Manchester United’s only season in the Second Division since the Busby era turned out to be one of excitement and success and brought new life into the great club. United hit the headlines also for their notorious fans who had been effectively caged in by FA instructed metal fencing around Old Trafford, and now had unfamiliar territories to mark on their away trips. An average home crowd of 48,389 saw United reach top position by the third game and remain there for the duration of the season, winning promotion with a month to spare.
Tommy Docherty had stuck with the young side that had been so disappointing the season before and was rewarded with some confident displays. As opposed to a year before, United now had a strong rear guard with Alex Stepney, the sole survivor of the 1968 European Cup winners, joined with Brian Greenhoff and Scots Alex Forsyth, Stewart Houston, Jim Holton and captain Martin Buchan.
Stepney had 12 clean sheets from the first 18 matches including the 2-0 triumph away to Leyton Orient on the first game of the season. The first home match on August 24th saw Millwall thrashed 4-0 thanks to a Gerry Daly hat-trick. United’s first loss came in September against Norwich City but they bounced back with a 2-1 away victory against Fulham. Stuart Pearson, who scored both that day, was the sole pre-season signing. The ex-Hull City striker headed the goalscoring charts alongside Lou Macari who was having more of an influence on the game from a deeper position.
Despite being separated by a division now, there was still an opportunity for a derby. Daly knocked City out of the League Cup in front of a delighted Old Trafford. In November, Pearson netted a hat-trick at home to Oxford United but the reds lost the following week away to Bristol City. George Graham made his only appearance of the season, coming off the bench, before leaving to Portsmouth.
On November 30th, United hosted promotion rivals Sunderland after losing to Hull the week before. Pearson started the scoring with a fine finish from outside the area after a lovely shimmy past a defender but his effort was rapidly cancelled out by a Billy Hughes brace. In the second half United rallied with Willie Morgan sliding in an equaliser, once the linesman had decided it wasn’t offside. United had momentum by the time Docherty introduced new signing, veteran striker Ron Davies form Portsmouth, and shortly after Sammy McIlroy slotted home the winning goal.
The following week saw another exciting match, this time at Hillsborough, marred by Jim Holton breaking his leg, ruling him out of the rest of the season. A Houston free-kick gave United the lead but they imploded, conceding three Sheffield Wednesday goals in quick succession. United’s away following stormed the pitch hoping to postpone the match in scenes similar to the derby the season before. However, United influenced the game in a more positive way, coming back to make it 3-3 in the second half with tap-ins from Macari and Pearson. United then surrendered the lead once more but again equalised, this time Macari firing in after a scrummage in the box, which concluded the scoring for the day at 4-4.
The start of 1975 saw the only blip from United. In January they were knocked out of both cups, in a shock FA cup replay defeat to lowly Walsall and in the semi of the League cup by Norwich. This was followed by three more losses in February. This slump was arrested on March 1st with a crunching 4-0 victory over Cardiff City. This game saw the introduction from the bench of new signing Steve Coppell. The tricky-winger, bought for £60,000 from Tranmere Rovers, had been studying economics and it was clear that the 19 year old was going to offer great value for money as soon as he arrived.
United were unbeaten for the remainder of the season. On April 26th, they played their final game at home to Blackpool. Their 4-0 thrashing, thanks to a brace from Pearson, was symptomatic of the successful season they had. Playing good, winning football and backed by a vocal support, United had the momentum to bring them back to where they belonged.