Premier League Files: Paul Merson

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1992-1997), Middlesbrough (1998), Aston Villa (1998-2002)

Paul Merson’s career was chequered to say the least. On-the-pitch, he enjoyed immense success with Arsenal, winning two First Division titles before the Premier League was formed. He also was a vital part in the promotions to the top-flight with Middlesbrough in 1998 and Portsmouth in 2003. After an unsuccessful attempt at management, Merson has become one of the regular pundits on Gillette Soccer Saturday.

Off-the-pitch, Merson has had to face up to his demons. He admitted in 1994 to his battle against drinking, gambling and drugs which led to a rehabilitation campaign and time away from the game he cherishes the most.

It was at his first club, Arsenal where Merson enjoyed the most success. He spent 11 years with the club, joining as an apprentice in 1984 and making his first-team debut against Manchester City in November 1986. His breakthrough season came in 1988-1989, when Arsenal famously pinched the title from Liverpool FC’s grasp in the last moments of the campaign at Anfield. Paul was voted PFA Young Player of the Year, scoring 10 times in the Gunners’ triumphant campaign. He had now established himself on the right wing for George Graham and an England international call-up wasn’t far away.

That honour didn’t arrive until Graham Taylor succeeded Sir Bobby Robson as England boss. Merson made his international debut in 1991, playing in a friendly against Germany. In total, he won 21 caps for his country, featuring and scoring in the penalty shootout defeat to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup finals. He could have won more caps for his country had it not been for his drinking problems which meant Terry Venables couldn’t trust on picking him during his battle off-the-field.

In 1991, Merson won his second league championship and enjoyed his best goalscoring season too, finding the back of the net 13 times. Arsenal became a cup specialist side in the early Premier League Years and Paul played a huge contribution in their domestic cup double of 1993, scoring in the League Cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday. However, his dark side away from football was revealed in public in November 1994.

He revealed he had been battling addictions to alcohol, gambling and cocaine and was immediately placed into rehab. Two months later, he made a tearful return to public life, breaking down in a press conference organised by the FA. When he composed himself, he admitted: “My life was going nowhere. I now have a choice – I either go back to the booze, the gambling and the drugs or I go the other way.”

Following treatment, he returned to training and was back in first-team action for Arsenal in February 1995. It is a battle Paul has had to fight constantly for the past two decades. When at Portsmouth, his gambling problems relapsed which led to a spell in the Sporting Chance clinic, created by his former Arsenal teammate Tony Adams.

In the summer of 1997, Merson was surprisingly sold from Arsenal to Middlesbrough, who had just been relegated from the top-flight. Arsene Wenger had offered the midfielder a new two-year contract but preferring longer-term security and a better wage package, he decided to drop down a division and help Boro make an instant return to the Premier League. He was nicknamed “The Magic Man” by supporters as the Teesiders earned promotion, ending second to Nottingham Forest in the final standings.

After three games of Middlesbrough’s return to the Premier League spotlight, he claimed homesickness was the reason for a return to the south of the country. With money to spend after the departure of Dwight Yorke to Manchester United, John Gregory bought Merson to Aston Villa in September 1998. He scored in his opening two home matches for the club and played a key role in Villa’s run to the FA Cup final in 2000 which they ended up losing 1-0 to Chelsea. In total, he made 101 Premier League appearances for the Villans, scoring 18 times. This was to be his final spell in the Premier League.

After playing an instrumental role in Portsmouth’s return to the top-flight in the summer of 2003, he elected to move to Walsall so he could be closer to his family. When Colin Lee was sacked in February 2004, Merson was thrown into the managerial spotlight but couldn’t prevent the club being relegated from Division One. After failing to launch a sustained promotion bid in League One, he was sacked in February 2006 and after two part-time matches for Tamworth, announced his retirement from playing a month later.

Since his retirement, Paul has moved into media, working for Sky Sports, co-hosting The Fantasy Football Club and working on Gillette Soccer Saturday. He also writes a regular column for The Daily Star newspaper.

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The Clubs: Aston Villa

All-Time Premier League Record

Played Won Drew Lost Scored Conceded Goal Difference Points No of Seasons
924 316 275 333 1117 1186 -69 1223 24

 

Most Premier League Appearances

Player Appearances Total
Gareth Barry 365
Gabriel Agbonlahor 322
Alan Wright 260
Lee Hendrie 251
Steve Staunton 245
Ian Taylor 234
Olof Mellberg 232
Ugo Ehiogu 229
Gareth Southgate 190
Stiliyan Petrov 185

 

Most Premier League Goals

Player Goals Total
Gabriel Agbonlahor 73
Dwight Yorke 60
Dion Dublin 48
Juan Pablo Angel 44
Christian Benteke 42
Gareth Barry 41
Julian Joachim 39
Dean Saunders 38
John Carew 37
Darius Vassell 35

 

Biggest Premier League Victories

Match Date Season
Aston Villa 7-1 Wimbledon 11th February 1995 1994-1995
Derby County 0-6 Aston Villa 12th April 2008 2007-2008
Aston Villa 6-1 Sunderland 29th April 2013 2012-2013
Aston Villa 5-0 Swindon Town 12th February 1994 1993-1994
Aston Villa 5-0 Wimbledon 22nd December 1996 1996-1997
Leicester City 0-5 Aston Villa 31st January 2004 2003-2004
Aston Villa 5-1 Middlesbrough 17th January 1993 1992-1993
Aston Villa 5-1 Birmingham City 20th April 2008 2007-2008
Aston Villa 5-1 Bolton Wanderers 7th November 2009 2009-2010
Aston Villa 4-0 Watford 5th February 2000 1999-2000

 

Worst Premier League Defeats

Match Date Season
Chelsea 8-0 Aston Villa 23rd December 2012 2012-2013
Chelsea 7-1 Aston Villa 27th March 2010 2009-2010
Newcastle United 6-0 Aston Villa 22nd August 2010 2010-2011
Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool FC 14th February 2016 2015-2016
Southampton 6-1 Aston Villa 16th May 2015 2014-2015
Blackburn Rovers 5-0 Aston Villa 17th January 1998 1997-1998
Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa 1st April 2006 2005-2006
Liverpool FC 5-0 Aston Villa 22nd March 2009 2008-2009
Manchester City 5-0 Aston Villa 17th November 2012 2012-2013
Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa 1st February 2015 2014-2015

 

Managers

Manager No of Seasons managed Left the Club
Ron Atkinson 3 10th November 1994
Brian Little 4 24th February 1998
John Gregory 5 23rd January 2002
Graham Taylor 2 30th June 2003
David O’Leary 3 20th July 2006
Martin O’Neill 4 9th August 2010
Gerard Houllier 1 1st June 2011
Alex McLeish 1 14th May 2012
Paul Lambert 3 11th February 2015
Tim Sherwood 2 25th October 2015
Remi Garde 1 29th March 2016
Eric Black 1 3rd June 2016

 

Highest Home Attendances

Match Date Attendance Figure Season
Aston Villa 2-0 Derby County 3rd November 2007 47,938 2007-2008
Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool FC 7th May 1994 45,347 1993-1994
Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool FC 29th December 2009 42,788 2009-2010
Aston Villa 1-1 Manchester United 10th February 2010 42,788 2009-2010
Aston Villa 1-0 Birmingham City 25th April 2010 42,788 2009-2010
Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool FC 22nd May 2011 42,785 2010-2011
Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United 15th December 2013 42,682 2013-2014
Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool FC 11th August 2007 42,640 2007-2008
Aston Villa 1-4 Manchester United 20th October 2007 42,640 2007-2008
Aston Villa 4-1 Newcastle United 9th February 2008 42,640 2007-2008

 

Intro

Aston Villa were a Premier League ever-present until their relegation from the Premier League in 2016. Runners-up in the very first season, the Villans remain one of the leading clubs in English football. They enjoyed sustained top-six campaigns under the likes of Brian Little in the mid-1990s and throughout Martin O’Neill’s exciting reign. However, Randy Lerner’s determination to tighten the purse led to three managers, just three wins, mass protests inside Villa Park and the demise in 2015-2016 that was pretty sorry to witness. Villa are now in their third season in the Championship and desperate to return to the Premier League party, with former title-winning skipper John Terry now on the coaching staff as assistant manager to former Brentford boss, Dean Smith.

 

1992-1993

After only drawing their first three Premier League matches, manager Ron Atkinson added to his striking reinforcements with the acquisition of Dean Saunders from Liverpool FC. It was a great bit of business. Saunders struck up a great partnership with Dalian Atkinson, whose strike away at Wimbledon in October won the BBC Match of the Day Goal of the Season.

For much of the season, Villa were locked in a tight battle for the inaugural Premier League title along with Manchester United and Norwich City. Paul McGrath’s tremendous performances saw him crowned as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. However, a 3-0 defeat at Ewood Park to Blackburn Rovers in mid-April handed the title initiative to Manchester United. A home loss to Oldham Athletic at the start of May finished off Villa’s title bid and they eventually finished 10 points shy of top spot. Nevertheless, their attractive brand of football had won them new fans and made them one of the neutral supporters’ favourite in this new era of English football.

 

1993-1994

Aston Villa’s second Premier League campaign was unremarkable. A modest 10th place finish was a disappointment after the previous season’s near-miss with the title. However, there was to be a silver lining to the campaign. In March, they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium to win the League Cup – therefore denying the Red Devils a shot at a unique domestic treble.

 

1994-1995

In a bid to improve league fortunes, Ron Atkinson signed John Fashanu in the summer from Wimbledon and with Saunders, Dalian Atkinson and Dwight Yorke all still around – goals looked set to be a guarantee. However, the squad was starting to age and a cataclysmic run of form saw Villa slip to 20th by mid-November. They threw away a match at Selhurst Park against Wimbledon, losing 4-3 after going 3-1 infront. Despite their dire position and having experienced a nine-game winless run, many were surprised to see Atkinson sacked by the ruthless Doug Ellis.

Ellis started his pursuit of former player Brian Little, who resigned from his position as Leicester City manager to force through his move into the Villa Park dugout. He won Manager of the Month honours in January and spearheaded the club to their biggest-ever Premier League victory with a 7-1 demolition of Wimbledon in mid-February. However, another desperate run saw them slip dangerously close to the bottom four and survival was only effectively secured by a Yorke double in their final home match of the season against Liverpool FC. 18th place was not where anyone expected the Villans to finish after a nightmare league season.

 

1995-1996

Brian Little’s first summer saw him bring in Mark Draper, Gareth Southgate and Savo Milosevic and Villa’s fortunes drastically improved. A 3-1 opening day victory over Manchester United set the tone for an encouraging campaign that saw the Villans rarely outside the top six. They even harboured outside hopes of the championship with an unbeaten home record until the end of January when Liverpool FC defeated them 2-0. Nevertheless, Villa finished an excellent fourth and won the League Cup for the second time in three years, overpowering Leeds United 3-0 in the final.

 

1996-1997

Aston Vila dropped from fourth to fifth in the table in 1996-1997 but it was another consistent and impressive season from Brian Little’s men. They destroyed Wimbledon’s 20+ match unbeaten run with a 5-0 trouncing of the Dons in December and also beat Liverpool FC at home 1-0. They secured qualification for the UEFA Cup on the final day of the season with a narrow success over Southampton.

 

1997-1998

The arrival of Stan Collymore for just over £7 million days after the previous season concluded suggested great hopes for Aston Villa in 1997-1998 but losing their first four matches quickly put out those high expectations. Brian Little resigned towards the end of February after a defeat at Wimbledon that left Villa in a disappointing 14th position in the table. His former coach, John Gregory, returned to the club and they recovered brilliantly. Despite disappointing home defeats to the relegated duo of Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers, Villa’s rapid rise to seventh place at the season’s end meant another season of European football for the supporters to look forward to.

 

1998-1999

Gregory was unhappy with Dwight Yorke after the Villans’ superstar forced through a transfer to Manchester United four days into the season. Nevertheless, he spent the Yorke money wisely on the likes of Paul Merson, Steve Watson and in November, Dion Dublin from Midlands’ rivals, Coventry City. Villa set a club-record run of 12 games unbeaten at the start of the season and in December, produced one of the comebacks of the season to defeat champions Arsenal 3-2, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.

They topped the table on Christmas Day and were in a four-way scrap for the title going into the New Year alongside Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. However, Stan Collymore was sidelined for much of the second half of the season because of stress, the goals dried up for Merson and Dublin and an FA Cup defeat at home to First Division Fulham sparked a dramatic collapse in form. Aston Villa won just three league games in the second half of the campaign and faded badly to sixth position, missing out on the UEFA Intertoto Cup position to West Ham United in the process. It was a campaign that promised so much but ultimately, delivered so little.

 

1999-2000

John Gregory’s second full season in the dugout began poorly as the lack of confidence around the team remained. Dublin sustained a nasty neck injury in December that kept him out of action for several months and away form especially was a major concern. They improved after Christmas to finish in sixth position and also reached the FA Cup final, losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the final-ever FA Cup event to be played underneath Wembley’ famed ‘Twin Towers.’

 

2000-2001

Aston Villa’s 2000-2001 campaign was unremarkable to say the least. They finished in eighth place and made little impact on the season’s proceedings. 15 draws ensured they wouldn’t finish any higher in the table whilst main summer signing Luc Nilis suffered a serious injury playing against Ipswich Town in September that cost the Belgian his playing career.

 

2001-2002

Moroccan Internationals Mustapha Hadji and Hassan Kachloul were added to the squad in pre-season and Peter Schmeichel also returned to the Premier League after his spell in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon. Villa made a bright start and Schmeichel became the first-ever goalkeeper to score in the Premier League with his late effort in defeat at Everton. They went top of the table at the end of October but followed this high with a run of just one win in 11 matches.

By now, John Gregory had grown tired of his tempestuous relationship with Doug Ellis and resigned in late January, freeing himself up to take up the vacancy at former club Derby County. 12 years after guiding the club to a second-place finish in the old First Division, Graham Taylor returned to have another go at working with Ellis. He oversaw two late season victories over Southampton and Chelsea to ensure another eighth place finish in the table and therefore, a seventh successive campaign inside the Premier League’s top 10.

 

2002-2003

One goal only and three defeats in the opening four matches set the tone for a disappointing 2002-2003 season for Graham Taylor and Aston Villa. There were two damaging defeats to Second City rivals Birmingham City, who finished above them in the table for good measure. The second defeat at Villa Park saw a goalkeeping error and two daft red cards for Dion Dublin and Joey Gudjonsson. The usually restrained Taylor refused to take any questions afterwards from the media after this debacle.

Survival was only guaranteed on the penultimate weekend of the season and the 16th place finish that followed was enough for Ellis to dismiss Taylor at the end of the campaign.

 

2003-2004

After a season on the sidelines, David O’Leary returned to management and guided Aston Villa back into the Premier League’s top six. He made a slow start, winning just two of his first 13 league games which left the club in the bottom three in early December after a 4-0 drubbing at Old Trafford to Manchester United. Form improved dramatically after that result, losing just two of their next nine games to get the club into the European reckoning. O’Leary’s side reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and finished just five points shy of the UEFA Champions League qualification places – although the cup heroics of Middlesbrough and Millwall meant this was one of the rare seasons where sixth place wasn’t enough to secure European football for the following season.

 

2004-2005

There were few highs in 2004-2005 for Aston Villa supporters as the team failed to build on the previous season’s sixth place finish. Villa dropped to 10th and lost both games again to bitter rivals Birmingham City to ensure they remained winless in six meetings against the Blues since their promotion to the top-flight.

There was a 3-0 victory at St James’ Park and a comeback victory at Southampton from 2-0 down at half-time to a 3-2 success but it was a mediocre season at best for the Villa faithful.

 

2005-2006

Milan Baros arrived from Liverpool FC in a bid to improve Aston Villa’s goalscoring potential but the Czech only showed fleeting glimpses of his quality and for much of the season, Villa lagged at the wrong end of the table. Any relegation fears were ended by a 3-1 victory over Birmingham City where Baros scored twice and youngster Gary Cahill scored his first senior goal with a spectacular overhead kick.

In total, Villa only recorded 10 league victories, although there were two 4-0 triumphs over Everton and Middlesbrough respectively. They finished a dismal 16th, and just eight points clear of danger. With Doug Ellis set to sell the club, O’Leary left his role as manager at the end of the campaign after three seasons at the helm.

 

2006-2007

Martin O’Neill was installed as the new manager in the off-season and in late August, American businessman Randy Lerner completed his takeover of the club. Villa were the last team in the Premier League to taste defeat, staying undefeated until a 3-1 loss at Liverpool FC at the end of October. An 11-match winless sequence in the winter months had some fans nervous but O’Neill was stabilising the club for a more sustained European push in the seasons to come. This was highlighted further by the January additions of John Carew and Ashley Young. They finished 11th, having drawn a staggering 17 of their 38 league matches.

 

2007-2008

Aston Villa improved five positions on their 2006-2007 finish, returning to the top six and earning UEFA Cup football for the following season. John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor scored 24 goals between them in a dangerous attacking partnership and O’Neill’s side played some great attacking football throughout the season. This included a 6-0 victory away at hapless Derby County in April which remains the club’s biggest-ever away victory in the Premier League.

 

2008-2009

For the second successive season, Aston Villa finished in sixth position, although there was a sense of disappointment at the end of it. The Villans launched a serious challenge to Arsenal in the race for a top four position and at one point, held a seven-point advantage over the Gunners, spearheaded by a tremendous sequence of away victories which broke a long-standing club record. A 2-2 draw at home to newly-promoted Stoke City though began a calamitous run which saw them win just one of their next 10 games, puncturing their ambitions of reaching the UEFA Champions League qualifiers.

 

2009-2010

For the first time in 12 years, Aston Villa began a campaign without Gareth Barry after his summer departure to Manchester City. They didn’t miss him too much in the early part of the season despite an opening day defeat at home to Wigan Athletic. Villa won at Anfield and Old Trafford and defeated eventual champions Chelsea 2-1 in October too.

O’Neill’s side were always in the four-way tussle for a top four finish and although they amassed two more points than the previous campaign, they finished sixth again with Tottenham Hotspur taking the coveted fourth spot. James Milner’s excellent displays saw him awarded with the PFA Young Player of the Year award and there was also a return to the League Cup final after a 14-year absence. However, it ended in heartbreak with a 2-1 defeat at Wembley to Manchester United.

 

2010-2011

This was the first season where Randy Lerner started to tighten the purse strings at Aston Villa and after a disagreement over the future transfer policy of the club; Martin O’Neill abruptly resigned as manager just five days before the season got underway. Two weeks later, James Milner was sold to Manchester City.

After serving notice as technical director of the French Football Federation, Gerard Houllier took charge towards the end of September but he struggled to sustain any consistency, both in terms of results and performances. He didn’t see out the season either. Ill health meant it was his no.2 Gary McAllister who took charge of the last few games of the season. Victories over Arsenal and Liverpool FC took the club to ninth place but it was the beginning of a worrying decline for the supporters.

 

2011-2012

With Houllier being forced to step down, it was Alex McLeish who succeeded him. Having been boss of Birmingham City before taking over at Villa Park, he was not a popular choice and although he stayed unbeaten until mid-October in the Premier League, the style of football was absolutely awful. Aston Villa amassed just 38 points all season, recorded only seven victories and collected just 19 points at home which at that point, was their worst-ever home campaign in their top-flight history.

Club captain Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia towards the end of March and after a final day defeat to Norwich City, McLeish became the third Aston Villa manager in their Premier League history to finish 16th and receive his marching orders.

 

2012-2013

Paul Lambert was the new manager at the helm for the 2012-2013 season after guiding Norwich City to a 12th place finish in his first top-flight management campaign. The Scot found the going extremely tough in his new job as Aston Villa collected just a single point from his opening three games in-charge. There was a fabulous 3-1 victory at Anfield over Liverpool FC but just a week later, Villa caved in spectacularly at Chelsea to lose 8-0.

Further embarrassment followed in January with a League Cup semi-final defeat over two legs to fourth-tier outfit Bradford City and it was only the goals of new signing Christian Benteke that just about kept Villa above the bottom three. Benteke finished with 20+ goals to become the first player in the club’s Premier League history to achieve that feat since Dwight Yorke. Aston Villa finished a rocky campaign in 15th position.

 

2013-2014

For the second season running, Aston Villa finished in 15th position and endured another stale campaign under the guidance of Paul Lambert. There were few remarkable highlights, other than a 3-1 victory on the opening weekend over Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium and an early season 3-2 triumph over eventual title winners, Manchester City. At the end of a stale season, Randy Lerner confirmed he had put the club up for sale but he would find no interested buyer ultimately to take the club off his hands.

 

2014-2015

Three wins from the club’s first four matches including a 1-0 success at Anfield hinted at potentially a better season for Aston Villa but they followed this up with a run of six successive defeats, failing to score in five of these matches. Goalscoring was a huge problem all season and after a 2-0 loss to Hull City in mid-February that saw the club slip to 19th position, Paul Lambert was sacked and replaced by Tim Sherwood.

Sherwood managed to galvanise the team and especially, Christian Benteke, who rediscovered his scoring form under his management. This included a hat-trick against Queens Park Rangers and a winning goal at White Hart Lane. There was a late season 6-1 beating at Southampton but other results ensured their safety, although they finished just one place above the drop zone. Sherwood’s impact also saw Aston Villa reach the FA Cup final, although this ended in a 4-0 defeat to holders Arsenal.

 

2015-2016

For the second season running, Aston Villa won their first match of the season away from home. Rudy Gestede’s header meant they were the party poopers at AFC Bournemouth, inflicting defeat on the Cherries on their Premier League bow. However, it would be the only win they amassed in the first half of a nightmare season. By the turn of the New Year, they were 11 points adrift of safety.

Tim Sherwood was sacked towards the end of October following a run of six consecutive defeats which began with a collapse at Leicester City, throwing away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the fearless Foxes. Remi Garde was drafted in as manager and stopped the rot with a gutsy goalless draw at home to Manchester City. However, the Frenchman looked completely out of his depth. This was never more evident when on Valentine Day’s 2016; they suffered their worst home defeat since 1935 after losing 6-0 at home to Liverpool FC.

Garde eventually parted ways with the club at the end of March and Villa’s final days in the Premier League were greeted with mass demonstrations, banners and protests calling for owner Randy Lerner to step down. Eric Black took charge on an interim basis until the end of the season and relegation was finally confirmed with a 1-0 loss in mid-April away at Manchester United. Villa’s final tally of three wins and just 17 points means this is the third worst campaign ever seen by a team in Premier League history.

Memorable Matches: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-5 West Bromwich Albion (February 2012)

Goalscorers: Peter Odemwingie 34, 77, 88, Steven Fletcher 45, Jonas Olsson 64, Keith Andrews 85

Teams:

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Wayne Hennessey, Sebastien Bassong (Christophe Berra 61), Kevin Foley, Roger Johnson, Stephen Ward, David Edwards (Nenad Milijas 69), Jamie O’Hara, Matt Jarvis, Kevin Doyle, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Steven Fletcher

West Bromwich Albion: Ben Foster, Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson, Liam Ridgewell, Steven Reid, Paul Scharner (Keith Andrews 46), Youssouf Mulumbu, James Morrison, Jerome Thomas (Simon Cox 76), Marc-Antoine Fortune, Peter Odemwingie (Graham Dorrans 89)

Referee: Lee Mason, Attendance: 27,131

Roy Hodgson needed a result ahead of this Black Country Derby in February 2012. West Bromwich Albion had won just one of their previous seven matches and were looking in a precarious position. Wolves were reeling them in and had notched up a vital win eight days earlier away at Queens Park Rangers. So the outcome was a real surprise for both sets of supporters.

West Brom took the lead after 34 minutes. Peter Odemwingie was allowed to cut inside far too easily and his strike on-goal took a massive deflection off David Edwards to completely deceive Wayne Hennessey. The visitors deserved the lead for their early sustained pressure on the Wolves goal.

However, in the final seconds of the first half, Wolves levelled against the run of play. The front three of Kevin Doyle, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Steven Fletcher linked up brilliantly and Fletcher’s shot went through the legs of a West Brom defender, leaving Ben Foster unsighted and unable to stop the shot from going in.

West Brom regained the lead on 64 minutes. Gareth McAuley hit a post from a corner but the home side failed to clear their lines. McAuley’s centre-back partner, Jonas Olsson tried his luck and Hennessey allowed the ball to slip through his grasp and just over the goal-line. The goalkeeper should have done better but teammate Jamie O’Hara did interfere with his vision at the crucial moment.

In truth, Hodgson’s side had completely dominated this Black Country Derby and with 13 minutes left, they finally established a winning lead. Yet again, Wolves failed to deal with a set-piece. Liam Ridgewell got an unchallenged header at the back post. Olsson played his part with a nice flick into the path of Odemwingie and the forward stabbed the ball into the net from close-range.

Wolves’ humiliation was almost complete five minutes from full-time. Keith Andrews, who had started his professional career at Molineux, found the net to make it 4-1. Again, another deflection had got the better of Hennessey. The visiting supporters loved this and more joy was to come. Odemwingie completed his hat-trick moments before he was substituted. It was his finest performance in a West Bromwich Albion shirt and this result remains West Brom’s biggest victory in their Premier League history.

It was a perfect way for Hodgson to celebrate a year in-charge as manager but the repercussions of this hefty defeat were huge for Wolves. Mick McCarthy was sacked 24 hours later and they failed to win another game before the end of the season as they were relegated to the Championship.

Seasonal Stories: Wigan Athletic (2005-2006)

An impressive debut

Wigan Athletic made their Premier League debut in 2005-2006 and impressed many throughout. The Latics made a stunning start, reaching the dizzy heights of second position in the table in early November following a nine-game unbeaten run. A run to the League Cup final also added to an exciting season for the supporters. Although results were harder to come by in the second half of the season, a 10th place finish was still considered a remarkable achievement.

Heading for the summit

After promotion to the Premier League, Wigan Athletic initially struggled to attract new players but made some breakthroughs just before the start of the new campaign. Among the new recruits were Henri Camara from Wolverhampton Wanderers for £3 million, Damien Francis for £1 million from Norwich City and the experienced Stephane Henchoz on a free transfer.

Wigan’s first fixture in the top-flight was against champions Chelsea and they played incredibly well. Francis hit the crossbar and the home side deserved something from the game in terms of points. They were cruelly denied by a spectacular strike from Hernan Crespo in stoppage-time. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho immediately went over to Paul Jewell afterwards to console him, admitting the newly-promoted side didn’t deserve the ultimate final result.

Another narrow defeat followed next time out away at Charlton Athletic but Wigan would then embark on a nine-match unbeaten run, winning eight of those games. Their first victory came at home to Sunderland where Jason Roberts’ 2nd minute spot-kick proved to be the decisive difference. Straight after the international break, the likeable Jimmy Bullard scored a stoppage-time winner away at West Bromwich Albion to ensure Wigan claimed a first-ever Premier League away victory.

They were helped in this sequence of results by a terrific defensive record. By early November, Wigan had only conceded five Premier League goals with Jewell settling on a consistent back four line-up, helped by the experience of Henchoz and the talents of the unheralded Pascal Chimbonda. The right-back had arrived quietly in the summer for just £500,000 from Bastia but he was making a big impact, scoring a stoppage-time winner against Fulham and the opening goal of a 2-0 victory against Portsmouth. Wigan went into the November international break just six points behind reigning champions Chelsea.

TABLE ON 7th November 2005

POS TABLE P W D L F A GD PTS
1 Chelsea 12 10 1 1 28 7 +21 31
2 WIGAN ATHLETIC 11 8 1 2 13 5 +8 25
3 Bolton Wanderers 12 7 2 3 14 11 +3 23
4 Manchester United 11 6 3 2 16 11 +5 21
5 Arsenal 11 6 2 3 16 8 +8 20
6 Tottenham Hotspur 12 5 5 2 13 8 +5 20
A reality check

November and December would bring together a tough run of fixtures for the Latics as the top five clubs in the Premier League awaited them in succession. First up was Arsenal but Wigan gave them a real contest, only losing 3-2 to the Gunners and that was largely to some brilliance from Thierry Henry.

Tottenham Hotspur won the following weekend at The JJB Stadium with Edgar Davids scoring his first goal in English football, before Peter Crouch finally broke his goalscoring duck for Liverpool FC in the Reds’ convincing 3-0 victory.

Chelsea and Manchester United also inflicted defeats on Wigan with the latter strolling to a 4-0 victory but Wigan still were sitting in the top six after this sequence of results.

It was a reality check for the supporters after such a sensational start.

Jason and Henri combining well

Jason Roberts and Henri Camara combined well in-attack for Wigan during the season. The club scored 45 goals in 38 games and 20 of them came from this attacking duo. Senegalese striker Camara enjoyed his best season in the Premier League, scoring 12 times including a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory over Charlton just before Christmas.

After the five-game losing sequence, Wigan bounced back fabulously, stringing together another run of three consecutive victories. The 3-0 triumph over Charlton was followed by a thrilling 4-3 Boxing Day win against Manchester City where Roberts scored twice. Both Roberts and Camara then scored in a fine 2-0 success at Upton Park 48 hours later. Wigan finished 2005 inside the Premier League’s top six.

The January transfer window saw Jewell add to his squad with the arrivals of Austrian utility player Paul Scharner and midfielder David Thompson, whilst Neil Mellor joined on-loan for the rest of the season from Liverpool FC.

Injury restricted Mellor to just three appearances for Wigan but he did score a stoppage-time winner away at Middlesbrough, whilst Scharner’s first Premier League goal earned the club another point in a 1-1 draw with Everton at the end of the month.

A top-half finish secured

Away from the Premier League, Wigan enjoyed a fairytale run to the League Cup final. Watford, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers were among the victims on the way to the semi-finals, where Roberts scored a dramatic away goal in the closing moments of extra time at Highbury to knock Arsenal out in the semi-finals over two legs.

Wigan faced Manchester United in the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium but lost the showpiece event 4-0. They weren’t helped by losing goalkeeper Mike Pollitt to an injury early in the first half. A week later, a late Chimbonda own goal saw the Red Devils record their third victory of the season over Wigan, whose league campaign started to fall away.

Their only home victory in the Premier League in the second half of the season came in April as Aston Villa were beaten 3-2. Camara scored twice and Bullard also found the target. It was the last goal Jimmy would score for the club. The fans’ favourite would agree a transfer to Fulham days later for the 2006-2007 campaign.

The Latics ended the campaign with three successive defeats, including a 4-2 loss on the final day of the season at Highbury as Arsenal and Henry bid farewell to the historic ground in-style. Although there were only three league victories after the League Cup final appearance, Wigan’s 51-point haul and 10th place finish in their debut top-flight campaign was a brilliant achievement.

The 10th place result remains their best-ever top-flight campaign to-date.

FINAL 2005-2006 TABLE

POS TABLE P W D L F A GD PTS
7 Newcastle United 38 17 7 14 47 42 +5 58
8 Bolton Wanderers 38 15 11 12 49 41 +8 56
9 West Ham United 38 16 7 15 52 55 -3 55
10 WIGAN ATHLETIC 38 15 6 17 45 52 -7 51
11 Everton 38 14 8 16 34 49 -15 50
12 Fulham 38 14 6 18 48 58 -10 48

Referees in the Middle: Jon Moss

Premier League Career: 2011-PRESENT

First Premier League Match: Blackpool 1-2 Birmingham City (4 January 2011)

Jon Moss was promoted to the Select Group of Referees in 2011. He has often been in the firing line since with football supporters across the country. Moss is one of those officials who will have some great games but is probably going to divide general opinion on some of the key decisions that can affect the course of crucial matches throughout any given season.

Although he is now based in Horsforth, West Yorkshire, Moss was born in Sunderland and grew up in the North East. He is a member of the West Riding County Football Association. He grew up as an avid footballer and won a football scholarship at Central Connecticut State University in the United States. However, he completed his studies with a degree in physical education and teaching at the University of Leeds.

Playing junior football at academy level, Moss admitted in a 2015 interview: “I was a competitive midfield player and I liked to tackle. Sometimes you mistime a tackle and you get the attention of the referee – but I was always polite!”

He played in the juniors at his hometown club Sunderland and then for Millwall. However, his studies meant he stopped playing as travelling to London became too much of an interference. It was during his A-level studies that Jon began to focus more on refereeing, taking courses to enhance his training and development. He fully qualified as a referee way back in 1988. However, it wasn’t until just before the end of the 20th century that he elected to forget his dream of playing the game and concentrated on refereeing it instead.

After progressing through the Northern Counties East League and Northern Premier League, he reached the National Group of assistant referees in 2003. It was from this point that progress started to gain momentum. Appointed to referee the 2005 Conference play-off final between Stevenage and Carlisle United, Jon was then promoted to the National Group of Referees who take charge of the three divisions in the Football League. His first game at this level was a League Two match between Shrewsbury Town and Rochdale.

Moss had four years of experience at this level before being appointed to a Premier League game for the first time. The match was between Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa in December 2010. However, a deluge of snow and freezing temperatures in the week before Christmas led to the match being one of seven Premier League postponements across the weekend. Jon had to wait a fortnight for his big break before being selected for Birmingham City’s visit to Blackpool in January 2011. After this audition, he was added to the Select Group in-time for the start of the 2011-2012 season alongside Neil Swarbrick.

It was only his third Premier League match when he handed out his first red card. That went to the late Steve Gohouri who was dismissed for two yellow cards in Wigan Athletic’s 2-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in September 2011. Three years later, he awarded no fewer than four spot-kicks during Manchester City’s 4-1 success over Spurs, also sending off Federico Fazio in the same match. That remains a record for most spot-kicks to be awarded in a Premier League game. In fact, he handed out eight red cards in-total in the 2014-2015 season and as of the November 2018 international break, he had taken charge of 181 matches, handing out 623 yellow cards at an average of 3.44 cautions per game.

28 times the red card has come out of his back pocket. Among those to be dismissed in high-profile matches were Jamie Vardy for simulation in Leicester’s feisty 2-2 draw with West Ham United in April 2016 and Sadio Mane for a dangerous challenge on Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson during an encounter at The Etihad Stadium in September 2017 which Pep Guardiola’s side went on to win 5-0.

In 2015, Moss was the referee for Arsenal’s 4-0 victory over Aston Villa in the FA Cup final. Jon Moss might not be liked by everyone within the game but as a referee, you have to be strong and not show any weakness in making key decisions. He is not shy of being forced to make these tough judgements, even if that means he sometimes can make the headlines more than the players.

Premier League Files: Jason Wilcox

Premier League Career: Blackburn Rovers (1992-1999), Leeds United (1999-2004)

Jason Wilcox was one of the unsung heroes of Blackburn Rovers’ title-winning success in 1995. A product of Blackburn’s youth academy, he enjoyed his career with Rovers, being on their books for a decade. On his departure in December 1999 for Leeds United, he was the club’s longest-serving player. It was during this period that he managed to win three caps for England.

He joined Blackburn at the age of 16. His youth team manager at the time, Jim Furnell described him as “one of the best young midfielders in English football.” He would eventually make 271 league appearances for Blackburn, captaining the side on occasion too. It was at a time where Jack Walker’s multi-millions saw the club emerge from also-rans in the Second Division to become serious challengers for the Premier League title. Walker signed the likes of Alan Shearer, Stuart Ripley and Tim Flowers for vast sums of money but Wilcox was a proven success from Blackburn’s academy and was well-trusted by the management team at Ewood Park of Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford.

Playing on the left wing of Blackburn’s 4-4-2 formation, he formed an excellent understanding on the left-side of the field with Graeme Le Saux. It was Wilcox’s job to provide the crosses and key passes for the original SAS’ partnership of Shearer and Chris Sutton to gobble up the goals. In the 1994-1995 title-winning campaign, he picked up two early season red cards in away matches against Arsenal and Nottingham Forest. However, he eventually settled down, popping up with some crucial goals and a number of assists to help Blackburn end their 81-year wait for a top-flight championship. Whilst it was the likes of Shearer, Sutton and skipper Tim Sherwood who took the plaudits, it was the likes of Wilcox that played just as a pivotal part to help them to their success.

Unfortunately, lengthy injury problems restricted Jason’s impact on the first-team spotlight in the seasons to come and eventually, Blackburn’s decline saw them slip out of the Premier League just four seasons after winning the title. With the emergence of the promising Damien Duff, Blackburn elected to cash in on Wilcox just before the end of the 20th century and Leeds paid £4 million for his services.

He scored on his Leeds debut and his excellent initial form saw him called into Kevin Keegan’s provisional squad for the 2000 European Championships, winning caps in pre-tournament matches against France and Argentina. Unfortunately, injury denied him his place in the competition as he was replaced by Gareth Barry.

Jason bounced back from this crushing disappointment and helped his club side reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2001. Leeds though couldn’t take their promise onto the next level and eventually, crippling financial pressures saw them being forced to sell their top stars. In 2004, the inevitable happened and they were relegated. Wilcox was released following their demise from the Premier League and he joined Leicester City on a one-year deal. He finished his career with Blackpool in 2006.

After retiring from football, he took time out from the game before joining the commentary staff of BBC Radio Lancashire for a year, as well as having his own weekly column in the Lancashire Telegraph. In 2013, he joined Manchester City as an Academy Director which is a position he still holds today.

Premier League Files: Steve Lomas

Premier League Career: Manchester City (1992-1996), West Ham United (1997-2003)

Nephew of the former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg, Steve Lomas was a familiar figure in the central midfield line-ups of both Manchester City and West Ham United during the first decade of the Premier League.

His professional career as a player spanned 19 years which saw him play for four different clubs and win 45 caps for Northern Ireland, scoring three times. Although he played for Northern Ireland, Lomas was actually born in Hannover, Germany in 1974. His father was stationed there as a soldier. After a brief period living in Hong Kong during his childhood, he moved to Northern Ireland at the age of two.

In 1991, he made his first-team debut for Manchester City and figured prominently in their first four Premier League campaigns which often saw the Citizens struggle against relegation. On the final day of the 1995-1996 season, Manchester City hosted Liverpool FC on the final day, needing to better the results of Southampton and Coventry City to stand any chance of avoiding the drop. Lomas played an unfortunate part in this tale. He scored a cruel own goal to give Liverpool an early lead and although City recovered to draw 2-2, they were relegated on goal difference.

He stayed with the club initially after their relegation before transferring to West Ham United in March 1997 for a fee of £2.5 million. A month later, he made his Hammers debut in a 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough and his first goal arrived the following season in a rearranged fixture against Crystal Palace. He had a spell as club captain and was a pivotal figure in the club achieving their highest Premier League finish of fifth spot and UEFA Cup qualification in 1999 via the Intertoto Cup.

In total, Lomas made 227 competitive appearances for West Ham, scoring 13 times but the club were relegated from the Premier League in 2003. He left in the summer of 2005, winding down his playing career with Queens Park Rangers and Gillingham. Lomas moved into management after his retirement in 2010, enjoying two very successful campaigns in Scotland as the manager of St Johnstone. This included a top-three finish in 2012-2013 and earned him his sole management gig in England with Millwall. That ended on Boxing Day 2013 after a 4-0 loss to Watford had the Lions just four points above the Championship relegation zone.

Shock Results: Wigan Athletic 3-1 Chelsea (September 2009)

Goalscorers: Titus Bramble 16, Didier Drogba 47, Hugo Rodallega 53 PEN, Paul Scharner 90

Teams:

Wigan Athletic: Chris Kirkland, Emmerson Boyce, Titus Bramble, Maynor Figueroa, Mario Melchiot, Paul Scharner, Mohamed Diame, Hendry Thomas, Charles N’Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega, Jason Scotland (Marlon King 88)

Chelsea: Petr Cech (SENT OFF), Jose Bosingwa (Salomon Kalou 68), Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry, Ashley Cole, John Obi Mikel (Juliano Belletti 46), Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda (Hilario 52), Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba

Referee: Phil Dowd, Attendance: 18,542

Carlo Ancelotti had made a business-like start to his career as Chelsea manager. Six straight victories had the Blues top of the table and defending a 100% record. They were anticipated to extend that run when they travelled to The DW Stadium to face Wigan Athletic in September 2009. Since beating Aston Villa on the opening weekend, Roberto Martinez’s side had recorded just further victory and sat dangerously close to the bottom three. This was a real turn-up.

The Latics had never beaten Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool FC since joining the Premier League party in 2005. So, they were looking to create some history here and they took a deserved lead after 15 minutes. Charles N’Zogbia collected the ball from a short corner and delivered an inch-perfect cross. Titus Bramble took advantage of a Chelsea backline that looked surprised by the nature of the set-piece and his header found the back of Petr Cech’s net.

Wigan dominated the first half and could have increased their lead. Cech had to show his superb reflexes to keep out another defender in the form of Emmerson Boyce. Meanwhile, only a last-ditch tackle from skipper John Terry stopped Jason Scotland from finding the back of the net on his first Premier League start for Wigan.

Martinez’s side were applauded off-the-pitch by the fans after an excellent opening first half performance. However, they only had the one goal to show for their efforts and within 90 seconds of the restart, Chelsea had awoken from their slumber and drew level. Florent Malouda made a game breaking run and this created space for Didier Drogba to squeeze a shot in-between Chris Kirkland’s legs. This was Drogba’s 100th goal for Chelsea in all competitions as he continued to set the early season pace in the race for the Golden Boot.

Six minutes later though, Wigan were back ahead with a moment which would prove to be decisive in the contest. Hugo Rodallega was tripped in the penalty area by Cech. The penalty was given by referee Phil Dowd and with the Colombian set to score had he not been impeded; Dowd had little option but to show the red card to the Chelsea shot-stopper. It was Cech’s first red card of his Blues career. Malouda was sacrificed by Ancelotti to allow the substitute goalkeeper, Hilario, to come on as Cech’s replacement. His first job was to pick the ball out of the net as Rodallega picked himself up, dusted himself down and drove his spot-kick down the middle of the goal to restore Wigan’s lead.

Chelsea actually finished with nine men as Ashley Cole limped off in the closing stages with injury and the home side consigned Ancelotti to a first loss as Chelsea manager when Paul Scharner tapped home from close-range in stoppage-time after reaching Maynor Figueroa’s cutback across the penalty area.

Chelsea got their revenge spectacularly on the final day of the 2009-2010 season. They beat Wigan 8-0 to wrap up their third Premier League title. However, this was one of Wigan’s finest results in a season that also saw Arsenal and Liverpool FC beaten at The DW Stadium.

Memorable Matches: Aston Villa 3-2 Arsenal (December 1998)

Goalscorers: Dennis Bergkamp 14, 45, Julian Joachim 62, Dion Dublin 65, 83

Teams:

Aston Villa: Michael Oakes, Ugo Ehiogu, Gareth Southgate, Steve Watson, Alan Wright, Gareth Barry (Stan Collymore 54), Lee Hendrie, Ian Taylor, Alan Thompson, Dion Dublin, Julian Joachim (Simon Grayson 86)

Arsenal: David Seaman, Steve Bould, Nelson Vivas, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour (Luis Boa Morte 89), Freddie Ljungberg (Gilles Grimandi 68), Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp

Referee: Stephen Lodge, Attendance: 39,217

Aston Villa were flying high in the first half of the 1998-1999 season and looked like a genuine contender for the Premier League title. John Gregory’s side had only been beaten twice all campaign by the time reigning champions Arsenal visited Villa Park. Villa had just been knocked off top spot by Manchester United after their 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur 24 hours earlier and were enduring their toughest run of the season – having collected just two points from their previous four fixtures.

Back after missing four matches with a thigh problem, Dennis Bergkamp gave the champions the lead after 14 minutes. Strike partner Nicolas Anelka won an aerial challenge and Bergkamp showed his class to sprint away from Gareth Barry. The Dutchman then provided a clinical finish with a volley from distance that surprised Michael Oakes. Although the home side were enjoying more possession, it was the Gunners who had more intent in attacking situations. Right on the stroke of half-time, the visitors doubled their advantage with Anelka and Bergkamp once again working brilliantly in tandem.

The Frenchman was once again the provider, getting to the by-line unchallenged, turning and producing a crisp pass which Bergkamp dispatched in commanding fashion with an instant first-touch finish. Gregory was now going to have to give a stiff half-time team talk to his players if they were going to turn this situation around. However, the interval would last for 30 minutes after a shocking incident at half-time.

RAF parachutist Nigel Rogoff was coming into the stadium in a Santa Claus outfit when his stunt went dreadfully wrong. He hit the roof of the Trinity Road stand and plunged to the ground. Rogoff sustained bad injuries to both of his legs and his left leg would later be amputated above the knee.

Once the football resumed, the Villa faithful put aside those events to help galvanise the players back into the contest. Gregory brought Stan Collymore on for Barry 10 minutes into the second half and his presence helped the Villans back into the match. On 62 minutes, it was his flick-on that played in Lee Hendrie. Hendrie then squared the ball to Julian Joachim and he beat David Seaman with a low shot.

Three minutes later, Arsenal’s lead had vanished. Dion Dublin scored his eighth goal for the club since arriving from Coventry City a month earlier. His first attempt at a shot was blocked but when Alan Thompson’s miscue fell neatly into his path, he made no mistake as Arsenal’s protests against an offside fell on deaf ears. Sensing a winner was on the cards, Villa continued to increase the tempo and they completed the comeback seven minutes from full-time. Martin Keown missed his attempt of a clearing header and the ball dropped beautifully for Dublin to thrash a shot beyond Seaman.

Villa would spend Christmas Day on top of the table but a dire run of 10 games without a win from mid-January saw them fade to sixth in the final standings. Arsenal won the return fixture 1-0 at Highbury on the last day of the season but missed out on retaining their title by just a single point.

Premier League Rewind: 15th-17th March 2008

Results: Arsenal 1-1 Middlesbrough, Derby County 0-1 Manchester United, Liverpool FC 2-1 Reading, Portsmouth 2-0 Aston Villa, Sunderland 0-1 Chelsea, West Ham United 2-1 Blackburn Rovers, Fulham 1-0 Everton, Wigan Athletic 1-0 Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Birmingham City 1-1 Newcastle United

With eight games left in the 2007-2008 Premier League season, there were still fine margins between three of the all-time Premier League heavyweights. Arsenal went into the weekend still on top of the table but Arsene Wenger’s exciting side were beginning to falter. They had drawn three successive matches and had reigning champions Manchester United right in their slipstream.

The Gunners seemed to be struggling with the psychological trauma they’d gone through a month earlier at St Andrew’s when Croatian striker Eduardo suffered a horrific leg fracture against Birmingham City. Questions were being asked above their resolve and mentality. Those interrogations would get bigger after Middlesbrough earned themselves a 1-1 draw at The Emirates. It could have been even better for the visitors, who were four minutes away from claiming a league double over the Gunners. Kolo Toure’s late equaliser rescued a fortunate point for the home side.

By the end of Saturday’s play, they had been usurped from top spot by Manchester United on goal difference. The Red Devils were nowhere near their best away at bottom-placed Derby County but left Pride Park with all three points. Cristiano Ronaldo scored the only goal in the 1-0 victory. Derby would be relegated just a fortnight later.

Chelsea had been through early season turbulence but the quietly-minded Avram Grant was keeping them on the coattails of the top two. The Blues extended their unbeaten run to 12 Premier League matches with a 1-0 victory at Sunderland. Captain John Terry scored the decisive goal for the Blues after just 10 minutes. Chelsea were now just three points off top spot.

Liverpool FC opened up a three-point cushion on Merseyside neighbours Everton in the battle for a Champions League place. After a poor January, Rafa Benitez’s side had been playing catch-up but made it six victories from seven outings with a narrow 2-1 home victory over struggling Reading. Liverpool did fall behind to a cracking effort from Marek Matejovsky inside five minutes. Javier Mascherano equalised with his first LFC goal before a Fernando Torres header sealed all three points for Benitez’s side.

Everton lost 1-0 at Fulham 24 hours later. Brian McBride’s goal saw the Cottagers enjoy just a second league victory for Roy Hodgson since he took over at Craven Cottage in January 2008. Despite the win, Fulham remained four points adrift of safety. Bolton Wanderers remained in the bottom three after a 1-0 loss to Wigan Athletic which made it five successive defeats for the Trotters. Having finished in the top 10 in each of the past four seasons, Bolton’s Premier League place now seemed to be in severe jeopardy.

Kevin Keegan was finding the going incredibly tough in his second spell as Newcastle United manager. He was still awaiting his first victory as Magpies manager after this weekend. They drew 1-1 in the Monday night encounter with Birmingham City and were just four points clear of the bottom three. With just eight points between Fulham in 19th place from Wigan Athletic in 12th spot, it was still too close to call at the wrong end of the table.

What else happened in March 2008?

  • Over 500 flights are cancelled after problems with the IT system at the opening of London Heathrow Terminal 5.
  • At the inquest of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the coroner confirmed The Duke of Edinburgh would not be called into court to give evidence over the deaths that Mohammed Al-Fayed was accusing him of ordering.
  • Former ITN newsreader Carol Barnes dies aged 63 after suffering a stroke in Brighton.
  • 39-year-old Michael Donovan from Yorkshire is arrested for the kidnap of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews.
  • A plane crashes into a row of houses in Farnborough, killing five people, including former British Touring Car team boss Richard Lloyd and runner-up driver David Leslie.
  • Alistair Darling unveils his first Budget since becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer under Gordon Brown’s premiership.
  • Ex-Hearsay singer Suzanne Shaw edges out Hollyoaks heartthrob Chris Fountain to win the third series of the ITV skating series, Dancing on Ice.

 

Premier League Files: Georgi Kinkladze

Premier League Career: Manchester City (1995-1996), Derby County (1999-2002)

With plenty of dribbling ability and the quality to hurt opposition defences, Georgi Kinkladze was often the shining light in some grim days at Maine Road with Manchester City. The diminutive Georgian might have not been able to save the Citizens from Premier League relegation in 1996 but he did his best to do it virtually single-handily. His solo effort against Southampton is still widely remembered as one of the best goals of the 1995-1996 season.

Born in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Kinkladze won three league titles with the main powerhouse in Georgian football, Dinamo Tbilisi. He was named national player of the year twice and gained some prominence within the minds of UK supporters with his dazzling displays in European Championship qualification matches against Wales.

In July 1995, Manchester City beat off stiff competition from several European clubs to acquire Kinkladze’s signature. The £2 million fee would mean he would become the first Georgian to play in the Premier League and despite some initial problems with trying to earn a work permit, Kinkladze would get his documents ready in-time to be in the starting XI for Manchester City’s opening game of the 1995-1996 season – a 1-1 draw at home with Tottenham Hotspur.

City made a wretched start to the season under new manager Alan Ball. They didn’t win a league match until defeating Bolton Wanderers in early November. Nevertheless, Kinkladze was the shining light and already very popular with the long-suffering supporters. In November 1995, he scored his first Premier League goal in a 1-0 victory over high-flying Aston Villa that briefly took Ball’s side out of the bottom three.

Initially, he struggled to settle due to the language limitations and bitter winter climate but his mother moved to Manchester just before the festive period and if anything, this home comfort made Kinkladze an even better player. In March 1996, he produced his best moment of the campaign against relegation rivals Southampton. He beat five Southampton players on a mazy solo run and clipped the ball over the experienced Dave Beasant with calmness personified. City won the game 2-1 and Kinkladze’s goal was voted Goal of the Month by BBC Match of the Day viewers.

He was named Player of the Year by his fellow teammates and supporters of the club but one high-quality player can’t always save a faltering team. On the final day of the season, Manchester City were relegated to the First Division. Despite interest from the likes of Celtic and Inter Milan, Kinkladze elected to stay at Maine Road and try to help City back to the top-flight at the first attempt.

It didn’t happen and the club went backwards. He continued to shine in the First Division but Manchester City were slipping towards the third-tier of English football and were relegated in 1998. Joe Royle saw him as a luxury player and often left him out in the 1997-1998 relegation run-in, thinking his skills were too much of a hindrance in a struggling side rather than a help.

Kinkladze joined Ajax in the summer of 1998 for £5 million but played in an unfamiliar wide position after Jari Litmanen’s planned transfer to Barcelona collapsed. He never settled in the Netherlands, playing just 12 times and felt frustrated by a lack of first-team opportunities. He returned to English shores and joined Derby County on-loan initially in November 1999 making his Premier League return as a late substitute in a defeat at Highbury.

He made 14 appearances in the loan spell with the Rams and did enough to make the move into a permanent switch with Derby paying Ajax £3 million which was a transfer record for the club that stood for the next seven years. A hernia operation kept Kinkladze on the sidelines at the start of the 2000-2001 season and further injury setbacks meant he couldn’t nail down a regular place in Derby’s line-up. He wasn’t as influential in the Midlands as he had been at Manchester City. Some managers seemed to appreciate his flair like John Gregory and Jim Smith. Others like Colin Todd were not interested in this and made that abundantly clear by often not selecting him due to his lack of work ethic. In 2002, Derby were relegated from the Premier League – a third relegation on Kinkladze’s English CV.

Although he liked him, Gregory had to slash the wage bill following Derby’s drop into the Football League and had to tell Kinkladze he had to leave for the good of the club. Settled in the region, Georgi didn’t want to go and even turned down a potential move to Turkish champions Galatasaray. He stayed with the Rams until his contract expired in the summer of 2003.

An 18-month spell without a club followed. Trial periods with the likes of Portsmouth, Leeds United and Panathinaikos led to no permanent contract offer and his career in England was most definitely over. He did win the Cypriot championship in 2005 when he returned to club football with Anorthosis Famagusta before ending his career at Rubin Kazan. Retiring in 2007, he later worked as a sports agent and spent a year back at Anorthosis as Sporting Director before leaving in June 2012.

He might have been a weak tackler and a lack of defensive contribution meant he was not always a manager’s favourite. However, Georgi Kinkladze was a playmaker artist and is still fondly remembered as a bright light in very difficult times at Manchester City.

Shock Results: Arsenal 2-4 Norwich City (August 1992)

Goalscorers: Steve Bould 28, Kevin Campbell 39, Mark Robins 69, 84, David Phillips 72, Ruel Fox 82

Teams:

Arsenal: David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, David Hillier, John Jensen, Anders Limpar, Paul Merson (Ian Wright 73), Kevin Campbell, Alan Smith

Norwich City: Bryan Gunn, Ian Butterworth, Mark Bowen, Ian Culverhouse, Rob Newman, John Polston, Gary Megson (Ian Crook 87), David Phillips, Ruel Fox, Jeremy Goss, Chris Sutton (Mark Robins 58)

Referee: Alan Gunn, Attendance: 24,030

It was the opening weekend of the inaugural season of the FA Premier League and Arsenal were among the pre-season title favourites. The Gunners had won the First Division championship as recently as 1991 and many insiders believed George Graham’s team would be setting the pace along with reigning champions Leeds United and Manchester United.

Arsenal faced relegation favourites Norwich City at Highbury on a day where we got to see the first sightings of the Highbury mural. The North Bank terrace had been demolished that summer to be replaced by an all-seater stand and it was decided a giant mural should be put in place to hide the construction work taking place. By full-time, it would be Arsenal players feeling rather red.

Initially, everything went to the formbook and despite Ian Wright starting the game on the bench, he wasn’t needed in the first half. Arsenal took the lead after 28 minutes. Nigel Winterburn’s free-kick was glanced into the net by centre-back Steve Bould. 11 minutes later, the lead was doubled by Kevin Campbell. Picked out by Lee Dixon, Campbell found a bit of space in the penalty area and planted his effort beyond the reach of Bryan Gunn.

This was Mike Walker’s first match as Norwich manager having been promoted from involvement with the youth team in the summer and after 58 minutes, he decided to shuffle his strikeforce around and bring on Mark Robins. Robins had arrived at the club after being discarded by Manchester United. He was about to not only make an impact on this match but a huge one in the Canaries’ incredible season.

On 69 minutes, Robins had made the telling contribution by reducing Arsenal’s advantage to 2-1, powering in a header from a free-kick. Three minutes later and Walker’s side had drawn themselves onto level terms. David Seaman misjudged a cross and the experienced David Phillips capitalised to make this into an engrossing contest.

Arsenal’s nightmare was almost complete when Ruel Fox used his fantastic pace to leave Tony Adams behind, then he finished underneath Seaman to complete a quite stunning turnaround. Adams was having a very difficult afternoon and with six minutes left, his slip allowed Robins in. Spotting Seaman off his line, he lobbed him in spectacular fashion to complete a truly stunning period. Norwich had scored four goals in 15 minutes to claim all three points.

Arsenal became the cup kings in 1992-1993. They won the FA Cup and League Cup but never launched a serious title tilt and finished a low-key 10th in the final table. Norwich were the season’s surprise package, leading on Christmas Day. They were overtaken in the second half of the season by Aston Villa and Manchester United but still finished a fantastic third in the final standings.