The Red Devils were expecting an early Christmas present when Eric Cantona chose the local derby with Manchester City to make his league debut in December 1992.
The mercurial Frenchman, signed from Leeds United, had already lit up training with the aura and presence that would become his trademark.
Team-mate Paul Ince reckoned he had players ‘in his thrall’ with barely a word from his very first day at the Cliff training ground. Cantona illuminated Old Trafford, said manager Alex Ferguson.
So expectations were high when he came on as a second-half substitute against City at Old Trafford on December 6th, wearing the famous number 10 shirt.
United won 2-1 with goals from Mark Hughes and Paul Ince, but Cantona was muted. City’s reply came from Niall Quinn.
It would take another Christmas match, the 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on December 19th, for Cantona to get into his stride and score his first goal.
His second league goal came in a thrilling 3-3 Boxing Day draw against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. United clawed their way back into the match after being 3-0 down.
After that, Cantona was imperiously creating chances as well as finishing them himself. He scored no less than eight goals in Manchester derbies over his first four seasons at Old Trafford.
The first local derby between City and United at in Division One took place in December 1906 when the Blues won 3-0.
The victory was a brief respite for City who had 17 players suspended as a result of financial irregularities – including most of the 1904 FA Cup-winning team.
When the suspensions ended in January 1907, four of the players joined United and helped them win their first league title in 1908. The following season, one of the defectors – Sandy Turnbull – became the first player to be sent off in a local derby.
Moving forward, the Christmas derby of New Year’s Eve 1955 ended in a 2-1 home win for United with the goals coming from Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet. City’s scorer was Jackie Dyson.
The Red Devils, under manager Matt Busby, went on to win the First Division title with 60 points, 11 clear of runners-up Blackpool. City finished fourth with 46 points.
City’s captain at the time was future Leeds United and England manager Don Revie who had started playing as a deep-lying centre forward – the so-called Revie plan.
The tactic helped the Blues reach the 1955 FA Cup Final at Wembley where they lost 3-1 to Newcastle United. City were down to 10 men after a first half injury to Jimmy Meadows.
Revie’s growing reputation, however, was assured – so much so that he was voted Player of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.
The two Manchester sides met again on December 28th 1957, this time at Maine Road. The result was a 2-2 draw with Bobby Charlton and Viollet on the scoresheet for United, and Joe Hayes replying for City. There was also an own goal.
All the Christmas promise of the Busby Babes turned to abject grief later in the season with the Munich air crash of February 6th 1958 when eight players lost their lives.
United were still rebuilding in the Christmas derby of New Year’s Eve 1960, but they managed to beat City 5-1 at Old Trafford with a hat-trick from Alex Dawson and a brace from Charlton. City’s goal was scored by Colin Barlow.
The Red Devils went on to finish seventh in the First Division with 45 points while City were 13th with 37 points under manager Les McDowall.
The 1970 Christmas derby on December 12th saw City demolish their local rivals 4-1 away with a Francis Lee hat-trick and a goal from Mike Doyle. Brian Kidd scored for United.
Lee was in his heyday at this point, playing regularly for England as well as being City’s top scorer for the season – a feat he would repeat for the next four seasons in a row.
He played for England in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and scored 15 penalties in his 35-goal tally for the 1971-2 season – a British record.
The 1970 Christmas match was marred, however, by Glyn Pardoe’s leg being broken in a tackle with United’s George Best. The injury stopped him playing for two years.
The game was also one of the final matches in charge for United manager Wilf McGuinness. Matt Busby returned as caretaker manager on December 29th with Frank O’Farrell finally being handed the reins in July 1971.
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