Home Comforts Wanted
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men travel to Wales on Sunday to face Swansea City, but fast on the heels of that trip are home matches against Newcastle on Boxing Day and West Bromwich Albion on 29 December – and the Reds boss wants to make the most of home advantage.
United endured mixed results in two home games between Christmas and New Year last year, with a 5-0 win over Wigan on Boxing Day followed by a hugely frustrating 3-2 defeat to Blackburn Rovers. Sir Alex says the same opportunity cannot be passed up this year.
“For years they used to send us up to Middlesbrough or Sunderland around Boxing Day or New Year,” the boss jokes in Inside United. “This time they’re giving us a bit of clemency, forgiving us for our previous sins!”
Those two dates in the fixture calendar have yielded 20 games apiece at home and away in the Premier League, but Sir Alex is most likely referring to three consecutive away Boxing Day fixtures between 2000-2002, ending with a 3-1 defeat at Middlesbrough, and a similar run between 2007-2009 against Sunderland, Stoke and Hull.
“Whether at home or away you’ve still got to win the games,” the boss adds. “In the modern game we’d fly to Newcastle, so it’s not the same burden as it was a few years ago. But we usually get ourselves to the New Year in a good position and that’s where we want to be.”
Asked to recall some of his favourite festive fixtures, Sir Alex pinpointed an epic 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day, 1992. “If you go back, you’ll remember that great game when we went to Sheffield Wednesday,” he said. “It was a lunchtime kick-off and we were 3-0 down and came back – Eric Cantona scored and Brian McClair scored two. I always remember the interview at the end of the game, when Steve Bruce said, ‘We need to remember that games start at three o’clock, not 20 past three’ And the interviewer says, ‘Well, it was a lunchtime kick-off today’!
“That was one, and another would be when we beat Oldham 6-3 on Boxing Day,” he added, referring to 1991’s clash with Latics in which McClair and Denis Irwin each scored two, with Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis also chipping in. At the rate United are going this season – with an average of 3.76 goals a game – there’s every chance fans could be in for equally high-scoring games this Christmas.
Sun 23 Dec – Swansea (A)
Wed 26 Dec – Newcastle (H)
Sat 29 Dec – West Brom (H)
Tue 1 Jan – Wigan (A)