One of the reasons Fergie hated coming to us
SO what’s it like to score a goal that wins a league title?
As the Premier League title races reaches its climax, every Manchester United and Chelsea player has a chance to become a hero and find out exactly how it feels if they can net a decisive strike.
One Northern Ireland man has done so, but he never got to celebrate being a champion and didn’t get his hands on a medal.
That’s because Michael Hughes was playing for West Ham United when he scored the goal that won the Premier League for Blackburn Rovers back in 1995.
And some Manchester United fans have never forgiven him.
United were second behind Blackburn going into the last game of the season and needed Liverpool to beat Rovers to have a chance of being crowned champions.
The Anfield result went their way, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side couldn’t deliver at Upton Park, stuttering to a 1-1 draw and ending up as runners-up, thanks to Hughes’ strike.
The similarities between that day 15 years ago and now are there for all to see. On Sunday United will need Wigan Athletic to trip Chelsea if the trophy is to head to Old Trafford — and even then there needs to be a win for the Red Devils at home to Stoke City.
It may be a decade and a half ago, but Hughes’ memories of that fateful afternoon in east London haven’t diminished.
“We’d beaten Liverpool to stay safe from relegation a few days before so we’d nothing to play for as such, but it was still a big game for us,” said Hughes.
“It was Manchester United, so that made it big enough as it was because the West Ham fans hate United. It was also our last home game and we wanted to win it.
“There was no pressure on us. We knew the importance of the game, but none of that mattered to us because it didn’t affect where we were going to end up and it was all about us doing our job and the bottom line is that the league has to be kept honest.
“Any player, whether they are having a kickabout in the park or at the top end of the game, when they go out they want to win and that was how we approached the game.
“From the first game of the season to the last we went out trying to win them all.
“I was playing on the right-wing and hadn’t touched the ball in the opening 20 minutes. I thought it was going to be one of those days for me.
“Then Matty Holmes went down the left and I made a run into the box, more in hope than anything else. He put the ball in and it came right across to me. All that I could think about was trying to get it towards the goal and I managed to divert it into the corner.
“It wasn’t a great strike, but I managed to put the ball into probably the one part of the goal where the goalkeeper couldn’t reach it and we were 1-0 up.”
A Mark Hughes equaliser gave United hope, but Blackburn, managed by Kenny Dalglish (pictured), were drawing 1-1 at Anfield and that meant United still had work to do.
Chance after chance came United’s way, but a combination of poor finishing — not least from Andy Cole — and superb goalkeeping from Ludek Miklosko meant ultimately it was heartbreak for United, even though Liverpool scored in the 90th minute through Jamie Redknapp to beat Blackburn 2-1.
“In the last 20 minutes it was one-way traffic. We were totally under the cosh after Mark Hughes scored,” said Hughes.
“Ludek Miklosko saved everything, he was unbelievable that day.”
Coming home that summer wasn’t as straightforward as it might have been for Hughes, now 38-years-old and working towards his UEFA Pro Licence coaching qualification before looking for a managerial job.
“It was my fault that United didn’t win the league, or so it was made out by United fans,” he said.
“The fact that I’d played for Manchester City before probably didn’t help. I remember getting a bit of stick from United fans I knew and a few dirty looks from some people.
“It wasn’t down to me though, they’d played 41 other matches that season and lost it over the course of those.”
Not since then has there been such an enthralling final chapter to the season.
United need one if they are to claim an unprecedented fourth successive title — but Hughes doesn’t see that happening.
“Chelsea won’t blow it,” he said.
“They have too many players who have been there before to be nervous. United have probably been the best team, but they have only themselves to blame for not winning it. When Chelsea dropped points they didn’t capitalise.
“For me Arsenal should have won it, they have real quality in their squad and they will probably be kicking themselves that they didn’t win it. They lost a couple of silly matches though and that cost them.”