• Rewind to 1994

Razor Ruddock seals great escape

Tom Walker
September 15, 2010
Steve Bruce put Manchester United ahead after nine minutes but his opener was only the beginning of a six-goal thriller © Getty Images

Manchester United and Liverpool resume hostilities on Sunday and such is the magnitude of their fierce rivalry, another intense derby is likely to set hearts racing at Old Trafford.

Over the years we have been treated to some enthralling battles, and if you cast your mind back to 1994, the 90 minutes of compelling drama that unfolded at Anfield is as good as any we have witnessed.

United travelled to Merseyside full of confidence. Sir Alex Ferguson's side were top of the table, having lost just once, and they would have been licking their lips at the prospect of facing a Liverpool side in complete disarray. Under Graeme Souness' watchful eye, the Reds found themselves 21 points adrift of their long-time rivals - in ninth place - which was almost unheard of considering the club's recent dominance in domestic football.

Still, the form guide suggested the match would be closer than many were predicting, with Liverpool unbeaten in their previous six Premier League outings and United boasting a 17-match unbeaten streak that included 12 wins.

Anfield, as ever, provided a raucous atmosphere and when Peter Schmeichel removed about 30 reels of toilet tissue from the pitch, there was a sense that an absolute classic was about to be dished up.

United were handed the ominous task of defending the Kop end first, but, if anything, this spurred them on even more and within ten minutes they broke the deadlock. Anfield was a cauldron and Steve Bruce did nothing to turn down the heat when he towered to meet Eric Cantona's corner and send a thundering header past a stunned Bruce Grobbelaar.

Seemingly within a blink of an eye, the visitors were two goals to the good. Ryan Giggs swivelled into space before producing an exquisite lob that left Grobbelaar once again returning to his net to fetch the ball with his tail between his legs. Two nil and suddenly chants of 'United, United' were amplified around the stadium, drowning out the moans and groans from the Liverpool faithful.

United looked ready to strike at any moment, hounding Liverpool, pressing them into making sloppy errors. Has a Liverpool outfit ever looked so vulnerable, so at the mercy of their opponents?

Somehow you just knew that when Denis Irwin lined up a free-kick 25 yards out, it was going to end up in the back of the net. And the Irishman didn't disappoint, unleashing an unstoppable bullet that crashed into the top left hand corner with arrow-like accuracy.

Twenty four minutes gone, 3-0 down at home to your worst enemies, Liverpool were staring down the barrel. And yet, from nowhere they had a lifeline. Andy Gray could still be heard lauding Irwin's stunning strike when Liverpool, making a rare foray into the United half, suddenly woke up. Bruce could only half clear on the edge of the box and Nigel Clough needed no second invitation to let fly from 25 yards past a despairing Schmeichel into the bottom corner.

A tense Graeme Souness makes it clear he wants two up front © Getty Images

The Kop instantly came alive, and there was a palpable sense in the stadium that the momentum was about to swing in the home team's favour. Clough, who cost the Reds £2.3 million, did nothing else in his time at the club, but by two acts of sheer brilliance he repaid most of that fee in the space of 15 minutes.

The second arrived in the 38th minute. With tension still high and adrenalin still coursing through the players' veins, more uncharacteristic defensive errors led to a goal. United could not clear their lines, the ball cannoning off of Roy Keane and Clough, appearing to enjoy the chaos more than anyone, again latched onto the rebound, picking his spot from just inside the penalty area.

Five goals in 38 minutes - and yet you found yourself feeling greedy and expecting more. Giggs should have extended United's lead but somehow failed to connect from five yards out - and as so often is the case in football, if you don't take your chances they can so easily come back to haunt you.

Schmeichel and Grobbelaar then took centre stage with some fabulous saves to keep the score at 3-2. After the drama of the first half, it was hardly surprising to see the goals dry up, though the intensity refused to drop.

Liverpool, willed on by their loyal supporters, pressed for an equaliser. With time running out, Souness implored his side to surge forward in numbers and, eventually, United's resistance finally broke.

Neil 'Razor' Ruddock was the hero, completing an unlikely comeback with ten minutes left, though what he remembers of it remains a mystery. He charged forward, and when Stig Bjornebye floated over an inviting cross, Ruddock ghosted into the danger zone before crashing his header into the roof of the net. As Anfield erupted, Ruddock stumbled back to the halfway line as if he had just been in the most ferocious of battles. Then again, he had.

Expect more of the same on Sunday.

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