The 1986–87 season was Manchester United’s 85th season in the Football League, and their 12th consecutive season in the top division of English football.

The pressure on manager Ron Atkinson after last season’s failed title challenge remained strong after United lost their opening three games of the season, and despite some decent results in the following few weeks, United bowed out of the League Cup in a fourth round replay defeat at Southampton, prompting the dismissal of Atkinson on 6 November 1986 after more than five years in charge.

Alex Ferguson was confirmed as Atkinson’s successor within hours, recruited from Scottish side Aberdeen, where he had enjoyed considerable success in the previous seven years. United recovered well in the league after his appointment and finished 11th, managing to scratch up some impressive results including winning both of their league clashes with Liverpool (results which helped deprive Kenny Dalglish’s side of the league title), a 4–1 home win over Newcastle United on New Year’s Day 1987, a 2–0 home win over a resurgent Arsenal and a 2–0 win at Old Trafford in the Manchester derby which helped push City towards relegation. Their win at Liverpool also made them the only team to win at Liverpool in the league all season.

However, United were prevented from finishing even higher in the league by a few disappointing results after Ferguson’s arrival, beginning with a 2–0 defeat in their first game under Ferguson at Oxford United, losing both of their clashes with newly promoted Wimbledon, being beaten at Old Trafford by Norwich City just after Christmas and suffering a 4–0 defeat at Tottenham near the end of the season, although by the time of the Tottenham game it was mathematically impossible for United to either win the title or suffer relegation (there was no prospect of European qualification due to the ongoing ban on English clubs in Europe following the Heysel disaster two years earlier). United also failed to win any another away games in the league apart from the visit to Liverpool on Boxing Day.

United’s improvement under Ferguson during the season was achieved without making any major signings, although it was widely expected that he would spend heavily on new players during the 1987 close season. He went on to pay Celtic £850,000 for high-scoring striker Brian McClair. He strengthened the defence by paying Arsenal £250,000 for experienced full-back Viv Anderson. Unsuccessful bids were also made for several other players: Ferguson expressed an interest in bringing striker Mark Hateley back to England from Milan, but the player opted to remain overseas and signed for AS Monaco instead. He also made a bid to bring Peter Beardsley back to the club from Newcastle United, but the England international forward instead joined Liverpool for a British record fee. Ferguson was offered the chance to sign Watford winger John Barnes, but declined to make an approach for the player due to his faith in Jesper Olsen in the same position.

Pre-season and friendlies

Date Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
6 August 1986 Fluminense H 0–0
(4–3p)
32,275
8 August 1986 Dynamo Kyiv N 1–1
(4–1p)
Blackmore 27,500
10 August 1986 Ajax A 0–1 23,000
14 August 1986 Shamrock Rovers A 0–2 10,200
17 August 1986 Real Sociedad H 1–1 Blackmore 12,826
2 September 1986 Hearts A 2–2 Olsen (pen.), T. Gibson 10,438
10 September 1986 Linfield A 3–0 Robson (2), Davenport 10,919
15 December 1986 GCC All-Stars N 1–0 Whiteside 4,000
21 January 1987 Red Star Belgrade H 0–1 10,652
24 February 1987 Swansea City A 3–1 T. Gibson, Whiteside, Davenport 6,467
18 March 1987 Shamrock Rovers A 1–2 Robson 8,000
25 March 1987 Celtic A 0–1 36,000
10 May 1987 England XI H 7–2 Hughes (4; 1 pen.), Martin, Gibson, Bond (o.g.) 16,907
16 May 1987 Naxxar Lions N 9–0 Whiteside (3), O’Brien (2), Blackmore, Davenport (pen.), Duxbury, Stapleton 4,000

First Division

Date Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance League
position
23 August 1986 Arsenal A 0–1 41,382 15th
25 August 1986 West Ham United H 2–3 Stapleton 40′, Davenport 46′ 43,306 18th
30 August 1986 Charlton Athletic H 0–1 37,544 21st
6 September 1986 Leicester City A 1–1 Whiteside 52′ 16,785 22nd
13 September 1986 Southampton H 5–1 Olsen 22′ (pen.), Davenport 25′, Stapleton (2) 36′, 83′, Whiteside 53′ 40,135 19th
16 September 1986 Watford A 0–1 21,650 19th
21 September 1986 Everton A 1–3 Robson 12′ 25,843 21st
28 September 1986 Chelsea H 0–1 33,340 21st
4 October 1986 Nottingham Forest A 1–1 Robson 73′ 34,828 21st
11 October 1986 Sheffield Wednesday H 3–1 Davenport (2) 35′ (pen.), 85′, Whiteside 83′ 45,890 20th
18 October 1986 Luton Town H 1–0 Stapleton 9′ 39,927 19th
25 October 1986 Manchester City A 1–1 Stapleton 47′ 32,440 20th
1 November 1986 Coventry City H 1–1 Davenport 31′ 36,946 19th
8 November 1986 Oxford United A 0–2 13,545 20th
15 November 1986 Norwich City A 0–0 22,684 21st
22 November 1986 Queens Park Rangers H 1–0 Sivebæk 32′ 42,235 17th
29 November 1986 Wimbledon A 0–1 12,112 17th
7 December 1986 Tottenham Hotspur H 3–3 Whiteside 11′, Davenport (2) 36′, 88′ (pen.) 35,957 16th
13 December 1986 Aston Villa A 3–3 Davenport (2) 18′, 55′, Whiteside 54′ 29,205 17th
20 December 1986 Leicester City H 2–0 C. Gibson 11′, Stapleton 67′ 34,150 15th
26 December 1986 Liverpool A 1–0 Whiteside 78′ 40,663 14th
27 December 1986 Norwich City H 0–1 44,610 15th
1 January 1987 Newcastle United H 4–1 P. Jackson 4′ (o.g.), Whiteside 9′, Stapleton 56′, Olsen 90′ 43,334 14th
3 January 1987 Southampton A 1–1 Olsen 11′ 20,409 13th
24 January 1987 Arsenal H 2–0 Strachan 55′, T. Gibson 90′ 51,367 13th
7 February 1987 Charlton Athletic A 0–0 15,482 13th
14 February 1987 Watford H 3–1 McGrath 26′, Davenport 48′ (pen.), Strachan 65′ 35,763 11th
21 February 1987 Chelsea A 1–1 Davenport 61′ (pen.) 26,516 12th
28 February 1987 Everton H 0–0 47,421 12th
7 March 1987 Manchester City H 2–0 Reid 62′ (o.g.), Robson 85′ 48,619 10th
14 March 1987 Luton Town A 1–2 Robson 88′ 12,509 13th
21 March 1987 Sheffield Wednesday A 0–1 29,888 13th
28 March 1987 Nottingham Forest H 2–0 McGrath 12′, Robson 44′ 39,182 12th
4 April 1987 Oxford United H 3–2 Davenport (2) 25′, 35′, Robson 90′ 32,443 11th
14 April 1987 West Ham United A 0–0 23,486 11th
18 April 1987 Newcastle United A 1–2 Strachan 41′ 32,706 12th
20 April 1987 Liverpool H 1–0 Davenport 88′ 54,103 11th
25 April 1987 Queens Park Rangers A 1–1 Strachan 49′ 17,414 11th
2 May 1987 Wimbledon H 0–1 31,686 11th
4 May 1987 Tottenham Hotspur A 0–4 36,692 11th
6 May 1987 Coventry City A 1–1 Whiteside 25′ 23,407 11th
9 May 1987 Aston Villa H 3–1 Blackmore 55′, Duxbury 63′, Robson 65′ 35,179 11th
Pos Club Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
10 Coventry City 42 17 12 13 50 45 +5 63
11 Manchester United 42 14 14 14 52 45 +7 56
12 Southampton 42 14 10 18 69 68 +1 52

Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points

FA Cup

Date Round Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
10 January 1987 Round 3 Manchester City H 1–0 Whiteside 66′ 54,294
31 January 1987 Round 4 Coventry City H 0–1 49,082

League Cup

Date Round Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
24 September 1986 Round 2
First leg
Port Vale H 2–0 Stapleton 51′, Whiteside 81′ 18,906
7 October 1986 Round 2
Second leg
Port Vale A 5–2 Stapleton 34′, Barnes 71′, Moses (2) 75′, 89′, Davenport 77′ (pen.) 10,486
29 October 1986 Round 3 Southampton H 0–0 23,639
4 November 1986 Round 3
Replay
Southampton A 1–4 Davenport 17,915

Squad statistics

Pos. Name League FA Cup Littlewoods Cup Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
GK England Gary Bailey 5 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
GK England Chris Turner 23 0 2 0 4 0 29 0
GK England Gary Walsh 14 0 0 0 0 0 14 0
DF Scotland Arthur Albiston 19(3) 0 0 0 4 0 23(3) 0
DF Wales Clayton Blackmore 10(2) 1 1 0 0 0 11(2) 1
DF England Mike Duxbury 32 1 2 0 3 0 37 1
DF England Billy Garton 9 0 2 0 0 0 11 0
DF England Colin Gibson 24 1 1 0 1 0 26 1
DF Scotland Graeme Hogg 11 0 0 0 2 0 13 0
DF Republic of Ireland Paul McGrath 34(1) 2 0(1) 0 4 0 38(2) 2
DF Republic of Ireland Kevin Moran 32(1) 0 2 0 2(1) 0 36(2) 0
DF Denmark John Sivebæk 27(1) 1 2 0 1 0 30(1) 1
MF England Peter Barnes 7 0 0 0 2 1 9 1
MF England Tony Gill 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
MF England Remi Moses 17(1) 0 0 0 4 2 21(1) 2
MF Republic of Ireland Liam O’Brien 9(2) 0 0 0 0 0 9(2) 0
MF Denmark Jesper Olsen 22(6) 3 2 0 1(1) 0 25(7) 3
MF England Bryan Robson 29(1) 7 0 0 3 0 32(1) 7
MF Scotland Gordon Strachan 33(1) 4 2 0 2 0 37(1) 4
FW England Peter Davenport 34(5) 14 1(1) 0 4 2 39(6) 16
FW England Terry Gibson 12(4) 1 1(1) 0 0(2) 0 13(7) 1
FW Republic of Ireland Frank Stapleton 25(9) 7 2 0 4 2 31(9) 9
FW Northern Ireland Norman Whiteside 31 8 2 1 3(1) 1 36(1) 10
FW England Nicky Wood 2 0 0 0 0(1) 0 2(1) 0