Results: Arsenal 2-2 Derby County, Chelsea 2-2 Everton, Coventry City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City 1-1 Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool FC 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough 0-0 Leeds United, Southampton 0-1 Aston Villa, Sunderland 1-3 Wimbledon, West Ham United 2-2 Manchester United, Nottingham Forest 0-0 Newcastle United
The first full weekend of December’s programme in the 1996-1997 season threw up some interesting results in a season when none of the elite sides seemed happy to take complete control of the title race.
Going into the weekend, it was Arsenal who were top of the table and all this less than two months since Arsene Wenger had been installed as the new manager at Highbury. They nearly came up a cropper at home to newly-promoted Derby County. Dean Sturridge scored a stunning goal for the Rams’ and going into stoppage time; they were 2-1 infront. Patrick Vieira rescued a point for the leaders and they stayed top of the table thanks to other results.
Liverpool FC could have gone top with that result but they missed the opportunity with a first home defeat of the season. Sheffield Wednesday went to Anfield and recorded an impressive 1-0 victory in a fine campaign for David Pleat’s side that saw them finish in the top seven. Guy Whittingham’s 22nd minute goal was the winning effort on Merseyside.
Newcastle United’s winless run stretched to four matches following a goalless draw with bottom-placed Nottingham Forest on Monday Night Football. Kevin Keegan’s side had failed to cash in on their fabulous 5-0 victory over Manchester United. It was just one win in six matches in the league since.
Manchester United’s form and confidence had taken a significant knock since the Newcastle result. They had returned from a successful trip to Vienna in midweek which had seen the club just about progress to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Perhaps the travelling caught up with them in the Super Sunday clash at Upton Park with West Ham United. David Beckham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put them 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go but the Hammers’ rallied to take a spirited point. Florian Raducioiu had a miserable time in east London but his goal in this match was a rare highlight.
All this meant that Wimbledon moved into second spot in the table. Having lost their first three matches, Joe Kinnear’s side were on a club-record unbeaten run which had included a seven-game winning sequence in early autumn. Dean Holdsworth scored the pick of the goals in their latest win; a 3-1 triumph at Roker Park over Sunderland.
There was a landmark reached at The Dell where Southampton played Aston Villa. In the 34th minute, Andy Townsend scored the only goal of the game to earn all three points for Villa. That might not sound remarkable but it was the Premier League’s 5000th goal. Chris Sutton has tried to claim that mark as he scored at almost the same time of Blackburn’s 1-1 draw at Leicester City but records show his goal was registered in the 33rd minute, one minute earlier than Townsend’s winner on the south coast.
Lastly, Gianfranco Zola scored his first Premier League goal in Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Everton. The Italian had arrived from Serie A and a trademark free-kick was the first of many magical moments in a Chelsea shirt.
What else happened in December 1996?
- Kofi Annan is elected as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
- Apple Computers buys out Steve Jobs’ company, NeXT. Apple was of course co-founded by Mr Jobs.
- The largest strike in South Korean history begins.
- Unemployment in the UK falls below two million for the first time since John Major became Prime Minister.
- Damon Hill becomes only the third person to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year twice.