This Saturday, Manchester United and Everton will meet in the FA Cup semifinals. For both teams, it’s an opportunity to redeem a season that has fallen far below expectations. As fortunes in football can be viewed as cyclical, the two sides were in somewhat similar positions when they met in the Final in 1995. Manchester United had just surrendered the Premier League title to surprising upstarts Blackburn Rovers, while Everton had narrowly escaped relegation. There was a lot more on the line for both sides than just the old Challenge Cup.
This week we look back at the 1995 FA Cup Final and the Cup’s promise of redemption.
United went into the Final with something of a selection crisis. Three of their most important players were unavailable; Eric Cantona was suspended, Andrei Kanchelskis was hurt, and Andy Cole, sold to United in January, was cup-tied to Newcastle. The trio had 41 goals between them that season, putting United in a very difficult decision. They didn’t know it at the time, but the Red Devils did preface the coming era at Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson named Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to the bench.
Everton had fewer selection headaches to worry about, with Earl Barrett being the only major squad player to be removed from contention (as he was cup-tied to Aston Villa). The Toffees were also able to count on Neville Southall in goal, who was the starting goalkeeper for Everton in the FA Cup Final ten years prior (which they lost to United 1-0).
The game itself was rather tense. Both sides started off with measured, methodical probing, with United going for patient build-up play and Everton looking to hit on the break.
The breakthrough came at just about the half-hour mark. Everton broke fast, setting up a 3-on-2 situation with United defenders. Matt Jackson sent a low cross to Graham Stuart, who went for power from close range and had his shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounce back out. But the rebound bounced kindly for Everton, and Paul Rideout headed it home.
After that, United started hurling themselves at Everton’s goal, with the frenetic pace and desperation ramping up as the clock ticked down. The Red Devil’s were absolutely fey in attack, but Southall fended them off. In the end, there was nothing United could do. Everton held on to their slim lead and won their first major trophy in eight years.
Everton boss Joe Royle would be the last English manager to win the FA Cup until 2008, when Harry Redknapp led Portsmouth to glory. It would also be Everton’s last major trophy win. The Final was the last hurrah for Mark Hughes and Paul Ince as United players. The Red Devils were also denied a major trophy for the first time since 1988-89.
Obviously, United would do pretty well for themselves over the next two decades, but in that season both sides, struggling and underwhelming relative to the expectations put on them, were chasing the singular kind of redemption that only the FA Cup can offer. And in the end, it was Dave Watson who was honored by the Prince of Wales; not Steve Bruce.
Saturday, both sides will meet once more, once again to redeem their otherwise difficult seasons. Kickoff is at 12:15pm EST on Fox Sports 2.