First Division Sheffield United were bamboozled by Premier League Manchester United who claimed there second successive FA Cup victory at Bramall Lane two years on the trot. In the league the Blades had been in fine form and hadn't lost since 20 November, winning five of the last eight matches which saw them fifth in the table prior to this domestic cup match against Alex Ferguson's side.
Manchester United opted to play in blue and white and were given something of an advantage when after 13 minutes Charlie Hartfield was dismissed after he 'slapped' Eric Cantona in the face; the Frenchman would go on to become the star of the show, but United held out until ten minutes remaining when the Red Devils produced two goals to win the match.
It was Cantona who started and subsequently finished the move and in some style, considered to be one of his most memorable goals in a red shirt. On the 81st minute he linked with the young Ryan Giggs before running into a corner, he then waited for Giggs before laying off a brilliant one-two; the Frenchman - seeing Alan Kelly slightly off his line brilliantly chipped over the Irishman and in off the crossbar from all of 25 yards out.
Cantona stood still to absorb the applause to the Blades fans who had earlier pelted him with toilet rolls. His goal did nothing but put the tie beyond United having doubling there lead three minutes after Mark Hughes had headed them ahead.
Much to there credit the Blades exited this tie scrapping, desperate to deny there visitors a fourth round tie against Wrexham.
Before bthe match had even kicked a ball in anger Steve Bruce and Peter Schmeichel spent five minutes bursting hundreds of red and white balloons but weren't to expect the impulse in which the hosts started this match, the visitors where defending against strong winds which Bassett's hounds were more than keen to take full advantage of, only experience stood between them and the United frontline of Carl Veart and Nathan Blake.
In sixth minute they came close to scoring and taking this tie to the Red Devils; Schmeichel (back); the Danish keeper had been missing for ten games through injury returned but didn't look match fit as Blake went close.
A penalty claim was shouted out and dismissed on 11th minute when Paul Rogers swinging cross was headed back in by Veart and Bruce up headed Welshman Blake, appeals were made but referee Robbie Hart waved away and poor Rogers was booked for dissent.
Tempers were still at a premium and two minutes later Rogers was involved again when he and Nicky Butt clashed outside the centre-circle, it was more handbags if nothing else but it was the events which were to follow which raised the most eyebrows; Hartfield got involved and when Cantona made himself known the United midfielder produced a right-hander and left Eric 'The king' clutching his head - play acting or not Mr. Hart brandished his lethal weapon of choice, a straight red card.
Bassett's boys where left to battle the remainder of the game reduced to ten men but as much as they are warriors on the field they are no magicians and from then on against the Premiership Champions was always going to be an uphill struggle.
United, the holders after beating Chelsea (4-0) in last years grand finale didn't look in best of form, Bruce - a future Blades manager was booked following a rash challenge on Blake on 37th minute and would subsequently earn him a two match ban in future matches and a minute later fellow defender Dennis Irwin would also see yellow but when 'proper' football resumed it was described as breathtaking.
Kelly was a hero for most of the game, tipping over from Butt and save of the match came on 71st minute from Cantona's effort. He also prevented Hughes from scoring but on 79th minute the Welshman shattered the hearts of Blades fans when a move started by Paul Scholes to head home what was to be the start of something special in a three minute mad spell which also saw Cantona strike the final blow.
The night ended on a sad note for Sheffield United, following a clash of heads with Butt, Dane Whitehouse was stretchered off. For those with good memories it was also the night when, 'When Saturday Comes' was filmed with Jimmy Muir (played by Sean Bean) coming off the bench on his mark his debut following the recent transfer from Hallam FC to score a hat-trick in front of the kop and send the Blades through into the next round; a fairytale it was but boy United could have done with Muir that night!
SHEFFIELD UNITED (4-4-2): A Kelly K Gage, B Gayle, R Nilsen, A Scott P Rogers, C Hartfield, G Hodges (sub: P Starbuck, 75min), D Whitehouse (sub: J Flo, 85) C Veart, N Blake.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): P Schmeichel J O'Kane (sub: L Sharpe, 64), S Bruce, G Pallister, D Irwin N Butt, R Keane, B McClair (sub: P Scholes, 78), R Giggs E Cantona, M Hughes.
Referee: R Hart