Time for Norwich City to give Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson another headache
Chris Hughton will be hoping to join the select list of Norwich City bosses to get the upper hand over Sir Alex Ferguson when Premier League leaders Manchester United arrive for Saturday's late kick-off.
But the Canaries will have to break a losing trend against United stretching back over two decades if they are to claim another big scalp at Carrow Road (5.30pm), where Arsenal were beaten 1-0 last month.
A 2-0 Premiership win for Nigel Worthington's team in 2005 is the only Norwich victory in the last 14 meetings with the Red Devils, going back more than 21 years. Twelve of those games have ended in defeat, including the double rather unjustly suffered by Paul Lambert's side last season.
But prior to that, City had proved something of a bogey team for Ferguson in his early days in charge of one of the world's biggest clubs.
Ken Brown's City team won 1-0 at Old Trafford a few weeks after Ferguson took over in 1986, and Brown's successor, Dave Stringer, won his first five games in charge against United – adding an FA Cup fifth round win against then holders United in 1991 for good measure.
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Such a winning sequence would now be regarded almost as fantasy football from the Canaries, but there was no fluke as they took advantage of United's faltering first few years under their now legendary Scottish boss.
Stringer recalled: 'In my first full season as manager, we went to Old Trafford and won 2-1 when Micky Phelan and Andy Townsend scored the goals. We started the season well, were top of Division One and went there full of confidence and the players were able to lift their game.'
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City repeated the trick the following season with a 2-0 away win over United on the night �2.3m centre-half Gary Pallister made his much-publicised debut. It was the fourth in that run of five straight victories.
'It's nice to be able to say that you've done that, but when you do, it's down to the total effort of everyone and you are only as strong as your weakest link,' said Stringer, who acknowledged that Ferguson took time to find a winning formula at United, and that City were one side who took full advantage.
'He had the players but he didn't have them playing as a team together in quite the way he wanted,' he said. 'Once he had that, and you look at his record, the rest is history.'
United's array of domestic and world stars make them a more daunting proposition in today's Premier League, he admits, not least because of an international quartet of strikers in Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, who turned last week's game at Aston Villa on its head after coming off the bench to inspire a 3-2 win. Rooney (ankle) and Van Persie (thigh) both missed international duty this week, and it remains to be seen if they are fit to face City.
'A lot of times it depends on what day you catch them, and if they have been in European competition the week before or have had players on international duty, you might think that helps you,' said Stringer. 'But they have such strength in depth that the manager can change the side around, and then bring on someone like Hernandez. He has so many alternatives for bringing people on.'
Stringer is nevertheless encouraged by the way Hughton has steadied the ship after a difficult start to his reign, with City unbeaten in five matches in all competitions.
'You have to have that belief that you can go out and win games like this and you can't hope that you just stay in the division,' he said. 'You have to have real ambition because it gives the players a target to aim for.'
Meanwhile, the world United inhabit compared to most of their Premier League rivals was summed up by yesterday's news that their gross debt was reduced to �359.7m during the first financial quarter.
They estimate overall income will reach about �350m over the financial year to June 30, 2013. In the last quarter alone, United entered into 10 sponsorship arrangements, including a �357m deal with General Motors for the Chevrolet logo to be worn on their shirts for seven seasons from 2014.
• City managers' record against United under Sir Alex Ferguson (all competitions)
Ken Brown P: 3, W: 1, D: 1, L: 1, F: 2, A: 2
Dave Stringer P: 10, W: 6, D: 0, L: 4, F: 12, A: 15
Mike Walker P: 4, W: 0, D: 1, L: 3, F: 3, A: 8
John Deehan P: 3, W: 0, D: 0, L: 3, F: 0, A: 5
Nigel Worthington P: 2, W: 1, D: 0, L: 1, F: 3, A: 2
Paul Lambert P: 2, W: 0, D: 0, L: 2, F: 1, A: 4
Total: P: 24, W: 8, D: 2, L: 14, F: 21, A: 36