Andy Cole Billy McKinlay

This Day in Football: Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester United

10:20 PMGoalChatter

Blast From the Past

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrating during United's win against Blackburn in April 1997.

The 12th of April is a big day in world history. In 1961, it was the day that Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into outer space. In football, it is the birthday of Italian coach Marcello Lippi and legendary England captain Bobby Moore. It also marks a fiery Premier League match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. Despite winning the championship two years before, Blackburn were not having the best of times, with caretaker manager Tony Parkes's sixth month in charge after the sacking of Ray Harford. The team were in 14th place, with only one win in their last six games. By contrast, it was Sir Alex Ferguson's 11th season in his historic run at Manchester United. And yes, he was still chewing gum. "It took awhile for the trophies to start to flow," said Jon Champion during the match commentary. "Now they're coming in a flood." Indeed, the 1990's saw a very memorable United team, starring Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. It would be surprising to see today's United with three players up front, but not in '97. Cantona had a great opportunity in the first half that he sent wide. Blackburn's captain Tim Sherwood was booked early on for a reckless challenge on Phil Neville in United's penalty area. A Scholes corner led to close calls for Gary Pallister and Roy Keane, the former sending the ball rattling against the crossbar, the latter hitting the post. The Reds' one-two touches on the ball gave Andy Cole a shot over the bar. United's command of the midfield was like a well-tuned orchestra; the players moved about with great precision and understanding of where they were in relation to one another. A penalty was awarded after Nicky Butt went down in the box, but Cantona's shot was easily saved by Tim Flowers, and no follow-up came from United. The King redeemed himself soon with a pass to Cole, who opened the score with a perfect ball in the lower right corner. Blackburn didn't waste too much time looking for the equalizer. A free kick punched out by van der Gouw was taken up by an unmarked Billy McKinlay, who almost immediately sent the ball past the unsuspecting keeper. There was still some time before the end of the first 45, and United made good use of it. Cole outplayed a defender to send the ball to an oncoming Scholes, whose far-post shot made it 2:1 in favor of the Reds. Amusingly, the PA announcer mistook him for Solskjaer, who had scored in United's 2:2 draw against Blackburn earlier in the season. Scholes and Solskjaer both had long-range efforts in the second half, answered by Blackburn with a wide attempt from captain Sherwood. United proved they were better on the ball with quite a few fantastic combinations. Gary Neville got the ball to Cole on the right wing. The latter followed with another assist when he ran past two defenders along the end line, passing to Cantona. The one-touch finish at the near post gave United a two-goal lead. Blackburn struggled, but managed to take up possession. A pass from the left by Per Pedersen to Paul Warhurst caught an idle Phil Neville off-guard, and van der Gouw was helpless in net. The two teams played end-to-end before a young David Beckham came on as a late substitute for Scholes. Beckham made his mark with a cross to Cole, who sent the ball into the stands. Although Blackburn were 30 points short of the leading Reds, they fought until the end. Pedersen was quite active in their effort, but was unable to get past the defense, and couldn't put a header past van der Gouw. The game was settled, a 3:2 win for Manchester United against a side that narrowly avoided relegation at the end of the season. The result was proof, however, that a match between the league's front-runners and their polar opposite is not always a one-sided affair. Top-flight football can be played by teams near the bottom of the table, making for 90 minutes of a rightly-called beautiful game.

Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester United - 2:3 (1:2)
Saturday 12 April 1997 - 1996/97 Premier League
Blackburn - Ewood Park
Attendance: 30,476
Referee: Martin Bodenham
Goals: 0:1 Cole (32), 1:1 McKinlay (34), 1:2 Scholes (43), 1:3 Cantona (80), 2:3 Warhurst (88)

Blackburn XI: Flowers, Kenna, Hendry, Berg, Warhurst, Le Saux, Flitcroft, McKinlay, Wilcox, Sherwood, Gallacher
Manchester United XI: van der Gouw, G. Neville, P. Neville, Johnsen, Keane, Pallister, Cantona, Butt, Cole, Scholes (Beckham, 88), Solskjaer

Fact Sheet
* Just two years before, Blackburn Rovers had won the Premier League one point ahead of Manchester United and 11 points ahead of third-place Nottingham Forest. Although the Rovers managed to escape relegation in '97, Forest were bottom of the table and relegated at the end of the season.   
* The last 3-2 face-off between Manchester United and Blackburn ended in favor of the Rovers at Old Trafford in December 2011 on Sir Alex's birthday.
* United's biggest win against Blackburn was a 7:1 thrashing in 2010. Their biggest loss in the matchup was 7:0 on 10 April 1926. 
* Both Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers were eliminated in the Fourth Round Proper of the 1996/97 FA Cup.
* Alan Shearer's record-breaking transfer from Blackburn to his hometown club Newcastle for £15 million was seen by many as one of the reasons for Blackburn's failures the following season. Newcastle were runners-up in the 1996/97 season, 7 points short of league winners Manchester United. Shearer had numerous achievements during his Newcastle career and is still the club's top goalscorer, with 206 goals during his 10-year spell.
* Manchester United's Eric Cantona decided to retire at the end of the season to pursue his acting career.
* The season marked United's second Premier League title under Sir Alex. 
* United reached the semi-final of the Champions League in April 1997, losing out to Borussia Dortmund 2:0 on aggregate. 

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