September 23rd 1989 saw the first Manchester Derby at Maine Road since October 1986. The blues had won promotion back to the First Division, but had found live tough in their first few games back in the top flight. City had lost four of their opening six matches, drawing one at home to Spurs before beating QPR 1-0 in their last home match. To add to that, the blues had suffered defeat at the hands of Brentford in the first leg of their League Cup tie.
City had added to new players to their squad over the summer, when Ian Bishop joined from Bournemouth for £465,000 and Clive Allen arrived from Bordeaux for £1m. By comparison, Martin Edwards had sanctioned a United spending spree, investing £750,000 on Mike Phelan from Norwich, Neil Webb for £1.5m from Nottingham Forest, Paul Ince for £1.7m from West Ham and a record £2.3m for Garry Pallister from Middlesbrough. Before the derby, Ferguson also added Danny Wallace from Southampton for £1.2m.
City started the day in 18th place on just four points, while United were in 11th place, winning two, drawing one and losing three. On paper, United’s expensively assembled squad should have walked the match. But in a derby match, paper results mean nothing.
The match kicked off at the usual 3pm on a Saturday, but just a few minutes in, the game was brought to a halt by the referee. A large group of United fans had infiltrated the North Stand and inevitably, trouble broke out amongst the two sets of supporters. The referee had no choice but to ask the players to return to the dressing rooms until the police brought the situation under control.
United fans would wish their team had stayed there.
A free kick from Andy Hinchcliffe in the 11th minute found David White on the right wing. White controlled the ball, the played a cross into the box which Pallister should have cut out. The defender failed to get there and the ball fell for David Oldfield to rifle the ball home from 12 yards out.
Within a minute, the blues were 2-0 up. White’s ball into the box was cut out by the United defence, but centre backs dithering allowed Trevor Morley to jump in and steal the ball. His shot was saved brilliantly by Jim Leighton, but the rebound fell for Paul Lake, who teased the United defence before crossing into the six-yard box. Leighton parried it but only into the path of Morley, who poked home to send the City fans wild with delight.
United pressed to get back into the game, but with no real threat but blues fans were thinking it wouldn’t stay at 2-0. And they were right.
Steve Redmond cut out an attempted pass and skipped away from a challenge, before receiving a pass on the right. His ball down the wing released Oldfield, who was too strong for Pallister, and his cross into the area was met gleefully by the diving head of Bishop to send the City fans into dreamland. 3-0 up at half time, could they manage to stave off any United comeback?
Alex Ferguson must have given United a rocket at half-time as they came out with much more purpose and five minutes into the second half, City fans feared the worst when the pulled a goal back. Russell Beardsmore jinked his way down the right, but his cross missed everyone except future City boss Mark Hughes, whose bicycle kick flew past Paul Cooper in the City goal.
But as much as United tried, City were not to be denied. Just before the hour mark, Paul Lake was set free down the middle but his shot was saved by Leighton, only for the rebound to again fall kindly to the City youngster. With the keeper out of position and only one man on the line, Lake had the presence of mind to ignore the goal and instead pass to a waiting Oldfield, who tapped home for 4-1. That ended any United resistance, but the blues still weren’t finished.
Four minutes later, the fans watched in awe as Bishop’s magnificent long pass found White in his usual place on the right, and the winger allowed the ball to bounce before hitting a pinpoint cross into the area where Hinchcliffe, the left back, came steaming in to head home and make it 5-1.
It was a day to remember for the blues, who saw their newly promoted and struggling side humble one of the more expensive squads in the top flight.