Sky Sports Vault
For Gary Pallister, it was "a cracking night when everything clicked". As Manchester United host City at Old Trafford again on Tuesday night, Sky Sports Vault rewinds to a dream derby for the Red Devils in November 1994...
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 24/03/14 2:57pm
With 13 titles in 21 Premier League seasons, no club has set higher domestic standards than Manchester United during the modern era.
However, the Red Devils have still had to exorcise their own demons from time to time over the course of the last 22 years.
One such occasion occurred on a Thursday night in November 1994, when a visit from the near neighbours provided the perfect double payback opportunity for United. As David Moyes and his players prepare for City to come calling on Tuesday night, this particular encounter from yesteryear is well worth replaying as a lesson on how to keep the home fires burning - even if the overall picture is not at its rosiest.
Having celebrated their second successive title the previous May, United came into this 1994/95 fixture five points behind leaders Newcastle with a game in hand. Sir Alex Ferguson's side had slipped as low as fifth after losing 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday on October 8, but league wins over West Ham, Blackburn, the Magpies and Aston Villa had followed.
But it was a European excursion, not a domestic one, that had caused the most recent embarrassment for United. The previous midweek, Ferguson had seen his team take a 4-0 battering at Barcelona in Group A of the Champions League (United would eventually go out of the competition on goal difference). Deprived of the likes of Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona at the Nou Camp, due a UEFA limitation on foreign players in each side, the visitors had been given an exhausting runaround by Hristo Stoichkov and Romario and had returned to England thoroughly chastened. United came into the derby on the back of a 2-1 victory at Villa Park, where Kanchelskis had scored the winning goal, but the Barcelona bruising was still the main topic of conversation.
The supporters of City (who were nine points back, in ninth) snapped up Barca shirts left and right in a bid to goad their rivals, but the Catalans' crest wasn't the only badge of pride they wore. A little over five years previously, in the old First Division, Mel Machin's City had humiliated United 5-1 at Maine Road - a game that bore particularly painful memories for centre-back Gary Pallister, then the most expensive player in the League. The £2.3million purchase from Middlesbrough later wrote in his autobiography that the defeat marked the lowest point in his career.
United went unbeaten in the nine derbies that followed in the intervening period, winning four of them, but the emphatic margin of victory in that September 1989 clash still rankled with United fans - and their City counterparts would never pass up the chance to refer back to it. Coupled with the bad feeling left by the trip to Barcelona, Pallister says the Red Devils players were keen to give their supporters something big to shout about.
"There's never a problem in getting up for a Manchester derby, that's for sure," he told SkySports.com this week.
"And it was a good time to bounce back. You always want to play such a game as quickly as possible after an embarrassing defeat like that Barcelona match. It gave us a great opportunity to get back into the fans' good books.
"We always knew the Barcelona game was going to be hard for us. We were hampered by the European rule as well that night, although it wouldn't have changed the outcome even with Peter in goal. They scored four, but it could have been eight. Stoichkov and Romario on that night turned in two of the best performances I've probably ever seen on a football pitch. They were more or less untouchable.
"There were reasons - you can't take anything away from Barcelona, and the way they played - but I think we'd have been a better unit and a better team if we'd have been able to field a full-strength side."
Ferguson's United teams from down the years often bounced back strongly from heavy losses. "I think that's what we learned to do," added Pallister. "We had big defeats in title-winning seasons - like when we lost 6-3 at Southampton and 5-0 at Newcastle (both in October of the 1996/97 campaign)." This was one of the most sizeable mood swings ever seen under the Scot's management, though. If that Maine Road mauling had been Pallister's nadir, what followed at Old Trafford on Thursday 10 November, 1994, marked one of the glory days.
After 24 minutes, Kanchelskis received a short pass from Roy Keane on the right touchline before sending the ball long from just inside the City half for Cantona to cushion on the run, in between Ian Brightwell and Richard Edghill. The Frenchman then fired left footed past on-loan Sheffield United goalkeeper Simon Tracey, making one of only three first-team appearances in a City shirt.
Shortly before half-time, United doubled their advantage. Pallister passed forward to Cantona, who evaded Michel Vonk before running at Brightwell and Terry Phelan. He then slipped a pass right for the arriving Kanchelskis. The Russian took one touch before firing in a low shot inside the near post, the ball taking a slight deflection off Phelan.
If that goal rocked Brian Horton's City side just before the break, they were shell-shocked soon after it. Steve Bruce passed back to Schmeichel to clear the ball down the right channel. Cantona rose above Brightwell to glance a back header on to Kanchelskis, who seized onto the ball with his left foot and outpaced Phelan on a run towards the penalty spot. Tracey came out to block the winger's initial stabbed effort with his chest, but the ball squirmed loose and Kanchelskis tucked it away.
Mark Hughes got in on the act on 70 minutes. Phelan came forward down the left and tried to find Peter Beagrie on the wing, but the ball was intercepted by Keane. He received it back from Paul Ince, sprinted down the wing and crossed in early for Hughes, arriving with Vonk in hot pursuit. The Welshman lost his balance, and Vonk followed him to the turf - but in a flash, Hughes was back on his feet to find the ball placed there too, perfectly, for him to casually lob into the net.
"The cherry on the icing on the cake," as Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler put it, came in the closing stages. Schmeichel plucked Beagrie's corner out of the air, and threw handball style to the waiting Kanchelskis on the right. With City defenders having pushed forward, Cantona was able to lurk near the halfway line and time his run to meet the pass and stay onside. Edghill tracked him but was nutmegged by Cantona's square pass back infield, where Kanchelskis took one touch to set himself and then shot. Again, Tracey saved the initial effort but the ball dropped to the 25-year-old once more, allowing him to complete his first United hat-trick and send the home fans away euphoric.
"It was a cracking night," said Pallister. "Everything clicked.
"It was especially pleasing for the lads who played in the 5-1 defeat at Maine Road, myself included. To win the game by that five-goal margin, we were able to go a little bit of the way to erasing that nightmare from memory. It was certainly good for me anyway!
"I've seen the game replayed a few times on the box since. With Eric's craft and Sparky's strength, we always had a good mix up front and were capable of scoring a lot of goals.
"The fans were crying out for the fifth goal, because of that 5-1 defeat, so they kept us going, and pushing us and chanting for more - and fortunately we were able to satisfy that."
Kanchelskis, a £650,000 signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in March 1991, was United's top scorer in the 1994/95 season, with 15 goals in 32 appearances.
"Andrei was brilliant," added Pallister. "He gave you a great out to relieve pressure. If you knocked the ball over the top, more often than not Andrei would get there. He must have been one of the quickest in the Premier League at the time.
"He was a great foil with Giggsy on the other side. We were able to play balls up to the front two, and they'd bounce them on to Andrei and play him in behind the full-back. Andrei could either chase it down the line or come in and hit shots with his left as well.
"He was a terrific player, really exciting, and one of those players at Old Trafford that as soon as he got the ball, the fans started to get excited. He was amazing."
Kanchelskis' goals, and those of Cantona, were greatly missed towards the end of the season, as Blackburn pipped United to the title on the final day. While the latter was suspended for his notorious 'kung-fu' incident at Crystal Palace, the Russia winger was sidelined by a hernia injury. He fell out with Ferguson too, and despite his contributions he was sold to Everton for £5million in summer 1995. "It's just a shame he left so early," said Pallister. "I think he still had plenty more to offer."
Many United fans will mention Kanchelskis' name in the build-up to kick-off on Tuesday night. Can the current crop upset City's quest for the title?
"City are possibly still favourites to win the Premier League, so it's going to be difficult," admitted Pallister.
"United have had a couple of good results which will buoy them after the Liverpool game. They've picked up a little bit, confidence wise, and will be a bit more hopeful.
"It's certainly a massive game - and one that United are desperate to win."
Watch Manchester United v Manchester City live on Sky Sports 1HD and Sky Sports 3D from 7pm on Tuesday night.