On this day in 1999, Manchester United took the second step towards their treble by beating Newcastle 2-0 in the FA Cup final. We continue our 20th anniversary coverage with a look at how Teddy Sheringham overcame a frustrating season to play a key role in their success.
A season of frustration
Sheringham is regarded as a key figure in Manchester United’s treble because of his FA Cup final goal against Newcastle and his Champions League final equaliser against Bayern Munich in Barcelona a few days later. But it is often overlooked that up until then he had been a peripheral figure.
The forward had been a regular starter in the previous season, scoring 14 goals in 42 games in all competitions following his move from Tottenham, but Dwight Yorke’s arrival from Aston Villa a year later changed everything. Yorke became Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-choice partner for Andy Cole, pushing a disgruntled Sheringham down the pecking order.
“For Manchester United, it was a fantastic season,” Sheringham said in a Sky Sports documentary. “For me, personally, up until the last two weeks of the season, I was very frustrated. I lost my place to Yorkey, first of all, then got a couple of niggly injuries.
“Dwight and Coley were the main strikers and Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer) and I fitted in around them. It was kind of squad rotation but, with all due respect, myself and Ole were playing against the Bradfords and the Sheffield Wednesdays at home, the ones where you’re expected to win. When you were playing Blackburn away or Arsenal away in a crunch game, you knew that the main team was going to play.”
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The result was that Sheringham did not even make his first Premier League start of the treble season until December, when he played 74 minutes in a 2-2 draw against his former side Spurs. By the time the FA Cup final came around, he had only started 11 games all season and scored three goals.
Sheringham had made his frustration clear – Cole recently recalled his angry reaction to being substituted at half-time on the final day of the Premier League season – but when the campaign came to the crunch, he was ready.
“I always remember Sir Alex coming to me in late-January or early-February,” Sheringham recalled. “I was still struggling trying to get back into the team and trying to get fit properly. But he said to me, ‘Look, just make sure you’re fit for the end of the season, I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a big season’.
“Lo and behold, he knew.”
Fate favours him at Wembley
Sheringham scored the breakthrough goal at Wembley but he was not even supposed to be on the pitch at the time.
Ferguson had opted to start with Solskjaer alongside Cole up front, but when Roy Keane was forced off with an ankle injury in the ninth minute, the United boss preferred Sheringham to Yorke or Jesper Blomqvist, reshuffling his midfield by moving Solskjaer to the right flank and David Beckham into the centre.
Cole had made an immediate impact from the bench in the title-clinching win over Tottenham a week earlier, and at Wembley, Sheringham repeated the trick, controlling Cole’s pass, skipping through a crowd of black-and-white shirts before exchanging passes with Paul Scholes and firing a low, first-time finish through the legs of Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper.
Ferguson pumped his fists in delight on the touchline, while out on the pitch, Sheringham was mobbed by ecstatic team-mates. The 31-year-old had been usurped by younger strikers at United, but the brilliantly-taken goal was a reminder of his enduring quality. It was the 250th goal of his club career and perhaps one of the most important.
Indeed, Newcastle never really looked like getting back into the game from then on. Sheringham almost scored a second when he glanced a header narrowly wide from a Gary Neville cross later in the first half, but soon after the break he turned provider, cushioning Solskjaer’s pass into the path of Scholes, who fired home a low drive to double United’s lead.
Sheringham was named man of the match at Wembley but it was not enough to earn him a starting spot in Barcelona a few days later.
“I thought I would have a shout at starting at Camp Nou,” he later recalled. “I was quite upset when the manager told me that I wouldn’t be. There is a selfish element to it – I wanted to play a part and I wanted to be the hero.