Results: Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool FC, Derby County 4-0 Wimbledon, Everton 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United 0-1 Chelsea, Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Bradford City, Watford 1-2 West Ham United, Aston Villa 1-1 Arsenal, Leeds United 3-0 Coventry City, Leicester City 5-2 Sunderland
Manchester United were the favourites to retain their Premier League title in the early weeks of March 2000 but they were still under pressure from David O’Leary’s energised and exciting Leeds United side. Weeks earlier, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team had opened up a five-point lead with a game in hand after winning at Elland Road. However, dropped points away at Wimbledon had seen Leeds stay in striking touch and that would continue on the weekend of 4th-5th March.
The Red Devils’ were first in action for the weekend with a lunchtime kick-off against bitter rivals Liverpool FC. Gerard Houllier had insisted in the build-up to this match that his side were ready to inflict defeat on their great enemy. They came very close to achieving his prediction. Patrik Berger scored a spectacular free-kick to give the visitors’ the lead. United’s equaliser was controversial. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went unpunished for a high challenge on Sami Hyypia. Whilst the Finn was off receiving treatment, Solskjaer scored the equaliser in stoppage-time at the end of the first half. Only some wasteful finishing by Liverpool FC forwards Titi Camara, Erik Meijer and the returning Michael Owen ensured this encounter would finish all-square.
So, Leeds had the chance to close the gap to four points by the end of the weekend. They achieved this 24 hours’ later with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Coventry City who were still winless away from Highfield Road. The impressive Harry Kewell opened the scoring in the season where he was crowned the PFA Young Player of the Year and Michael Bridges added another two to his growing tally in his only injury-free season in Yorkshire.
Third-place Arsenal were unable to cash in on Manchester United’s dropped points at home as they held to a 1-1 draw by Aston Villa on the same Sunday afternoon. In fact, it looked like they were heading for defeat at Villa Park for the third successive campaign before a rare goal from Lee Dixon in the 84th minute rescued a point.
So Chelsea finished the weekend in third spot and therefore in the final qualification spot for next season’s UEFA Champions League. Gus Poyet scored the solitary goal in a 1-0 away win at Newcastle United. Newcastle would be sick of the sight of the Uruguayan by the season’s end. A month later, it was his double that beat the Magpies’ in the FA Cup semi-finals.
A month earlier, Leicester City had taken a gamble to sign Stan Collymore. Collymore’s time at Aston Villa had not been good. He had spectacularly fallen out with John Gregory, been treated for depression and attracted unsavoury off-the-field headlines. Days before the club’s televised Super Sunday match with Sunderland; reports emerged of an incident at a hotel in La Manga where Collymore had let off a fire extinguisher during a training camp. The team was kicked out of the resort they had been staying in and the forward was fined two weeks’ wages. Manager Martin O’Neill was unimpressed, saying: “I think it is a warning to Stan. This, in footballing parlance, is a yellow card.”
Collymore responded in the best possible fashion, scoring a brilliant hat-trick in Leicester’s 5-2 victory over the Black Cats’ – his finest display in the Premier League for several seasons. The match also saw Emile Heskey score his final goal for the club. He would be transferred weeks later to Liverpool FC for over £11 million.
The status at the bottom of the table remained unchanged but the plight of Wimbledon was becoming evident. A week after the club’s charismatic guvnor Sam Hamann had left the club, the Dons looked lost away at Derby County. They completely caved in during the last 25 minutes at Pride Park, losing 4-0 and showing a lack of urgency that would signal all was not good between manager Egil Olsen and his players. Wimbledon ended the weekend in 16th and just three points clear of the drop zone. Those spots were occupied by Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday and Watford.
What else happened in March 2000?
- Vladimir Putin is elected as the new President of Russia.
- The PlayStation 2 is released in Japan. Several months later, it becomes the best-selling games console of all-time.
- There is a change in the official currency of Ecuador with the US dollar replacing the Ecuadorian Sucre.
- Channel 5 wins the rights to screen Home and Away in the UK, meaning its affiliation with ITV ends. ITV had broadcasted the Aussie soap since 1989.
- 9-2 shot Looks Like Trouble wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup, ridden by Richard Johnson.
- Macy Gray, Travis and Robbie Williams are the big winners at the BRITS, winning two awards each.