The end of the 1893-94 Football League season saw Liverpool Football Club top the second division and struggling Newton Heath finish in the bottom of the first. Back then, the Football League held test matches at the end of the season, similar to what the Bundesliga does now; teams near the bottom of the first division table would face off against top second division sides, with the first division team playing to stay in the division and the second division team fighting for promotion. On April 28th, 1894, Liverpool beat Newton Heath 2-0 before a crowd of 5000 at Ewood Park. As a result, the second division champions were elected to the first division and Newton Heath went tumbling down.
That was the first meeting in what would become one of the fiercest rivalries in football.
With Liverpool and Manchester United facing off once again this weekend, we look back at a classic meeting from the not-too-distant past: January 4th, 1994.
The hosts had been on a solid run, unbeaten in six games with 10 points from 18. Yet their run wasn’t nearly as impressive as the visitors, who hadn’t lost a game since September. The Tuesday evening fixture was their first meeting of the campaign, and both sides were out for blood.
United struck first in the 9th minute after Steve Bruce finished off a fine cross from Eric Cantona. Ryan Giggs compounded their host’s misery in the 20th minute with a gorgeous curler from the edge of the box. Denis Irwin made it three just a few minutes later from a free kick and it looked like United were going to cruise to an easy win against one of their most hated rivals.
But then a funny thing happened.
A minute and change later, Nigel Clough pulled one back with a thunderous long-range strike. The Kop roared into life and a faint trace of hope glimmered in the lights atop the Centenary Stand.
In the 38th minute Clough pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the box and slotted it into the lower left corner. The teams went into the tunnel at halftime at 3-2 and the home supporters sensed that something was in the air.
Ryan Giggs continued to be a threat throughout, having barely missed out on giving United a fourth goal before halftime and soon into the second half. Yet Liverpool’s backline, and Bruce Grobbelaar, held firm. For his part, Kasper Schmeichel came up big more than once in the game, and easily could’ve been named MOTM.
The big moment came with 11 minutes left in regulation and the tension at a fever pitch. Neil Ruddock leapt high over United defenders to meet a cross from Stig Inge Bjørnebye and headed it just past Schmeichel’s reach. The comeback was complete, and with both teams more or less content to hang on to what they had, the match finished 3-3 and went down as one of the most thrilling clashes in the history of this particular fixture (which is saying something).
The Red Devils travel to Anfield again this Sunday and both teams have a lot on the line— table position, Europe, the desire from both managers to make a statement, and, of course, the weight of history. Kickoff at at 8:05am EST on NBC Sports Network.