On Saturday 3rd December, Manchester United’s 1st team will play at Villa Park for the 38th time under Sir Alex Ferguson – more than anywhere else, including Wembley during this time (apart from Old Trafford of course!). United’s record there, especially since 1993 has been very impressive too.
Aston Villa away – First Division (1986-1992) and FA Premier League (1992-)
United’s 1st visit to Villa Park under Ferguson in December 1986 set the tone for future visits, ending in an entertaining 3-3 draw. In that game, Ferguson gave a debut to a young goalkeeper who came through the ranks at the club- Gary Walsh. Many more young players would get their opportunities in matches like that, most notably in the August 1995 match there. Villa were relegated at the end of the 1986-87, so 1987-88 would be the only season that Ferguson’s United would not play at Villa Park. Villa returned to the top flight and have remained there ever since. The 1988-89 match was a 0-0 draw, whilst in 1989-90 a struggling United lost 3-0 in December. In 1990-91 United drew 1-1 there, before getting their first league win there in 1991-92 in the final season of the old English First Division.
Season 1992-93 marked the start of the FA Premier League and United and Aston Villa were the 2 main title rivals that season. In November 1992, United lost 1-0 there to title rivals Villa, led by their best player on the day, former United player Paul McGrath. This defeat must have got Ferguson thinking about changes, as Eric Cantona was signed soon afterwards.
The 2-1 win by United at Villa Park early in the 1993-94 was a great win and team performance that night, with both goals being scored by an in form Lee Sharpe. United won by the same scoreline the next season.
The 3-1 defeat there in August 1995 on the opening day of the Premier League season is one of the best remembered matches. That summer, 3 big name players – Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis were sold, with Ferguson giving chances to the highly rated young players who were coming through the youth system. Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham all featured in this match, with Beckham getting a late consolation goal for United. It was a disappointing result for United and that night on BBC’s Match of the Day, Alan Hansen tore Ferguson and his young players apart saying ‘You’ll win nothing with kids’. At the time there were some people who probably agreed with Hansen, but by the end of the season Hansen’s comments would come back to haunt Hansen and he is still reminded of that to this day.
Since that defeat there in August 1995, United have not lost a league match at Villa Park. In 1996-97, it was a 0-0 draw, followed in 1997-98 with an impressive 2-0 win in a night match there. In the treble season we drew 1-1 there, followed by victories in the next 2 seasons – both 1-0.
The 1-1 draw there in August 2001 is better remembered for the news breaking while we were at the match that Jaap Stam had been sold to Lazio. There was a lot of debate amongst the ranks of United fans as to whether or not this was either another Fergie masterstroke, or a questionable decision by the usually spot on manager. Despite generally trusting Fergie’s decisions, we weren’t entirely sure that his sudden departure was a positive move. Of course, he was a huge cult hero amongst United fans which added to the disappointment over him leaving. Years later, Sir Alex actually admitted that it had been a mistake to sell Stam so soon.
From 2002-03 to 2007-08 United had a purple patch of form against Villa, chalking up 6 successive league victories at Villa Park, with the 3-0 win in 2006-07 and 4-1 win in 2007-08 standing out as the most impressive ones.
Since 2008, we have drawn all 3 matches – 0-0 in 2008-09, 1-1 in 2009-10 and 2-2 in 2010-11. The last one in 2010-11 was an impressive comeback from 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go, with goals by Kiko Macheda and Nemanja Vidic. Does this mean that a 3-3 draw is on the cards this time around?!!
United’s current league record at Villa Park under Ferguson stands as played 24, won 12, drawn 9, lost 3.
Aston Villa away – FA Cup
Between 2002 and 2008 United were drawn away at Villa Park 3 times in the FA Cup 3rd round draw. These all proved to be great matches for United.
The January 2002 match is, without doubt, one of United’s best FA Cup matches under Ferguson and one which will live long in the memory of anyone who was fortunate to be there that night. With it being an early evening match and having a larger allocation than usual being cup game, the atmosphere was buzzing straight from the off. Despite the match not being the most captivating in the first half, United fans were creating a party atmosphere in the ground, the kind that only an FA Cup game could create. On the pitch, the game exploded into life in the second half when United found themselves 2-0 down within a few minutes of the restart, thanks to an Ian Taylor shot and Phil Neville own goal. As the minutes ticked by, the likelihood of another famous United comeback was looking more and more remote. Solskjaer managed to pull a goal back in the 77th minute to give us all a glimmer of hope but in an amazing turnaround, van Nistelrooy (who came on as a substitute), scored a brace to make the score 3-2 in an unbelievable 5 minute spell. The United end went mental after the equaliser and a few fans came onto the pitch but as Ruud hit the winner, dozens and dozens of fans who were carried away with the emotion of the incredible comeback, flooded onto the pitch. It took a good while for order to be restored but it was a truly memorable occasion. At full time, stewards were powerless to stop yet another mini pitch invasion by a fair chunk of travelling reds, where they carried the United players to the tunnel on their shoulders.
The subsequent FA Cup matches in 2004 and 2008 (which ended in a 2-1 victory and 2-0 victory respectively) never quite lived up to the breathtaking victory in 2002 but it did mean 3 wins out of 3 for Ferguson and United in the FA Cup against Aston Villa.
Aston Villa away – League Cup
United have played twice against Villa in the League Cup at Villa Park under Ferguson. In 1992-93, it was a full strength side that lost 1-0 there to an in form Villa who were United’s main title challengers. In 1999-2000 it was a very weakened United side that lost 3-0 there, as other competitions, including trips to Japan and Brazil for the Intercontinental Cup and World Club Championship respectively, took priority over this. The 1999 game is best remembered for a young Luke Chadwick being booed by Villa fans who mistook him and his long blonde hair for David Beckham, who was still hated in this country after his sending off at the France 1998 World Cup.
FA Cup semi-finals
United had a great record in these at Villa Park under Ferguson. United first played an FA Cup semi-Final at Villa Park under Ferguson in 1994-95 when they faced Crystal Palace. The match ended in a draw and in the replay won 2-0 with goals by Bruce and Pallister. United returned there in March 1996 when they faced Chelsea. This was a great match and was another big highlight in David Beckham’s career at United at the time, as he scored an important goal in the 2-1 win. For a lot of fans, one of the most memorable moments of the game strangely, was a goal line clearance. United, under pressure and with the score at 1-1, were doing all that they could to defend their goal. During one attack, a goal look certain with Schmeichel totally beaten. As we all waited for the net to bulge, the ball was cleared miraculously off the line. Probably most puzzled as to who could possibly have been on the goal line was Schmeichel, who looked to see who had saved his Danish bacon. That man, was Eric Cantona who moments earlier, had been on the edge of the opposing box. It illustrated perfectly his work rate and desire for the team, as well as the great team spirit within that 1996 Double winning team. 1999 is the best remembered year though, when we met Arsenal at Villa Park. The 1st match ended in a 0-0 draw so it went to a replay which turned out to be a true classic match. United won this game 2-1 with that amazing and infamous Giggs goal in extra time (although it’s not clear what’s more memorable his goal, or subsequent celebration swinging his shirt high above his head!). Peter Schmeichel had saved United with a brilliant penalty save at the end of normal time, which would have given Arsenal the win. Lots of United fans were on the pitch to celebrate Giggs’ goal and to carry the players to the tunnel on their shoulders at full time. Since then it was decided that there would be no more semi-final replays with semi-finals to be decided with a penalty shoot out after extra time if they were level.
United again faced Arsenal in 2004 there. United, with top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy injured, were not expected to win this match, as Arsenal were unbeaten in the league and would remain so all season. United won 1-0 with a Scholes goal and the match is probably best remembered for being Roy Carroll’s best appearance in a United shirt.
United returned to Villa Park for another semi-final in 2007 to defeat Watford 4-1. The new Wembley Stadium opened soon after that match and all FA Cup semi finals have been played there since, with United remaining unbeaten under Ferguson in FA Cup semi-finals there.
Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy Final 1988
To celebrate the 100th year of the Football League, at the start of the 1988-89 Season a knockout competition was held between the top 8 teams from the previous season in Division One. United beat Everton and then Newcastle both at Old Trafford, then faced Arsenal in the Final at Villa Park. The competition was poorly attended – less than 20,000 at both Old Trafford matches and is not well remembered, except by fans who went to the matches. The Final at Villa Park was attended by just over 22,000 in October 1988. United lost 2-1 to Arsenal, with Clayton Blackmore scoring our goal near the end of the match.