In the summer of 1998, after losing the Premier League title to Arsenal, Alex Ferguson decided that more firepower up front was a necessity at Old Trafford if United were to reclaim the trophy they had won four times in the previous six seasons. With an impressive nack of finding the net, and a smile as wide as Andy Goram, Aston Villa’s Dwight Yorke was identified as the man to provide the finishing touches to United’s swashbuckling attacks.
A stand-off with Villa ensued, culminating in an embarrassing final appearance for The Villains against Everton at Goodison Park, during which Yorke made little effort on the pitch in order to force through a move to Manchester.
Of course, Yorke wasn’t renowned for his lackadaisical style, unlike one Dimitar Berbatov a few years later, and the Tobagonian was soon to become a firm favourite amongst the Old Trafford faithful.
Yorke more than played his part throughout his debut season, though other players generally nabbed the headlines. His hat-trick away at Leicester was overshadowed by big Jaap Stam’s first United goal in the final minutes. Yorke had his eyes on another three goals at Forest after betting a brace, only for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to come off the bench and score four in the last ten minutes.
Here are five Yorke goals from the 1998/99 season that are not always given the recognition they so rightly deserve.
1) Barcelona 3-3 (a); Champions League Group Stages.
In any other season, a 3-3 thriller at the Nou Camp would easily be the most memorable match. This being United’s treble winning season however, it arguably may not even make the top 5.
It was a United performance inspired by Yorke and Cole. Cole’s goal, in which he played a delightful one-two with Yorke, to make it 2-1 to United on the night will be rightly lauded for years to come, but Yorke’s brave diving header from a David Beckham cross after 68 minutes – who else? – to restore United’s one goal advantage was typical of the striker’s tenacity and ability to find space, even against Europe’s elite defenders.
2) Leicester 1-6 (a); Premier League.
Not the most crucial of games, but an impressive hammering of Leicester none the less, and 3 points towards United’s final tally of 79. Yorke’s second goal made it 4-1 to United when, despite having his shorts angrily yanked at by Leicester ‘keeper Casey Keller, Yorke squeezed the ball into an empty net from an almost impossible angle with his unfavoured left foot. Not quite Mark Hughes circa ’91, but a quite brilliant finish nonetheless.
3) Liverpool 2-1 (h); FA Cup 4th Round.
This strike, like Teddy Sheringham’s in the Champions League final, was simply a precursor to some Ole Gunnar Solskjaer heroics. With United trailing 1-0 in the FA Cup third round against bitter rivals Liverpool, Yorke popped up in the six yard box to latch on to an Andy Cole header, equalising with just moments left.
Despite Andy Gray triumphantly claiming that ‘this is Liverpool’s day’, Solskjaer made it 2-1 in stoppage time, sending the Stretford End into absolute raptures, and United on their way to a tenth FA Cup.
4) Inter Milan 2-0 (h); Champions League Quarter-Final, First Leg.
Arguably Yorke’s best performance of the whole campaign. His two headed goals, again both coming from the boot of David Beckham, put United in the driving seat against Italian giants Inter Milan. Yorke also put one on a plate for Andy Cole in the second half, but the striker could only hit the last defender from six yards with the goal gaping.
Without an away goal, Inter struggled in the second leg. They finally broke United’s resistance in the second half through Nicola Ventola, but Paul Scholes set up a tantalising semi-final against Juventus when he equalised on the night late on, and sent United through 3-1 on aggregate.
5) Juventus 2-3 (a); Champions League Semi-Final, Second Leg.
The defining (and well documented) moment of Roy Keane’s United career came with United 2-0 down on the night, 3-1 on aggregate, against a Juventus side featuring the likes of Conte, Deschamps, Zidane, Inzaghi and Davids.
Before the likes of Thierry Henry and Gareth Bale, English teams simply didn’t go to Italy and score three goals, especially not in a Champions League semi-final. Keane’s suspension for the final made his performance even more legendary, but his headed goal wouldn’t have counted for anything if it weren’t for Dwight Yorke’s brilliant second.
For once it wasn’t Beckham, but Andy Cole, who guided the ball onto the grateful bonce of a diving Yorke to put United ahead on goal difference. After a nervy second half, a desperate Juventus ploughing forward left Andy Cole in space with just moments of the match left to prod home after Yorke was brought down in the area, and ensure United made the Champions League final. The rest, as they say, is history.