2nd-3rd February 2002

Results: Derby County 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal 1-1 Southampton, Everton 1-2 Ipswich Town, Fulham 0-0 Aston Villa, Leicester City 2-3 Chelsea, Manchester United 4-1 Sunderland, Newcastle United 3-2 Bolton Wanderers, West Ham United 2-0 Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United 0-4 Liverpool FC, Middlesbrough 0-0 Charlton Athletic

The 2001-2002 Premier League title battle was becoming a very intense fight between many of the top-flight’s superpowers. Despite a lackadaisical start to the season by their high standards, Manchester United were now top of the table and chasing a fourth successive title victory.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side won their 10th match in their last 11 outings with a comfortable 4-1 home victory over an out-of-form Sunderland side at Old Trafford. All four goals were scored in the first half by the hosts with Ruud van Nistelrooy adding another two to his growing collection. There was also a rare goal for Phil Neville. Sunderland were now without a win in six games and slipped to 15th in the table, just three points clear of the relegation zone.

Arsenal were the Red Devils’ closest challengers going into the weekend but they ended it back in fourth position after being held at Highbury to a 1-1 draw by Southampton. On the weekend where the club revealed their new club crest to be used from the 2002-2003 season onwards, Sylvain Wiltord put the Gunners ahead five minutes before half-time. Jo Tessem’s equaliser would turn out to be the final dropped points of Arsenal’s season.

Newcastle United’s impressive campaign continued. Sir Bobby Robson’s side did trail twice at home to Bolton Wanderers but came back to win 3-2 with the winning goal coming from Craig Bellamy. After their bright start which had seen a maximum haul of points back in August, Bolton were now in the bottom three.

It wasn’t a happy reunion for Robbie Fowler in his first meeting with Liverpool FC since his £11 million transfer to Leeds United in November 2001. Liverpool were in devastating form at Elland Road, crushing the home side 4-0 with Emile Heskey scoring twice. Liverpool overtook Arsenal to move into third place with three successive victories for stand-in manager Phil Thompson. Having been top on New Years’ Day, Leeds were now down to sixth and nine points off the pace. Their title challenge looked as good as over.

Having resigned from his position as Aston Villa manager, John Gregory returned to his former club Derby County and made a winning start. Lee Morris scored a very scrappy goal to ensure the Rams edged out Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Pride Park. After four successive defeats, the victory kept Derby just about in touch with the pack above them in the scrap to survive.

Going in the wrong direction were Blackburn Rovers. After a positive start to their Premier League return, Graeme Souness’ side were going through a trough in terms of their league results. Their fifth reverse in six games came at Upton Park, losing 2-0 to West Ham United. This left Blackburn only above the relegation zone on goal difference  and it was a far cry from the corresponding fixture earlier in the season when the former Premier League champions had thrashed the Hammers 7-1.

Meanwhile, Ipswich Town were going in the right direction. The 2000-2001 surprise packages recorded their seventh victory in eight games with a 2-1 success away to Everton. Ipswich had climbed to 12th and were just three points off eighth place as they were recovering brilliantly from their horrific start to the campaign. Sadly for George Burley, a heavy defeat to Liverpool FC in their very next game would start a worrying drop down the table towards eventual relegation from the top-flight.

What else happened in February 2002?

  • There is sad news from Buckingham Palace as the Queen’s sister; Princess Margaret dies after suffering a stroke. She was 71.
  • The Winter Olympics take place in Salt Lake City and Great Britain win a gold medal thanks to the women’s curling team.
  • Actor John Thaw, best-known for playing lead roles in Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC, dies just seven weeks after his 60th birthday. 
  • Saturday nights get a new hit as the first series of Pop Idol concludes on ITV. Over 8.7 million votes are casted as Will Young beats Gareth Gates to win the competition.
  • The trial of the former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic begins in The Hague.
  • More than 2,000 jobs disappear when Ford ends 90 years of British car production after the last Fiesta model is completed in Dagenham.

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