In the summer of 1984, expectation was high at Old Trafford. United had faltered at the end of the previous season, despite being top of the league in March. But the team had shown a lot of promise with some great performances.
The 3-0 win over Barcelona stood out and Ron Atkinson’s United were able to go toe to toe with the biggest opponents. If anything, the weakness was against the sides further down the table. Ipswich Town’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford in May helped them stay up while at the same time dented United’s aspirations. It was typical of the season. Relegated Notts County took four points off of United too.
So that summer exciting signings arrived. Joining from Ajax, Jesper Olsen had enhanced his reputation while playing for Denmark. Gordon Strachan had played a key role in Aberdeen’s success story. And striker Alan Brazil had won two UEFA Cups in 1981 and 1984. Midfielder Ray Wilkins had departed though for a new life in Italy at AC Milan. The fee of £1.5 million was a massive sum at the time.
As newly promoted Newcastle United arrived at Old Trafford on 8th September 1984. Stevie Wonder was top of the charts with “I just called to say I love you” and the sun was shining on Old Trafford. But frustration had set in. Four league games, four draws. Only three goals scored.
It was the opposite for the visitors. They were in confident mood after winning their first three matches. A 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in their last league game was their only blemish. In their team were Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and ex-red Dave McCreery.
Their manager was Jack Charlton. The away support arrived in huge numbers with high hopes.
Attacking the Scoreboard End in the first half, United started well. Captain Bryan Robson putting a chance wide from close range. The build-up play involved a beautiful pass from Mark Hughes to new boy Olsen. His low cross was behind Robson who was under pressure from Glenn Roeder. It was a warning to the away side. Newcastle looked nervous on the ball. When John Ryan dithered, Olsen dispossessed him. The Danish winger danced past goalkeeper Kevin Carr to give United a 1-0 lead at half-time.
The second half continued where the first one left off. Arthur Albiston exchanged passes with Norman Whiteside. The Scottish full-back then went down in the box. The penalty award was generous. Gordon Strachan had already scored one on his debut against Watford. He sent Carr the wrong way to make it two.
United were now playing some lovely football. Under Ron Atkinson, when the team were on form, they were a joy to watch. Hughes had already tested Carr and when a Whiteside pass rebounded to him, he scored the third goal of the day. To their credit, the away fans were still singing and Waddle forced Gary Bailey into a good save. From the resulting corner, Bryan Robson almost scored an own goal. Remi Moses was in the right place to clear it off of the line.
Moses then made his mark at the other end. This time he finished off the best move of the game and United were 4-0 ahead. Following a number of one touch passes, Moses broke clear and rounded Carr. The angle was tight but his left foot shot found the net. The Stretford End rejoiced. “United are back” they sang. United were going to get their first win of the season. “Brilliant goal,” exclaimed Brian Moore on commentary. “That’s a joy to watch again,” he added.
The fifth and final goal summed up Newcastle’s day. Hughes had been excellent all afternoon. He held the ball up and passed to Moses, who played a long ball down the middle. Poor Malcolm Brown, who had already given away the penalty, missed the ball. Gordon Strachan was clear on goal. Like Olsen and Moses before him, he rounded Kevin Carr and put the ball into the empty net. Brian Moore was in no doubt “It’s an absolute riot now!” he cried. Strachan took the adulation from the Stretford End. United had made a statement with an afternoon of exciting attacking football.
What would this result do for United? They stayed unbeaten until a month later. First there was an embarrassing loss away to Aston Villa 3-0 . Three weeks later Everton took United apart at Goodison Park. This time United were on the wrong side of a 5-0 score line.
The consistency needed to win a title wasn’t there. Defeats to relegated Stoke and Sunderland highlighted the same weaknesses.
Coventry also won at Old Trafford. Come May, United finished fourth. Although one point behind second placed Liverpool, champions Everton were 14 points clear.
United did beat the champions at Wembley on May 18th to win the FA Cup, so 1984/85 ended on a high. Would 85/86 be United’s season?
United 5 Newcastle 0
1. Gary Bailey
2. Mike Duxbury
3. Arthur Albiston
4. Remi Moses
5. Kevin Moran
6. Graeme Hogg
7. Bryan Robson
8. Gordon Strachan
9. Mark Hughes
10. Norman Whiteside
11. Jesper Olsen