PL25: Swindon’s shock draw offers a rare chance to dream

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a draw that was anything but honours even.

Having been crowned the inaugural Premier League champions the previous May, Manchester United rocked up to Swindon’s County Ground on March 19th 1994 in typically imperious form. They had lost on only two occasions all season, both times to Chelsea.

Three days earlier they had spanked Sheffield Wednesday 5-0. Giggs was flying, a midfield of Keane and Ince played bad cop and bad cop in centre-circles across the country, while ahead of the fearsome duo Cantona was all magic and no madness. All told they were indomitable.

The Robins, it can be said with some understatement, were not. Having secured their first top flight stint for 73 years courtesy of a memorable 4-3 Play Off Final win over Leicester their summer swiftly turned sour with the shock departure of player-manager Glenn Hoddle to Chelsea followed by an inability to lure any meaningful new signings to Wiltshire.

With assistant boss John Gorman stepping into an unfamiliar role Swindon struggled from the off finding themselves out-classed or out-manoeuvred on a weekly basis. It had taken them until mid-December to notch their first victory.

Consequently, when the title holders swaggered into town it was to face a side rock-bottom of the league. Seven days earlier Gorman’s men had been walloped 7-1 up at Newcastle.

So it was somewhat understandable then that Roy Keane’s opener after just 12 minutes was greeted with Clive Tyldesley wondering aloud how many more United would dish out that afternoon. The contest was barely underway and already the commentator was fearful of a humiliating landslide. The well-oiled machine was up and running. The lambs to the slaughter were on the truck.

In the event United did score again: one to be precise, only Swindon completely ripped up the script and scored two themselves leading to memorable scenes of jubilation and a commentator having to swiftly change gears.

Before we get to the goals themselves though let’s pause to reflect on what the season ultimately heralded for a club unused to breathing in the rarefied air of the top flight. By May Swindon returned to the second tier nursing a negative goal difference nearly twice that of their points tally.

They conceded exactly a hundred goals and throughout ten months that was supposed to be a dream experience they revelled in just four wins from 42 league games. After being kicked around, bossed about, and thoroughly put in their place on a weekly basis for far too long here they matched arguably the greatest team across Europe at that moment in time. Never let it be said that a draw is always honours even. This meant the world to them.

A deflected shot spiralled past Peter Schmeichel after fine work from on-loan veteran Frank McAvennie and the decibels were raised in defiance but silence followed shortly after when Paul Ince rifled home from distance. It was 1-2 at the break.

Paul Ince and Ryan Giggs, Manchester United

Cantona’s magic was strangely subdued that afternoon and into the vacuum inevitably came the madness during a thunderous second period. Aggrieved at an innocuous challenge the strutting ceased and his inner-lunatic took hold with the Frenchman stamping down hard onto his opponent’s chest as he lay from a sliding tackle. It was the straightest red imaginable and the minimum of protest from team-mates and Alex Ferguson only confirmed this.

Whether it was the departure of United’s talisman or the sustained pressure that was building up anyway belief surged into this down-trodden team and the chances this created ignited the capacity crowd to a fever pitch. Something had to give. The expectation of that happening was palpable.

When the equaliser arrived it was late and scrappy, the ball spinning loose in the United area and scuffed touches of it nudging it towards a striker in Jan Age Fjortoft who was in a rich vein of potency. He barely looked up. From such close range he barely needed to.

The pandemonium that ensued amounted to a collective release of relief. For a brief moment in time Swindon Town could revel in their dream turned sour.

What happened next?

Manchester United romped to their second Premier League title, comfortably seeing off Blackburn and unaffected by this temporary blip.

Swindon were mathematically down by the end of the month. Their thirty points remains one of the lowest accrued in the top flight.