Mark Hughes turns 53 today and whatever you might think of him you can’t doubt his contribution to the Manchester United cause, often during the club’s more difficult days.
Yes, he may have blotted his copy book somewhat by taking the manager’s role at Manchester City, but for his sheer effort, fighting spirit, energy, passion and general ability, he will be seen by many Reds as a true club legend.
So what better chance to look back at some of the greatest moments of Sparky’s time at the club?
Liverpool FA Cup Semi-Final Replay 1985
After a thrilling draw at Goodison Park in the first game United had the chance to secure the victory that they so nearly achieved just three days before when the two sides met again at Maine Road in the replay. But at half-time the Reds found themselves 1-0 to an unfortunate Paul McGrath own goal. But a piece of magic from Bryan Robson drew United level in the second half before a delightful through-ball put Hughes in the clear with a chance to make it 2-1. He didn’t need asking twice and wheeled away in celebration after slotting the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar as Reds fans went crazy.
Manchester City First Division 1989
Scoring the only United goal in an infamous 5-1 defeat which would subsequently became the only incident most people remember from the game takes some doing. But that’s just what Mark Hughes did in September 1989. This humiliation at the start of the shockingly poor season may have been a bitter pill to swallow for Reds that day but it’s testimony to Hughes that it was his athletic volley from Russell Beardsmore’s right wing cross to give United a glimmer of hope after conceding three quick goals that made all the highlights packages and back pages that weekend. Of course as we know, City were only stopped in their tracks temporarily by the strike. But who can’t picture that image of Hughes’s spectacular side-on bicycle kick when they dare to think back to that defeat?
Crystal Palace FA Cup Final 1990
The FA Cup run was the only thing that had kept United fans and their beleaguered manager going in this, the most tortuous of seasons. Having battled relegation since Christmas United now found themselves with a great chance to end the season on a high by beating Crystal Palace in the final at Wembley. But any chance of glory in an otherwise forgettable season seemed to be slipping away as Palace led in extra-time. But with just 10 minutes remaining Danny Wallace poked the ball through to Hughes, who seemed to take an eternity before sliding the ball past Nigel Martin at a snail’s pace. Hughes and United had “saved themselves” proclaimed John Motson in the commentary box. Thanks to Hughes’s second goal of the game they had earned another trip to Wembley four days later in a replay they were never going to lose, and they didn’t.
Liverpool Rumbelows Cup 1990
On a crisp autumn night United faced their bitter rivals and defending champions from down the M62 in a pulsating League Cup clash. After a Steve Bruce penalty put the Reds one up what happened 90 seconds later was classic Hughes. Straight from kick-off and with a heavily strapped ankle, the Welshman picked up the ball on the half way line with only one thing in mind. After hurdling a reckless tackle and ghosting past a number of retreating defenders he then arrowed a shot into the top right hand corner from all of 30 yards past a stranded Grobbelaar. Old Trafford exploded and United were on their way in a cup run that saw them also beat Arsenal and Leeds before falling to Sheffield Wednesday in the final.
Barcelona European Cup Winners’ Cup Final 1991
Just a few years previously Hughes had walked out on Barcelona and was seen by many Catalans as something of a failure. But if there was ever a chance to prove his doubters wrong after his forgettable days at the Nou Camp this was it. On a miserable night in Rotterdam Hughes put United one up when he forced home a Steve Bruce header as it was about to cross the line. But if there was any doubt over his first goal his second that night was clinical. Having been put clear by Robson Hughes looked to have taken the ball too wide when he rounded the Barca keeper, only to drive the ball into the net from the most acute of angles. And he was only denied a hat trick when he was pulled down on the edge of the box when through on gaol which resulted in a red card for his Spanish marker.
Oldham FA Cup Semi-Final 1994
United looked to be cruising towards a league and cup double in 1994 when they suddenly hit an alarming run of form that had seen their lead at the top reduced to just a couple of points. And when Neil Pointon put Olham ahead in extra time in the cup semi-final at Wembley, Reds fans started to imagine the unthinkable. But deep into stoppage time Mark Hughes latched onto a hopeful McClair ball to rifle a shot high into the top corner of John Hallworth’s net. From that moment on the tide had turned and thanks in no small part to Hughes, United did indeed go on to clinch their first double.
by Matthew Crist