Aston Villa 3 Man United 2
Aston Villa 3 Manchester United, Villa Park, English Football League First Division, November 6, 1976. Manchester United, who entered the fixture on the back of a 1-0 defeat against Ipswich Town at Old Trafford, lost 3-2 to Aston Villa at Villa Park where Andy Gray hit a brace for The Claret and Blue.
An original member of the Football League, Aston Villa had completely dominated the game between 1892 and 1905. During that period they claimed the First Division title on five occasions and reached the FA Cup Final four times, winning three of them. The Midlanders also won the First Division in 1909-10 as well as the FA Cup in 1913 and 1920, but they would decline during the years between the two great wars and were relegated for the first time in their history in 1937. They gained promotion out of League Division Two in 1939 and went on to clinch the FA Cup in 1957 by beating Manchester United 2-1 in the final courtesy of a brace by Northern Ireland international Peter McParland in the 68th and 73rd minutes respectively, but another relegation came in 1959. And although Villa won the Second Division in 1960 and the League Cup the next year, they failed to adapt to the new conditions of the 1960s and they found themselves relegated to the Second Division at the end of the 1966-67 season. Managers came and left without any success and things went from worse to even worse as the once mighty club slipped down from Division Two to Division Three in 1969-70.
After hitting rock bottom, Aston Villa came back to life under the astute leadership of former player Vic Crowe who transformed the sleeping giant into a footballing force to be reckoned with again. The Black Country outfit were involved in the promotion race throughout the 1970-71 campaign and managed to reach the League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, only to lose 2-0 against First Division Tottenham Hotspur. And with new and exciting players coming in, Aston Villa won the Third Division in convincing style in the 1971-72 season and came close to a second successive promotion the following year. After a mediocre 1973-74 campaign in which Villa finished 14th in the Second Division table, Crowe was eventually replaced by Ron Saunders who not only took The Villains to promotion in his first year at Villa Park, but he also steered them to the League Cup Final where they beat his former employer Norwich City 1-0 through a rebound penalty from ex-Bristol Rovers winger Ray Graydon with nine minutes remaining on the clock. Aston Villa, who had been promoted alongside Manchester United and Norwich, would start the 1975-76 season on a relatively good note and the boys in claret and blue ended the campaign well above the drop zone, finishing in 16th place with 39 points.
Aston Villa had begun the 1976-77 season reasonably strong and found themselves sitting seventh in the First Division table ahead of the meeting with mid-tablers Manchester United at Villa Park. Four weeks before this match took place, however, a so-called friendly between Aston Villa and Scottish Champions Glasgow Rangers in Birmingham had to be abandoned by referee Derek Civil eight minutes into the second half because of crowd trouble. There was no problems with fans this time around, though, and the game went as scheduled. In front of an attendance of 45,000 people, Manchester United almost scored early on when attack minded full back Jimmy Nicholl stormed down the right flank before sending a low cross to Steve Coppell who unleashed a ferocious shot which hit the upright. The Old Trafford men finally put themselves into the lead on the half-hour mark as a splendidly delivered free-kick from Gordon Hill was met by Stuart “Pancho” Pearson who headed downwards past Aston Villa goalkeeper John Burridge and into the back of the net, but The Lions hit back shortly afterwards as a cross by England U23 international John Gidman eventually found its way to previous Coventry City playmaker Dennis Mortimer whose superb effort from just outside the 18-yard area went beyond the outstretched right arm of away shot stoppper Alex Stepney and into the goal.
The Brummies started the second period the better and went ahead for the first time in the clash a mere minute following the resumption when the perpetually running Frank Carrodus, a bargain £95,000 acquisition from Manchester City in the summer of 1974, crossed low for the unmarked and well-positioned Andy Gray who had no problems at all in finding the net from inside the six-yard box. Roared on by the boisterous travelling supporters, the visitors were not hanging their heads and had their equaliser not long after as Hill, who had been working tirelessly all afternoon, fired the ball into the onion bag via both posts from short range, only for Villa to go in front again six minutes before the hour mark as the dynamic and irrepressible Gray beat Stepney with a close range header from a brilliant high cross sent by Ray Graydon. Then, a few moments later, Aston Villa were handed a penalty by the referee after Manchester United deputy skipper Brian Greenhoff had illegally brought down Gray in the area, but the subsequent spot-kick from the usually reliable Graydon was excellently saved by Stepney and the tie ended with a final score of 3-2 in favour of The Villa.
A Londoner, Gordon Hill had started out with Second Division Millwall where he proceeded to make his mark as a free flowing flankman. Following a loan period with North American Soccer League outfit Chicago Sting, the affable character was transferred to Manchester United for a fee of £70,000 at the front end of 1975-76 season and went on to make his First Division debut in a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on the 15th of November 1975. A winger with an eye for the net, he registered his first goal for The Reds in an impressive 4-1 victory against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on the 13th of December and scored another one in a 1-0 triumph over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford a week later. On the 3rd of April 1976, he bagged a brace in a 2-0 FA Cup Semi-Final win over Derby County at Hillsborough and was member of the side that suffered a 1-0 defeat to Second Division Southampton in the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium the following month. However, Hill was back at Wembley a year later playing in the Manchester United team which defeated North West rivals Liverpool 2-1 in the 1977 FA Cup Final. Always the entertainer, the light-hearted Cockney would have everybody in laughter with his Norman Wisdom impressions, even though Manchester United captain Martin Buchan wasn’t always a fan of his jokes. After contributing 51 goals in 134 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United, he was sold to Derby County for a transfer fee of £250,000 at the back end of the 1977-78 campaign, linking up with old boss Tommy Docherty. He later appeared for Queens Park Rangers, Montreal Manic, Chicago Sting, Inter Montreal, FC Twente, HJK Helsinki, Stafford Rangers, Northwich Victoria, and Nova Scotia Clippers before he decided to hang up his football boots in 1991.
In First Division fixtures elsewhere, Queens Park Rangers and Derby County earned a point each in a 1-1 draw at Shepherd´s Bush, Liverpool edged out Sunderland 1-0 at Roker Park where substitute David Fairclough netted the winner for The Anfielders in the 76th minute, Ipswich Town outclassed West Bromwich Albion 7-0 at Portman Road, Bristol City were held to a goalless draw by Coventry City at Ashton Gate, Arsenal hammered Birmingham City 4-0 at Highbury, Manchester City could only manage a goalless draw against Newcastle United in front of a 40,000 crowd at at Maine Road, West Ham United ran out 5-3 winners against Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park, Stoke City beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at Victoria Ground, Leicester City and Norwich City drew 1-1 at Filbert Street, and Everton suffered a 2-0 defeat against Leeds United at Goodison Park. In the Second Division, Wolverhampton Wanderers thumped Millwall 3-1 at Molineux, Southampton and Orient shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw at The Dell, Plymouth Argyle went down 3-1 to Charlton Athletic at The Valley, Fulham fell 2-1 to Cardiff City at Craven Cottage, Blackpool managed a 2-2 draw against Hull City at Boothferry Park, Carlisle United were defeated 1-0 by Bolton Wanderers at Brunton Park, Burnley emerged 1-0 victors against Oldham Athletic at Turf Moor, Bristol Rovers succumbed to a 4-2 loss at the hands of Luton Town at Kenilworth Road, Sheffield United overcame Notts County by 1-0 at Bramall Lane, Hereford United and Chelsea played out a 2-2 draw at Edgar Street, while Nottingham Forest trashed Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at City Ground, with Ian Bowyer, Sean Haslegrave, and Peter Withe scoring a goal each for The Tricky Trees.
Following the 3-2 defeat against Aston Villa at Villa Park, Manchester United were now sitting fourteenth in the Division One table with twelve points. Liverpool, who were defending champions, were topping the standings with twenty points, three more than Ipswich Town, and four more than Aston Villa, Manchester City, Newcastle United, and Leicester City. At the other end of the table, Tottenham Hotspur, who were managed by ex-Denaby United, Liverpool, Workington, and Scunthorpe United defender Keith Burkinshaw, were just above the relegation zone with nine points, one more than Bristol City, two more than West Ham United, and three more than Sunderland. In Division Two, Chelsea were top of the table with twenty points, four ahead of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, and Charlton Athletic. At the bottom of the standings were Plymouth Argyle, Fulham, and Cardiff City who had eleven points each, while Carlisle United, Orient, and Hereford United all found themselves in the drop zone with ten, eight, and seven points respectively. Aston Villa Team: John Burridge, John Gidman, Gordon Smith, Leighton Phillips, Chris Nicholl, Dennis Mortimer, Frank Carrodus, Alex Cropley, Raymond Graydon, Andrew Gray, Brian Little. Substitute: John Robson. Manchester United Team: Alex Stepney, Jimmy Nicholl, Arthur Albiston, Gerry Daly, Brian Greenhoff, Stewart Houston, Chris McGrath, Sammy McIlroy, Stuart Pearson, Steve Coppell, Gordon Hill. Substitute: David McCreery.
Manchester United Quickfacts
Second Division leaders Manchester United lost two-nil against fifth placed Aston Villa at Villa Park on the 22nd of February 1975. Ray Graydon and Charlie Aitken scored the goals for Villa.