Sir Alex Ferguson has had better birthdays. "A horrendous performance," was how he described Manchester United's 4-1 defeat to Queens Park Rangers on New Year's Day 1992. The result made it difficult for the United manager to enjoy his 51st birthday, but the QPR striker Dennis Bailey would have had no such problem celebrating.
Bailey scored a hat-trick as his 15th-placed side pulled off the biggest surprise of the season against a top of the table United side chasing their first league title in 25 years. "It was one of the low points of my career," recalls the former United and QPR defender Paul Parker. "How Rangers fans must have enjoyed my humiliation, and who could blame them?" Parker had left the West London club for United just six months earlier in a £1.6million (Dh8.6m) transfer and wanted to show his former teammates he had made the right decision.
"It all started to go wrong for me the day before," he said. "We stayed in a hotel on New Year's Eve even though the match, which was televised, didn't kick off until 5pm. "We trained in the morning when most sensible people were sleeping. It was a big game for me, but there was no time to relax and I could see that as a team we were lethargic. "Rangers ran us ragged and my old teammate Andy Sinton caught me as cold as I have ever been caught. Sinton was nicknamed the rat because of his scuttling running style. He scored, but the real Rangers hero was Denis Bailey."
At the end of the game, the triumphant Bailey walked into the United dressing room holding the match ball. Bailey was not one to gloat, but he wanted it signed by the United players. "Steve Bruce, who had been his marker, got hold of the ball, fumed, 'Don't be silly' and threw it out through the door," recalls Parker. It was the first time the Hoops had won at Old Trafford and they never looked like losing after going ahead in the third minute through Sinton.
Two minutes later, Bailey held off a challenge from United's Clayton Blackmore and shot home from 15 yards via the goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel's hands. The tiny away following of 900 in a crowd of 38,554 watched in as much disbelief as the home fans as QPR's incisive passing allowed them to dominate. Bailey got a second after combining with Sinton on the hour mark and Brian McClair pulled back a consolation goal for United on 82 minutes, but until then the visiting keeper Jan Stejskal had not been forced into a save.
Bailey completed the scoring with five minutes to go to seal United's worst home defeat since 1977. "That was just unbelievable and we got what we deserved," said Ferguson after the match. "It was a lack of determination in clearing the ball and defending properly. We hadn't even got started when QPR were 2-0 up." "This is a dream come true for me at Old Trafford," added Bailey. "My first ever hat-trick and at a ground I have only ever been to once before. That was eight years ago when I was a fan supporting Tottenham in a cup match."
Years later, Bailey added: "Without a doubt, that game was the highlight of my career. I was fortunate enough to be part of a really good QPR side that played quality attacking football. "We eent to Old Trafford as underdogs and people were saying we would lose by three or four goals. United were unbeaten at home, chasing the championship and the country expected them to win." Bailey, who still goes to church every Sunday, had no doubt about who was behind the victory.
"I could not quite believe what happened to me out there on the pitch against United," he said. "But I am convinced that I did it with God's assistance. God helped me do this - as he always does." The defeat saw United slip to second behind Leeds United, the team who would eventually pip Ferguson's men to the title. firstname.lastname@example.org