London — It is 22 years since Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers were duelling for Premier League supremacy, but a rivalry that has faded into footballing obscurity will be rekindled when they meet in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday.
With Blackburn anchored in the Championship relegation zone and uncertainty hanging over the future of their manager, Owen Coyle, their glory days seem a very distant memory.
At the start of the Premier League era, they were powerful challengers. Managed by Kenny Dalglish and bankrolled by steel magnate Jack Walker’s millions, Rovers were the only side to win the title other than United between 1993 and 1997.
Their 1995 triumph, spearheaded by former England striker Alan Shearer, prevented United from being champions five years in a row, and they finished runners-up in 1994.
Unlike United, who used their success in the early 1990s to become one of world football’s richest and most powerful clubs, Blackburn fell away.
Dalglish moved upstairs to become director of football after they won the title and his successor, Ray Harford, could not rekindle the magic. They finished seventh in 1996 and never again challenged for top-flight honours, although their current predicament is far bleaker.
Having dropped out of the Premier League in 2012, they are 23rd out of 24 teams in the Championship and facing the prospect of dropping into the third tier.
The cup has provided respite. They beat Queens Park Rangers in the third round before ousting Blackpool and welcome United to Ewood Park for the first time since 2012. Whether Coyle will still be in charge on Sunday remains to be seen as media reports said his position was under threat after Blackburn’s 2-1 defeat by Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday.
There will be further giant-killing opportunities as two non-league sides get the chance to pit themselves against Premier League opponents in the cup’s fifth round.
Sutton United host Arsenal in a 5,000 ticket sell-out at their modest Gander Green Lane stadium on Monday, while Lincoln City visit Burnley on Saturday.
Premier League leaders Chelsea pay a visit to second-tier Wolverhampton Wanderers, who upset Liverpool in the
Manchester City face a potentially testing trip to Championship club Huddersfield Town, who have moved up to third in the second tier.