Roberto Mancini admitted this week that should Sunday’s results go against Manchester City the title race is over and it would take an optimistic blue who bordered on the delusional to disagree with that assessment.
Even with United still to travel to the Etihad an eight point gap with just a handful of fixtures left would require a miracle of seismic proportions to prevent a twentieth championship heading Ferguson and co’s way with some City fans believing even the required three points at Arsenal this weekend might prove to be an ask too far.
Before then however on Sunday lunchtime United host a QPR side desperate for any kind of result to further their hopes of securing top flight football and though everybody is expecting a sweeping, comfortable victory for the home side those of a non-red persuasion can take heart in an identical fixture twenty years ago.
Then, as now, United were charging towards a title – they were an astonishing 9/2 ON to clinch it – and, with half the season completed, had only been beaten once.
Then, as now, QPR were struggling along near the foot of the table.
On January 1st at the unusual kick-off time of 5pm so ITV could screen it to millions of hungover viewers stuffed full of turkey butties the presumed formality of witnessing Giggs, McClair and Hughes tear apart a bedraggled Hoops rearguard got underway.
Only QPR had failed to read the script.
The game made a brief over-night star of a God-fearing journeyman whose career later took him to such towns as Farnborough and Aberystwyth and is still known today to Hoops across the globe as the New Year’s Day Massacre.
It was a victory that should serve as inspiration for Hughes and the current bunch because this was no miraculous smash-and-grab; it was achieved through ambition and attacking football. QPR went for the jugular and got their deserved rewards and more.
Within just five minutes that week-old turkey was lodged in many viewer’s throats as first Andy Sinton, then Dennis Bailey, put QPR into a shocking two-goal lead. The temptation then must have been to roll down the shop shutters and ride out the inevitable storm that would surely follow but United looked so uncharacteristically ragged – affording oceans of space down the channels and in front of a beleaguered Steve Bruce – it was hard for a QPR front line full of zip and enterprise not to continue to plough forward.
It is no exaggeration to state that Simon Barker and Ian Holloway controlled the midfield that day and this led to numerous chances in the first half alone with Bailey unlucky not to grab a third after springing the offside trap only to see his lobbed effort over Schmeichel brush the top of the netting before Wegerle missed a sitter from close range. A thumping was on the cards.
With Ferguson preparing his half-time tirade Holloway fizzed one wide – Rangers were now taking pot-shots for fun whilst United hadn’t yet so much as troubled the Czech keeper Stejskal in the opposing goal.
I remember watching the game with my dad – a lifelong red – and my half-time gloating was tempered with the knowledge that surely United would return scarred from a monumental b****cking and mount a forty-five minute onslaught that they do so well.
Except it never came.
If anything, amazingly, it was the Londoners who continued to dominate with United still looking sluggish and disorganised.
On the hour mark Bailey got his head down, ran through a couple of nonexistent challenges and fired in a clincher. The sofa on which I was perched became a trampoline.
With eight minutes remaining Brian McClair pulled back a consolation – United’s first effort on target throughout – but there was more drama to come as Bailey became the first player to score a league treble at Old Trafford following up a Sinton effort that struck the post. Though the hat-trick hero rightly received the baulk of the plaudits equal praise must be lavished upon Rangers’ scheming winger who was superb that day, orchestrating every attack and a constant menace.
For Bailey the performance and result didn’t only plaster him across the front and back pages of every newspaper it further confirmed his religious beliefs saying “God helped me do this. I am totally convinced that I always have God on my side”
To my mind He takes many forms and on Jan 1st 1992 the lord looked a lot like Andy Sinton.
The last time QPR gained all three points at Old Trafford a devout Christian took the headlines and it is worth remembering that this weekend’s resurrection of the fixture falls on Easter Sunday. Could there be a second coming? Or will it be a miracle too far?