It was a classic case of so near, yet so far for Manchester United when it came to the topsy-turvy campaign of 1969-70.
It was all change at Old Trafford as club legend Matt Busby had retired after 24 years as manager to be replaced by Wilf McGuinness.
As far as league form was concerned, it was a season of two halves. United stuttered before Christmas but regained their composure in the New Year to finish eighth in the First Division.
But the real drama came in the domestic cup competitions as the Red Devils lost out by a single goal in the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and League Cup.
United’s FA Cup run ended after a titanic struggle against Don Revie’s Leeds United. The semi-final between the two clubs went to two replays after a goal-less draw at Hillsborough on March 14th 1970.
The first replay at Villa Park a week later also ended in a 0-0 stalemate, so the teams met again in a second replay on March 26th at Burnden Park, Bolton.
This time Leeds won 1-0 with the solitary goal coming from their fiery skipper Billy Bremner in the ninth minute.
United’s progress up to that point had been more straightforward. On January 3rd 1970 Ipswich were dispatched 1-0 in the Third Round at Portman Road thanks to a solitary own goal.
Fans ran on to the pitch to celebrate – more out of relief than anything else. United’s league results up to that point had been far from brilliant, including a 4-0 away thrashing from Manchester City and a 4-1 home defeat by Southampton.
The Fourth Round of the FA Cup saw the Red Devils exact revenge on local rivals City by beating them 3-0 at Old Trafford. Brian Kidd bagged a brace with Willie Morgan scoring the third.
Round Five could have been a banana skin as United were drawn away to Northampton Town. Unfortunately for the Cobblers, there were no giant-killings at the old County Ground on February 7th.
The Red Devils won a one-sided rout 8-2 with George Best bagging a double hat-trick. Kidd scored the other two.
The quarter final saw United play Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park on February 25th in front of a fiercely partisan 40,000 crowd. The result was 1-1 with Carlo Sartori scoring for the Red Devils.
United won the Old Trafford replay 2-1 with goals from Morgan and Bobby Charlton, who was looking forward to playing for England in the 1970 World Cup.
In readiness for the trip to Mexico, he’d already undergone blood tests and dental checks with the rest of the England squad at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. Our photo shows him playing cards in the waiting room with Alan Ball and Geoff Hurst.
United’s run to the League Cup semi-final started with a 1-0 home win against Middlesbrough in September 1969. David Sadler was the scorer. A 2-0 home win over Wrexham followed with Best and Kidd netting for United.
It took a replay at Old Trafford to beat Burney 1-0 after a goal-less draw at Turf Moor in October. Best was again on the score sheet.
In November, United journeyed to the Baseball Ground to play Derby County in the Fifth Round. The match ended 0-0 forcing a replay at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils found their rhythm at home in front of 57,393 fans, winning 1-0 with another goal from Kidd.
Then came the two-leg semi-final against who else but local rivals Manchester City!
United lost 2-1 at Maine Road on December 3rd. Charlton’s goal was not enough to cancel out strikes by Colin Bell and Francis Lee, who scored his 50th goal for the club.
The second leg, played at Old Trafford in front of a 63,418 crowd, ended in a 2-2 draw with Paul Edwards and Denis Law netting for United. City’s goals came from Ian Bowyer and Mike Summerbee.
While United pondered what might have been, City went on to win the cup by defeating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at Wembley with goals from Glyn Pardoe and Mike Doyle.
Results failed to improve for United the next season – and the board decided to take action. McGuinness was sacked in December 1970 to be replaced by Matt Busby until new manager Frank O’Farrell could take over in July 1971.
*Readers can revel in the past 150 years with a brilliant anniversary book from the M.E.N. and local publishers iNostalgia.
The Changing Face of Manchester: Second Edition is packed with past images of Manchester contrasted with modern photos of how the same scenes look now.
The book retails at £14.99, but M.E.N. readers can order it for the reduced price of £9.99 plus postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.