It’s the first weekend of March, 1995, and Manchester United, without talisman Eric Cantona, following his misdemeanours at Selhurst Park back in January, are three points behind Blackburn Rovers going into the business end of the season and desperately in need of a win to keep pace with the league leaders; unfortunately for lowly Ipswich they happened to be the visitors that day.
Manchester United's 9-0 annihilation of The Tractor Boys on March 4, 1995 remains a record winning margin for a Premier League match and was just one short of their previous best when they put TEN past Anderlecht in 1956; but in truth it could have been double that as Alex Ferguson’s team rose to the challenge set by Kenny Dalglish’s Rovers.
In hindsight there were plenty of clues as to what would happen going into the fixture that day. Ipswich had won just five times in 30 Premier League games and were already seven points from safety with only Leicester below them in the table. On the other hand, defending champions United were in fine form and boasted an impressive record of 12 wins, a draw and just one loss in their previous 14 home league games.
However, Ipswich had beaten United at Portman Road back in September, a defeat which rankled with former United player Brian McClair at the time. “It always stuck with me that Sir Matt Busby once said you have to be humble and gracious in defeat or victory, and Ipswich were not on that day,” he remembers. “They were delighted to win, of course, but they were more than exuberant in their celebrations, so that stuck a bit.”
But McClair wouldn’t have to wait too long to exact revenge as he and his United team took great pleasure in tearing apart their hapless opponents, who boasted the likes of Lee Chapman, John Wark and Andy Linighan in their ranks, almost from the first whistle.
Roy Keane’s low, long-range strike opened the scoring after 15 minutes, before Andy Cole, who had recently joined from Newcastle, clinically converted two close-range finishes to take his tally to four goals in seven games since his arrival from Tyneside and make it 3-0 at the break.
During the interval United boss Alex Ferguson instructed his players to be ruthless and said he expected them to get at least six as he looked to rack up the goal difference in what everyone expected to be a tight battle at the top, and he wasn’t disappointed.
Taking their manager at his words United went out in the second half and exceeded his expectations with Andy Cole grabbing his third, fourth and fifth of the afternoon to add to strikes from Mark Hughes and two from Paul Ince; including a cheeky free-kick from 40 yards out after Town ‘keeper Craig Forest handled outside of his area.
“We were ruthless,” McClair admitted some years later. “Nine could have been 10 or 11. We never stopped, we just kept going.” And ruthless they were with The Telegraph proclaiming the next day that the game had resembled a “public flogging.”
The very same day Blackburn Rovers beat Aston Villa 1-0 to maintain their three-point lead at the top of the table, but the six-goal advantage they had held going into that game had now swung in United’s favour who unsurprisingly found themselves two goals better off than their Lancashire rivals.
“I have never seen us score more than five goals at Old Trafford,” exclaimed Ferguson after the game. “The most important aspect was the passion, the passing and the movement – it was magnificent. This is the kind of performance you always dream about but only happens once in a lifetime.”
As it turned out the result was somewhat academic as Manchester United were eventually pipped for the league title by a point on the final day of the season by Blackburn.
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