith Gillespie goals which seal the title for us. At the bottom, Man City, Huddersfield and Chelsea are all down with one game left.
Bryan Robson returns to Old Trafford with his Middlesbrough team and Keane sets up the party celebration before Schmeichel chops down substitute Campbell in the area who scores from the penalty spot. It’s a sea of red, white and black as the Premier League Trophy is presented to Steve Bruce, touchingly by opposition manager and Utd stalwart Bryan Robson, you couldn’t write this stuff…
We finish off the league campaign with a 5-0 drubbing when we play relegated Chelsea. Unfortunately, it is us on the receiving end after I play all the non-regulars to save my best players for the cup finals. Not the way I’d intended to finish the league season.
This is a shock, he guided them to safety after promotion last season, what’s he meant to do? Lose two cup finals and get relegated to keep his job? John Toshack gets the job, quitting relegated Chelsea.
In Italy, Juventus have done the double, while AC Milan beat Real Madird on penalties to lift the Cup Winners Cup. Athletic Bilbao beat Borussia MGB 3-0 in the Eufa Cup Final.
The eve of the FA Cup Final approaches and we’re off to Wembley to face QPR who just missed out on the Division 1 play offs, still they’ll be in Europe next season as a consolation I guess.
I start to plan my final line up carefully, with one eye on the Champions League final four days later. Keane is he first name down as he’s suspended for the game against Paris SG. There’s a knock at my door. It’s Eric.
‘Big game tomorrow Eric.’
‘Oui, it is. But I don’t want to play….’
See you next week for the cup finals. Can we do the treble again? Can we go one better and win the Champions League? What’s up with Eric? See you then.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills