It marked the dawn of Fergie Time.
Scientific wisdom had always conveyed the premise that an hour-and-a-half consisted of 90 minutes.
But on Saturday, April 10, 1993, a memorable match with a dramatic finish changed the history of timekeeping and left Old Trafford rocking as Manchester United beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1.
Two late headers from Steve Bruce , the winner in the 96th minute, reinforced United’s conviction that 26 years of title drought was about to end.
Until he retired four years ago, the impression took root that football matches would now last for as long as Sir Alex Ferguson required.
Bruce, now the Aston Villa manager, reviewed the game where United’s fortunes changed and said: “For 26 years, we hadn’t won the title and it had become a burden to everybody at Old Trafford. That was the year we found the holy grail.”
Fergie Time would become a familiar bone of contention for opponents beaten by late winners, but the day it was born was also the date United seized control of the title race – and rarely relaxed their grip for the next 20 years.
Neck and neck with their former manager Ron Atkinson’s Villa, it looked as if United were about to surrender ground at the top when they trailed to John Sheridan’s penalty with four minutes to go. The Owls’ spot-kick was replacement referee John Hilditch’s first decision of any consequence.
He was running the line when ref Michael Peck pulled up lame, which led to a lengthy stoppage. The delay proved critical.
Bruce’s glancing header looped over England keeper Chris Woods with four minutes of normal time to go to level the scores, and Wednesday players were petitioning Hilditch, asking how much more added time was to follow, as the clock ticked towards 96 minutes.
When Ryan Giggs’ over-hit cross cleared everyone, first to retrieve it and send it back into the danger area was centre-back Gary Pallister.
“That was the philosophy Sir Alex instilled in us as a team,” said Bruce. “Everyone was comfortable, to a degree, with the ball at his feet, and my mate Pally could sling over a decent cross for a big lad.”
Some of the pace was taken off Pallister’s delivery when it skidded off the top of Nigel Worthington’s head, but the deflection enabled Bruce to time his charge into the box and meet it, with a thumping header, into the corner.
Fergie came bounding out of the dugout to perform a war dance, while his assistant Brian Kidd’s manic knee-slide on the pitch became an enduring image of the late turnaround.
“Everyone talks about the Sheffield Wednesday game as if it was the day we won the title, and it was dramatic for sure,” said Bruce.
“My dad ended up jumping around the market place in Morpeth after he tuned into the last few minutes on the radio, and my father-in-law had to pull over because he nearly crashed when I scored.
“But nothing was signed and sealed that day. There were still five games to go, and a few days later we had to go to Coventry, who were fighting for their lives – probably not for the first time.
“Denis Irwin absolutely laced one in from 20 yards for the winner, but nobody talks about that.
“And although people look back and think of it as the day we won the title going head-to-head with Villa, we actually won it by 10 points in the end – so the ‘Fergie Time’ added against Sheffield Wednesday was perhaps not as important as some have made out.”
In his autobiography, Ferguson revealed: “That night I watched the video of the second half and I used my stopwatch to time all the stoppages. There should, in fact, have been an additional 12 minutes.”
Bruce laughs at that recollection and added: “You can actually picture him there in his office, with the stopwatch in one hand and video remote control in the other.
“In all honesty, I felt we should have won it the year before. But we had to play five games in 10 days, we were out on our feet and Leeds took advantage. United had a great team in 80s as well, but of course we had to compete with the great Liverpool side, who were something else.
“Sir Alex’s biggest challenge was to break Liverpool’s stranglehold, or knock them off their perch as he put it, and he was ruthless in pursuit of that.
“As we saw, he wasn’t just content to win the title in 1993 – the following year he won the Double, he did it again two years later and he established United as the dominant force in English football.”