United were riding a 16-game unbeaten streak, including 14 wins, and looked favourites to win the title having trailed Newcastle for the majority of the campaign.
On the other hand, Southampton were mired in a relegation battle. One which they would only escape on the season’s final day, finishing ahead of Manchester City (remember those days?) only on goal difference.
Instead of the game becoming a routine win for United, Southampton completely wiped the floor with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, taking a 3-0 lead into half-time.
What was to blame for such a shoddy performance from a team that looked unstoppable beforehand? Had they underestimated a wounded opponent fighting for its life? Were they too cocky given the recent winning run? Or were they wearing strips too ghastly for cohesive football?
That’s right, United blamed the kits.
They changed from their grey strips into a blue and white alternate for the second half because, apparently, the players had trouble seeing each other. And it wasn’t the first time either. All in all, Fergie’s side wore the horrid grey five times and lost four, drawing the other. Even in the match at The Dell their fortunes improved marginally after the grey kits were discarded, as they stopped the bleeding in the second half but still lost 3-1.
It’s now 21 years later and, north of the border, Hearts are experiencing similar difficulties with their own divisive design - though there’s little chance of the players failing to see each other in this instance.
It was a nice idea. A kit made up of primrose and pink horizontal strips was something radically different - as a personal preference, every club should bring out a startling away kit every few years as a reminder that boring choices are the right choices - and it had a link to club and Scottish football history. However, it does not seem to be inspiring the players on the park.
Following Sunday’s disappointing second half performance and draw with Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup, Hearts are yet to register a victory in six attempts wearing this season’s preferred away kit. Those matches are as follows...
Lost 1-0 away to St Johnstone
Drew 3-3 away to Inverness
Drew 3-3 away to Hamilton
Drew 2-2 away to Ross County
Lost 3-2 away to Dundee
Drew 1-1 away to Raith Rovers
Hearts have suffered heartbreak on three of those occasions, losing late goals to Raith Rovers and Dundee, while an injury-time penalty miss at Ross County stopped them from halting the streak in agonising fashion.
They’ve won three times away from home this season: twice in the league and once in Europe. Away to Infonet Tallinn they kept their home kit on, while victories over Partick Thistle and Motherwell were achieved wearing last season’s away top, which is a more humble white and maroon number. They would do well to bring these kits out of storage for the remainder of the campaign.
While they’ve had no trouble scoring goals - netting 11 over six games, an impressive figure - it’s in defence where they’ve run into problems, conceding 13. No team should fail to win a game in which they’ve scored three goals. ‘Fruit Salad’ Hearts have done it twice.
Seeing as we’re in late January and the games are ticking away, you have to wonder if Hearts will ever win in pink and yellow colours, or if there’s even any need for them to be worn again.
Of the remaining away matches prior to the split, Motherwell and Aberdeen are traditional away fixtures where Hearts would switch. Although, they’re unlikely to turn to the Rosebury at Fir Park due to a potential clash, while they wore the white and maroon kit at Pittodrie earlier in the campaign.
Unless there is a deal in place with Puma where it has to be worn a certain number of times, maybe Hearts should consider making Sunday its final sighting.