Back-to-back humiliations at the hands of Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United have aroused plenty of introspective soul-searching amongst Manchester United staff and supporters alike, and it also got Football Burp wondering how Sir Alex Ferguson’s current woes stack up against the blips, batterings and barren spells of yesteryear. And so, we bring you our Top Ten Spells of Poor Manchester United Form from recent times…
1. 5th February – 6th March 2011
Having lasted six months without a Premier League defeat, United spannered it up at Wolves of all places, losing 2-1 despite taking a third-minute lead through Nani. They then won 2-1 at home to Manchester City, Wayne Rooney shinning the winner in spectacular fashion, and then won 4-0 at Wigan Athletic before back-to-back defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool made it three defeats from five. A month to forget, sort of.
2. 12th – 19th December 2009
The Red Devils seemed to have put a 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa behind them with a 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers three days later, but another four days after that saw them creamed 3-0 at Fulham with Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Ritchie De Laet making up a makeshift defence. Only two defeats from three amidst a spate of injuries, but still a week to forget. Sort of.
3. 12th – 19th August 2007
A 0-0 draw at home to Reading, 1-1 draw at Portsmouth and 1-0 defeat at City meant that United – gasp! – failed to win any of their opening three Premier League matches. They would be knocked out of the League Cup by Coventry City the following month, but they corrected their form sufficiently to do the league and Champions League double.
4. 10th September – 22nd November 2005
Quite a protracted one, this, starting with a 1-1 draw at home to City, a 0-0 draw at Liverpool and a shock 2-1 home defeat to – guess who? – Blackburn Rovers, who incidentally went on to record a league double over United with a 4-3 win in February in which David Bentley scored a hat-trick. Anyway, Ferguson’s men seemed to have got back on track with back-to-back wins at Fulham (3-2) and Sunderland (3-1) at the beginning of October, but this was immediately followed by a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur and a 4-1 gubbing at Middlesbrough. All the while, they were flopping so dismally in Europe that they ended up finishing bottom of their group, the last time before this season that they failed to qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages.
5. 8th August – 7th November 2004
Beginning the season with a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal in the Charity Shield, United began their Premier League campaign with a 1-0 defeat at Chelsea the following weekend. They then edged newly promoted Norwich City 2-1 at Old Trafford before racking up three successive draws, at home to Everton and away to Blackburn and Bolton Wanderers. Back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Spurs were then followed with a 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough and a goalless affair at Birmingham City, before a 2-0 win over Arsenal (the legendary ‘Battle of the Buffet’ that ended that prevented the Gunners from extended their unbeaten run to fifty matches) was made to look like another false dawn by a 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth and 0-0 draw at home to City.
It’s also worth mentioning that April brought back-to-back defeats at Norwich and Everton, with United finishing 3rd for a second consecutive season.
6. 11th January – 1st May 2004
A 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle United was followed by a 1-0 defeat at newly promoted, bottom-of-the-table Wolves that sent the proverbial shockwaves around the country. They then beat Southampton and Everton despite conceding five goals in the process, before a 3-2 defeat at home to Middlesbrough confirmed their defensive frailties. Successive 1-1 draws with Leeds United and Fulham preceded a humiliating 4-1 tonking at City, while a subsequent spell of four matches unbeaten – including an unconvincing 1-0 home win over Leicester City in which Gary Neville scored the winner – led up to a spell of three defeats from four, all by 1-0 scorelines, at the hands of Portsmouth, Liverpool and Blackburn. During this four-and-a-half-month spell, they were also dumped out of the Champions League at the first knock-out stage by Porto. However, they did go on to win the FA Cup, beating Dennis Wise’s Championship-dwelling Millwall 3-0 in the final.
7. 11th – 14th September / 22nd – 26th December 2002
The former four-day spell took in a 1-0 loss at home to Bolton and defeat by the same score at Leeds, while the latter five-day spell saw United go down 1-0 and 3-1 at bogey-sides-in-the-making Blackburn and Middlesbrough. They still went on to win the league.
8. 20th October – 8th December 2001
Lawks! Five defeats from seven Premier League matches – at home to Bolton, Chelsea and West Ham, and away to Liverpool and Arsenal – in a spell of ‘form’ which also saw the Red Devils draw at home to Leeds, go down 4-0 at the Gunners in the League Cup and lose 3-1 at home to Deportivo in the Champions League. Puts the current run in perspective, does it not?
9. 18th September – 23rd October 1999
Successive draws at home to Wimbledon and Southampton – the latter including this memorable gaffe from Old Trafford debutant Massimo Taibi – were followed by a crushing 5-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, swiftly followed by a 4-1 home win against newly promoted Watford and then back-to-back defeats at Marseille and Spurs. They would still win the league. (NB – this was the season when United controversially jettisoned the FA Cup in order to take part in the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil.)
10. 8th November – 19th December 1998
Oddly enough, seeing as they went on to win the trouble (culminating in “that famous night in Barcelona”, as Clive Tyldsley was put on Earth to constantly remind everyone), United only won two of their eight Premier League games during the period cited above, including a 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle, a 3-1 defeat at ultimately relegated Sheffield Wednesday, and another (if you go backwards through time, at least) 3-2 defeat at home to Middlesbrough. During this time, they were also knocked out of the League Cup after going down 3-1 at White Hart Lane.
Now let’s crank it up to 11…
11. 20th October – 2nd November 1996
…when United lost 5-0 at St James’ Park (remember Philippe Albert’s chip over Schmeichel?) and then 6-3 at Southampton in the space of one crazy-ass week. A 2-1 defeat at home to Chelsea, in which a certain Karel Poborsky scored for the Red Devils, made it three successive losses, but Ferguson’s men still went on to win the title. United shipping eleven goals in a week – now there was something for the Old Trafford faithful to get in a tizzy over.