Manchester United were ‘out-fought, out-thought, outrun and outplayed’ according to manager Alex Ferguson, but still came out on top at Ewood Park on this day in 1998.

“I’ve been thinking back over the last couple of years and I can’t remember getting a ‘doing’ like that in the first half, we never had a shot at a goal “ confessed Ferguson, whose side were lucky to only trail at the break to a Chris Sutton penalty.

Yet even Fergie’s honest appraisal could not ease the pain felt by Rovers who missed a great opportunity to improve on their poor record against the champions, which stood at just one victory in 12 since the Premier League was formed.

They totally dominated the first half but could only find a one-goal lead from Sutton’s spot kick.

Ironically, in a second half when United produced moments of individual brilliance to compensate for their poor first half, Rovers had more chances to claim some reward from a game they should never have lost.

They could even have had another penalty when Kevin Gallacher was fouled, only for referee Gerald Ashby to play an advantage.

Rovers deserved at least a draw for their efforts and were left with no need to let their heads drop on account of their general performance. However, more of a clinical edge was needed to help take them from title pretenders to genuine contenders.

Boss Roy Hodgson had already started drawing up plans for a potential summer spending spree, aimed at restoring championship credibility to Ewood.

Monaco’s highly-rated defender Martin Djetou was the latest name from French football to be linked with the Rovers manager, and thought to be interesting a host of top clubs around Europe.

And chief executive John Williams admitted the club was casting its search far afield in the quest for new recruits.

He said: “We have been spreading the net but there is nothing imminent.”

The defeat by Manchester United – while unlucky in some respects – underlined the need to move up a level if Rovers are to be able to make a serious challenge for the title next season.

There was an eagerness to strengthen the squad in summer and Hodgson had already made at least one recent personal spying mission across the Channel to check out standards for himself in France.

He took in the top-of-the-table clash between Metz and Lens but denied that his sole target was Metz star striker Robert Pires. Hodgson explained: “I wasn’t looking at any player in particular. But I wanted to see for myself what a top French League game was like.”

Rovers had the better of United in midfield, where Billy McKinlay was a dominant figure and Tim Sherwood and Garry Flitcroft were able lieutenants forcing United into a half-time reshuffle.

Rovers’ deserved breakthrough came in the 32nd minute when Gary Neville tripped Damien Duff, and although Sutton’s spot kick was not entirely convincing it was struck well enough to find the net.

There was still a nagging doubt at half time, as to whether one goal would be enough against a United side who would surely improve.

And so it proved, Andy Cole picking up a David Beckham pass, before smashing a shot into the far bottom corner.

United had now become much more of a threat and Rovers hesitated fatally in the 73rd minute. Wilcox tried to play a short ball to Duff, he paused long enough to lose out to Neville and Beckham’s wicked low cross eluded Colin Hendry’s despairing lunge.

The ball bounced up, struck Scholes somewhere around the top of his thigh and wrong-footed Alan Fettis to bobble over the line.

Still Rovers pushed forward for Hendry to have a header saved and Gallacher to spurn three chances. But Beckham had the last word, as when racing clear he finished another brisk counter, firing home past Fettis.