Bereft of Cantona, due to his long-term suspension, Manchester United didn’t get off to the best of starts during the 95/96 Premier League season. In fact, for the most part they played second fiddle to Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’. Newcastle United were top at Christmas and at one point in January 1996 the Geordies even held a brief 12 point lead over the Red Devils.
However from this point onwards, Manchester United sensationally fought back and by mid-March somehow clawed up to the top of the table. To guarantee the title, all the remaining matches needed to be won by Ferguson and his men. But a fateful afternoon on 13th April 1996 down the south coast almost scuppered those hopes.
The Geordies were in freefall, having won only two of their last 8 games. Surely, the Red Devils could apply further pressure by beating a Southampton team at the lower end of the table?
United took to the pitch in their rarely worn grey coloured kit. Before Cantona and co could cause problems to Southampton’s backline, Ken Monkou connected with a cross and headed it straight at Peter Schmeichel. The Denmark international was only able to parry it and Monkou scored with the rebound.
Having taken a one goal lead, the Saints continued to manoeuvre and it wasn’t long before they scored again. Neil Shipperley deftly positioned himself in the box, saw the incoming ball and with one touch his right foot guided the ball into the back of the net.
United were now reeling. They simply had to score. However, just before half-time, Schmeichel made a meal of an incoming cross. Southampton’s talisman, Matt Le Tissier, picked up the loose ball and took a shot which went past two United defenders on the goal-line to make it 3-0.
For all intents and purposes, the match was now over. As United went off after 45 minutes they needed to come up with something new for damage limitation, and indeed they did. Off came the grey kit and on came their alternate blue and white kit as their players apparently had problems seeing each other when in grey. The change made marginal difference as Southampton maintained their lead, even if Giggs scored just before full-time.
Seeing as I love fantasy football, it's only fair if I also retrospectively evaluated this match from that perspective too:
3 – Ken Monkou
2 – Matt Le Tissier
1 – Neil Shipperley
11 – Ken Monkou
9 – Matt Le Tissier
7 – Neil Shipperley
Beasant - £4.5M
Dodd - £4.5M
Benali - £4.5M
Monkou - £5M
Neilson - £4.5M
Venison - £4.5M
Charlton - £4.5M
Heaney - £5.5M
Magilton - £5M
Le Tissier - £9.5M
Newcastle United won the day after to close the gap at the top. However, it wasn’t enough as Manchester United won all of their remaining matches after this notorious defeat. They were even able to channel their league title momentum through to the FA Cup final as they defeated Liverpool and completed the ‘Double’.
Eric Cantona would retire the season after and United’s galvanised team would complete the much coveted ‘Treble’ during the 98/99 season. Alex Ferguson would later be knighted and he retired in 2013 as one of the most successful club managers in football history. As for that infamous grey kit it was duly ditched. However, two decades later, United re-adopted the colour thus invoking nostalgia and memories of the old kit.