Memorable Matches: Blackburn Rovers 4-3 Manchester United (February 2006)

Goalscorers: David Bentley 35, 41, 56, Louis Saha 37, Lucas Neill 45 PEN, Ruud van Nistelrooy 63, 68

Teams:

Blackburn Rovers: Brad Friedel, Michael Gray, Andy Todd, Ryan Nelsen, Lucas Neill, Tugay (Brett Emerton 45), Robbie Savage (Aaron Mokoena 90), Steven Reid, Morten Gamst Pedersen, David Bentley (Jemal Johnson 90), Shefki Kuqi

Manchester United: Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra. Wes Brown (Mikael Silvestre 76), Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Darren Fletcher, Kieran Richardson (Ruud van Nistelrooy 54), Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney

Referee: Phil Dowd, Attendance: 25,484

Manchester United travelled to Ewood Park in early February 2006 still with hopes of catching Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table. Trouble was – the gap was a yawning 14 points between the two teams. By the end of the evening, those distant dreams had evaporated through a marvellous and unexpected hat-trick by David Bentley. Bentley had been on-loan to Blackburn Rovers for the first half of the 2005-2006 season and just 24 hours earlier, had made his move into a permanent transfer from Arsenal. The midfielder was above to prove to worth to manager Mark Hughes.

On a cold Lancastrian evening, the home crowd were about to be treated to wonderful entertainment which started with Bentley’s opener on 35 minutes. Blackburn won a free-kick which Morten Gamst Pedersen took. Pedersen was one of the best set-piece takers at the time in the Premier League and he forced a save from Edwin van der Sar. The goalkeeper couldn’t hold on and Bentley pounced on the rebound to put the home side infront.

It started a crazy period of four goals in 10 minutes and Blackburn’s first lead lasted just a couple of minutes. Louis Saha, preferred to Ruud van Nistelrooy in attack equalised after Wayne Rooney forced Brad Friedel into an excellent save. Like his counterpart Van der Sar, Friedel was unlucky. Saha simply reacted quicker than the defenders to strike an immediate reply.

If Van der Sar was unfortunate with the first goal, he had to take accountability for Bentley’s second. A complete breakdown in communication between the Dutchman and Rio Ferdinand saw the England defender flick the ball over his head. Bentley was left with an open goal to finish off this unexpected gift. United’s woeful defensive display continued before half-time. Wes Brown stopped Steven Reid’s cross with his hand and Phil Dowd gave a penalty to Blackburn, converted by Lucas Neill.

11 minutes into the second half, it was 4-1. Robbie Savage picked out Bentley who had time and space to pick out his shot and find the bottom corner. Bentley became the first player to score a Premier League hat-trick against Manchester United. The last had been Dennis Bailey for Queens Park Rangers in the old first division on New Years’ Day 1992.

Just before that goal, United had thrown Van Nistelrooy on and he scored his 20th Premier League goal of the season shortly after his arrival. Andy Todd’s slip allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to pick out Van Nistelrooy who finished deftly from close range. Five minutes later, he was sent clear by Brown’s flick and drilled a shot past Friedel to make it 4-3. However, Blackburn held on to complete a league double over the Red Devils for the first time in the Premier League era.

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Premier League Files: Neville Southall

Premier League Career: Everton (1992-1998), Bradford City (2000)

Neville Southall had a proud and distinguished career in football and whilst he achieved his main honours before the Premier League began in 1992, that doesn’t take away the impact he had guarding the posts at Everton for the best part of 17 seasons.

He was voted as Everton’s all-time cult hero in December 2004, was selected as the goalkeeper choice for four years in a row in the PFA Team of the Year during the 1980s, won two championships and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985. His performances during Everton’s trophy-laden 1984-1985 season saw Neville crowned as Player of the Season by the Football Writers’.

He was renowned for his ability in coming off the goal-line and smothering the space for attackers. His agility couldn’t be questioned and even in his later years, could still produce remarkable saves that others could only dream of.

By the time the Premier League was formed in 1992, Neville had already been an Everton stalwart for 11 years and the club in general had seen far better and healthier days. He was part of the squad that only just about survived relegation in the 1993-1994 season. In the final match of the campaign against Wimbledon, Southall showed his leadership qualities by taking the ball and hinting that he would face up to the pressure and take the spot-kick that would get the Toffees back into the game. Eventually, Graham Stuart plucked up the courage to take the responsibility and fortunately, he scored.

Southall’s performances were still consistent, even if they weren’t quite at the level he was displaying a decade earlier but even he suffered a decline in his form in the early weeks of the 1994-1995 campaign. Everton went 12 games without a win at the start of the season and Southall later admitted that after a confrontation from a fan after a home defeat, he was subject to death threats. Things improved when Mike Walker was sacked in November and by the end of the season, Everton had survived relegation under the guidance of Joe Royle and won the FA Cup. The season also saw Southall take a record of appearing in the Merseyside Derby more times than any other player. Everton’s 2-0 victory over their neighbours in November 1994 was his 35th appearance in the fixture.

He remained an ever-present during the next campaign which Everton finished sixth. However, Royle saw the goalkeeper spot as an area where the team could improve and Neville would have slipped down the pecking order if a deal to sign Nigel Martyn from Crystal Palace could go through. The move collapsed and Southall remained Everton’s no.1 goalie but Royle was desperate to strengthen in this position.

In 1996-1997, he was dropped after a run of six successive defeats from the Christmas programme onwards. Despite his uncomfortable relationship with the manager, Southall continued to support Joe Royle in the media but when Royle resigned in March 1997, he received the support of caretaker boss and fellow long stalwart Dave Watson. He was put back in the team to steer the Toffees’ to another uncomfortable survival.

His final appearance for Everton came in November 1997 during a 2-0 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Howard Kendall offered him a coaching role in the aftermath of the game but Southall rejected the offer, insisting he still could offer something to a club looking for a goalkeeper to play professional matches.

He made 53 appearances for Torquay United between 1998 and 2000 but had one final Premier League fling for Bradford City. When all three of Bradford’s senior goalkeepers sustained injuries at the same time, Southall played for the Bantams in a Yorkshire derby against Leeds United in March 2000. He became the fourth oldest player in Premier League history, at the age of 41 years and 178 days.

After retiring from the game in 2002, Neville worked as a coach and occasional manager in the non-league. His last role was eight years ago, as a caretaker manager for Margate. In 2012, he released his autobiography, “The Binman Chronicles” which was the sixth bestselling football book of the year.

Neville Southall saw it all and achieved many great things during a wonderful playing career. He gave so much service to Everton, achieving league titles and seeing the darker period at the start of the 1990s. He certainly made his mark between the goalposts on Merseyside.

The Managers: Tony Pulis

Premier League Clubs Managed: Stoke City (2008-2013), Crystal Palace (2013-2014), West Bromwich Albion (2015-PRESENT)

In 2018, Tony Pulis will celebrate his 60th birthday. The Welshman has become a specialist in stabilising Premier League teams. He gets the absolute maximum out of all of his players and whilst his teams might lack the overall superstar who will wow supporters, he will ensure his sides are tough to break down and specialise in their strengths to win football matches.

Pulis has attracted criticism from some of the modern day fans. Some feel his tactics are dull and make games to watch uninspiring. Sometimes, it is a fair point but if you asked fans of his current club West Bromwich Albion, you would want to survive in the Premier League. Survival is more important than substance and Pulis does this brilliantly.

He now been managing for the best part of 25 years and it took a while to reach the promise land with Stoke City in 2008. Since then, Tony has been a regular fixture in the Premier League managerial dugout.

Playing attempts

Like many before him, Pulis went into management after the end of his playing career. He spent 17 years kicking footballs rather than coaching footballers and being a defender, you can see why he always builds his teams from the back.

During his playing days, Pulis played for five teams in his career. He even spent one season playing abroad in Hong Kong for Happy Valley – one of the most successful clubs in the country with six domestic championships.

He began his playing career at Bristol Rovers and also featured for local club Newport County AFC, Gillingham and AFC Bournemouth. He would go on to manage the latter two clubs in his career and his break came soon than expected at Dean Court.

Filling Harry’s shoes

Coaching was always in Tony’s mind, even in his early playing career. He obtained his FA coaching badge at just 19, followed by his UEFA ‘A’ licence aged 21 – making him one of the youngest professional players ever to have obtained the qualification.

He wound down his playing time with Bournemouth, eventually taking the management role in 1992 when Harry Redknapp quit, becoming Billy Bonds’ no.2 at West Ham United. A couple of 17th-place finishes weren’t anything to write home about but he was up and running and his next stop was a more successful spell at Gillingham.

He managed them for four campaigns and turned them from relegation strugglers to promotion contenders. In 1999, he took Gillingham to the Division Two playoff final and a meeting with Manchester City at Wembley. What followed next was one of the most sensational playoff finals of all-time. It looked like Pulis was going to take Gillingham up. They dominated the game and eventually took the lead through Carl Asaba, before Robert Taylor doubled the lead. Then, Manchester City produced an unbelievable turnaround to level the game at 2-2, before winning the penalty shootout 3-1. City would go onto achieve back-to-back promotions. Pulis would be out of work just weeks later. A falling out with owner Paul Scally led to his sacking for a claim of gross misconduct. He would sue Scally later for unpaid bonuses which were eventually settled out of court.

Brief spells at Bristol City and Portsmouth going into the millennium didn’t work out and it wasn’t until 2002 until he seemed to have found a home which was with Stoke City. However, that wouldn’t be without dramas of its’ own.

Reaching the promise land eventually at Stoke

Tony took over a team struggling in the First Division in November 2002 and managed to grind out enough victories and points to survive relegation on the final day of the season. The loan signings of Mark Crossley and Ade Akinbiyi played a pivotal part in the Potters’ escaping the drop. Even to this day, Pulis claims this is one of his finest achievements in management.

An 11th-place finish followed in 2003-2004 but soon, relations soured between Pulis and the Icelandic owner of the club, Gunnar Gislason. Rows broke out over the club’s transfer business. Pulis was furious that his main forward, Akinbiyi was sold to Championship rivals Burnley and no proven replacement came into the club. Gislason wanted the Welshman to spread his wings and use the foreign market. It was never going to end well and he was sacked in June 2005. The official reason given was “failing to exploit the foreign transfer market.”

He went to Plymouth Argyle, who were also flying high as a Championship club and a 14th-place finish was an overachievement considering the club’s own restrained budgets and expectations. Although he enjoyed his time with the Pilgrims’, Pulis had unfinished business at Stoke and when a board takeover happened, speculation intensified that he would return to the Britannia Stadium.

Less than a year after leaving Stoke, he returned to the club as manager with Peter Coates as the new owner. He backed Pulis in the transfer market and Tony started to bring in very solid Championship players including Danny Higginbotham, Ricardo Fuller and Rory Delap. They were in the playoff shake-up for much of the 2006-2007 season but a draw on the final day against Queens Park Rangers meant they eventually finished in eighth spot. A more serious push followed in 2007-2008. Again, Pulis used the loan market to great effect, which included the arrival of Ryan Shawcross. On the final day of the campaign, Stoke’s draw with Leicester City was good enough to take them up to the Premier League for their first top-flight season in 23 years.

His Premier League break had finally arrived.

Finals and Europe visit the Britannia

Stoke immediately made the Britannia Stadium a feared place to come for opponents. Aston Villa, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were among the early casualties to come a cropper in Staffordshire. A poor Christmas programme dropped the club into the bottom three but the January signings of James Beattie and Matthew Etherington were brilliant bits of business that allowed the club to push clear of danger.

Despite starting 2008-2009 as a favourite for relegation, Pulis took the club to an impressive 12th-place finish, securing safety three games from the end of the season. In 2009-2010, there was more progress with a run to the FA Cup quarter-finals and an 11th-place finish in the league, two points better than the previous campaign.

The achievements kept coming for Tony and the club. In 2011, Stoke thrashed Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the FA Cup semi-finals to reach an FA Cup final for the first time in their history. Although they lost 1-0 to Manchester City in the showpiece event, City’s guaranteed Champions League participation ensured Stoke a place in the UEFA Europa League for the 2011-2012 campaign.

As Europe beckoned, a stronger squad was required. The club’s transfer record was broken to sign the likes of Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch. Crouch’s £10million arrival meant that record had been broken for a fourth successive season. They advanced to the knockout rounds of the Europa League and only narrowly went out 2-0 on aggregate in the last 32 to former Spanish superpower Valencia.

However, despite all of this success and a strong bond with the club’s owners, Tony couldn’t break Stoke into the Premier League’s top 10. 11th in 2009-2010 remained the highest finish and as progress stagnated, he parted company with the club at the end of the 2012-2013 campaign. He took a six-month hiatus from football but was soon back to try and rescue Crystal Palace.

Reviving Palace and rejuvenating Albion

Pulis succeeded Ian Holloway in November 2013 to take over a Crystal Palace side that had won just twice and were bottom of the Premier League. It was going to be a tough job but early victories in his reign at home to West Ham United and Cardiff City suggested he could turn things around.

He exploited the January transfer market again and did some great business. Joe Ledley from Celtic, defender Scott Dann from Blackburn Rovers and Wayne Hennessey were among the five acquisitions he made. A run of five successive victories in April 2014 saw him take the Manager of the Month award and eventually, survival was comfortably achieved. To put it into context, no Palace manager had previously steered the club clear of relegation in the Premier League era. They finished 11th with 45 points and Pulis’ work was recognised. He was given the title of Premier League Manager of the Year.

However, his time at Selhurst Park would be short. Feeling he wasn’t being backed in the summer transfer market by the Palace board, he left by mutual consent just two days before the start of the 2014-2015 campaign. For the second successive season, Tony would spend the opening weeks away from the dugout.

He returned on New Years’ Day 2015 though, taking over as Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion after they dispensed with the services of Alan Irvine. There was an immediate response to his appointment. Darren Fletcher arrived from Manchester United to take over the captaincy and victories included a 3-0 win over champions Chelsea. West Brom finished 13th having looked like a serious relegation contender until Pulis’ arrival through the door at the Hawthorns.

In 2015, he broke West Brom’s transfer record to sign the nomadic Venezuelan forward Salomon Rondon and also added Jonny Evans, James McClean and Rickie Lambert to the ranks. In 2015-2016, West Brom were in no relegation danger for much of the campaign but did finish a rather uninspiring 14th. The highlights of the campaign were home victories over Arsenal and Manchester United.

2016-2017 saw Pulis finally finish a season in the top 10 as a Premier League manager at the ninth attempt of asking. Matt Phillips, Hal Robson-Kanu and Nacer Chadli for a new club-record fee were among the new arrivals and West Brom started to become a more attractive side to watch. Their 2-1 victory in November 2016 at champions Leicester City was seen as a turning point in their season – a day when they outplayed and outclassed the champions.

There was an excellent 3-1 success over a dispirited Arsenal in March 2017 and for much of the campaign, West Brom were best of the rest, looking set for an eighth place finish. Unfortunately, form tailed off after a creditable point at Old Trafford and they slipped behind Southampton and AFC Bournemouth in the final week of the season. Nevertheless, it had been a very positive season for everyone connected with West Bromwich Albion.

Although club captain Fletcher departed for Stoke after talks broke down over a new contract, Pulis has had an outstanding summer transfer window. He brought in long-time target Jay Rodriguez from Southampton, young Scottish talent Oliver Burke from RB Leipzig and the loan signing of Grzegorz Krychowiak from Paris Saint-Germain. Two wins and a draw from the club’s first four matches of 2017-2018 hints that it could be another strong season at the Hawthorns.

Tony Pulis’ ability to keep struggling clubs away from the threats of relegation can’t be questioned. He might one of the rare breed of old-fashioned managers who prefers the long ball style of play. However, it has always worked for him and there is no need to change this, especially as he has a proud record of never being relegated as a player or manager. Having just extended his contract to stay at West Bromwich Albion until 2019, expect Tony Pulis to be around in the Premier League for some time to come.

Referees in the Middle: Keith Stroud

Premier League Career: 2007-2009, 2015-

First Premier League Match: Blackburn Rovers 2-0 Sunderland (15 February 2006)

Last Premier League Match (To-date): Watford 2-0 West Ham United (31 October 2015)

Hampshire resident Keith Stroud has only taken charge of 17 Premier League matches in his career. Like Stuart Attwell, Stroud will be hoping to follow his path and make his way back to the Select Group of Referees who take charge of officiating top-flight matches.

Luton Town supporter Stroud first took up refereeing in 1988 and was promoted from the non-league to the National List 16 years later. In that time, he had experience as an assistant referee at the 2002 Division Three playoff final between Cheltenham Town and Rushden & Diamonds. He also was an assistant in the 2003 FA Cup final which was refereed by Graham Barber when Arsenal defeated Southampton 1-0.

Stroud’s first match outside of Conference Football was in August 2004; a League Two encounter between Cheltenham Town and Scunthorpe United at Whaddon Road. After controlling several playoff matches in the Football League, he was given the opportunity to officiate in the top-flight. His first game was in February 2006 when Blackburn Rovers beat Sunderland 2-0 at Ewood Park. The most games Stroud has done in a Premier League season was seven in the 2007-2008 season.

In 2009, it was confirmed that Stroud along with Steve Tanner had been dropped from the Select Group of officials. However, he appealed his case with support from the workers’ union, Unison. It was found out that monthly reviews on the pair’s performances had not been carried out. Therefore, their exclusions had been flawed.

Since then though, Stroud has only taken charge of three top-flight matches. His last game was in October 2015, handing out his first Premier League red card to West Ham’s James Collins in the match away to Watford.

Has Keith Stroud already had the final whistle on his Premier League career? He is still in the Football League today and has got to keep working hard. His opportunity might arise again sometime soon.

Iconic Moments: A sad goodbye for Cloughie (May 1993)

He was controversial, he was charismatic and he was cherished by all – apart from maybe those at Leeds United. Brian Clough was one of the best managers the game has ever produced. After scoring 251 goals in just 274 league appearances for Middlesbrough and Sunderland respectively, he went into management and achieved great success.

He turned Derby County from a run-of-the-mill Second Division side into the Champions of England and also guided them to the semi-finals of the European Cup. After his ill-fated 44-day spell as Leeds boss in 1974, Clough returned to the Midlands and held the helm at Nottingham Forest for 18 years. He made the club in a serial player in both the English and European game. Forest won the First Division title in 1978, four League Cups and back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980.

Sadly though, his career ended on a low note as Nottingham Forest slid through the Premier League trap door in the league’s first season. Key players like Des Walker and Teddy Sheringham had been sold and there was an increasing battle the manager was having with alcohol. On the week before the club’s final home match of the 1992-1993 season, Clough announced his retirement from football management so he could spend more time with his family.

His final day at the City Ground was a highly-charged occasion but there would be no happy ending to this fairytale. Forest were beaten 2-0 by Sheffield United which consigned them to relegation. Afterwards, Clough revealed to Martin Tyler when asked why the club had gone down: “We’re not good enough, simple as that.”

After retirement, his battles with ill health and allegations of corruption dominated headlines but he still wrote an explosive monthly column for FourFourTwo magazine. He died from stomach cancer in September 2004, aged 69.

It was a sad goodbye and a sad way for one of the game’s great characters to bow out on.

Premier League Files: Juan Mata

Premier League Career: Chelsea (2011-2014), Manchester United (2014-PRESENT)

A graduate of Real Madrid’s youth academy, Juan Mata has become one of the Premier League’s most precise players. Full of skill and panache, Mata has been a fans’ favourite at both Chelsea and Manchester United. Whilst the ultimate prize of the Premier League title has eluded this super Spaniard, Mata has become an integral part of many Fantasy Premier League squads because many can count on a fair return of goals and assists from him.

Mata started to make a name for himself in his homeland with Valencia. In August 2011, Chelsea bought him from La Liga for £28 million. On his arrival in west London, he revealed that his international teammate Fernando Torres had played a significant role in bringing him to English football. He said: “Fernando got me excited about the thought of coming here. He said it would be good for me here and that he and I together could be good.”

Getting his favourite no.10 shirt on his arrival, Mata made an immediate impression at Stamford Bridge. He scored on his debut in a home victory over Norwich City and was a shining light in an inconsistent season for the team which led to the March sacking of manager Andre Villas-Boas. When Roberto di Matteo took over, he played Mata as a no.10 attacking midfielder rather than out on the left-wing. This produced even better performances. Mata won the Man of the Match award as Chelsea beat Liverpool FC in the FA Cup final and ended the campaign with 14 assists in the league and six goals. He was part of the squad that stunned Bayern Munich on Bayern’s own turf to win the UEFA Champions League. That was despite having a penalty saved in the shootout by Manuel Neuer.

His performances won him the Club’s Player of the Year award in 2011-2012. He was even better in 2012-2013. Mata was shortlisted for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, won the club’s individual prize for the second successive campaign and scored a ton of important goals. This included a late winner at Old Trafford against champions Manchester United. He added another honour to his collection with the UEFA Europa League. Unfortunately for Mata, his time at Chelsea was coming to a swifter end than he could have predicted.

Jose Mourinho’s arrival for a second spell as Chelsea manager would mean a frustrating first six months of the 2013-2014 campaign for Mata. Mourinho preferred to play the likes of Oscar and Ramires in more attacking positions as he valued their better defensive contributions. In January 2014, he moved to Manchester United for a club record fee at the time of £37.1 million.

His debut for the Red Devils’ saw an assist created for the opening goal against Cardiff City, scored by Robin van Persie. It did take Mata slightly longer to settle than he would have anticipated and two months before scoring his first goal for the club; in a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa in March. He ended with six goals at the end of the campaign.

Louis van Gaal arrived as David Moyes’ successor and it took Mata time to really establish himself at Old Trafford. The arrivals of Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria put his place in doubt but towards the end of the 2014-2015 season, he had emerged as United’s creative spark. In March 2015, the club travelled to Anfield for a crucial match with Liverpool FC. The two were fighting it out for a top-four finish in the Premier League and Liverpool had the momentum following a lengthy unbeaten run. On this day, Mata was unplayable.

He ghosted past Alberto Moreno for the opening goal inside 10 minutes. His second goal was voted as the Goal of the Month for March. He produced a spectacular and fantastic bicycle kick from the edge of the area to leave Simon Mignolet stranded. The goal even got a usually unemotional van Gaal out of his seat. Manchester United won the game 2-1 and Mata has said since this was his best performance for the club.

In May 2016, he won the FA Cup for the second time in his career, scoring the equaliser in the final against Crystal Palace. Further goals in 2016-2017 followed against the likes of Watford, Arsenal and AFC Bournemouth as Mata once again proved his critics wrong and showed he could play a crucial role at the club for Jose Mourinho – the man who had so easily discarded him at Chelsea.

Great vision, many assists and plenty of skilful moments, Juan Mata has been a serial consistent player for the past six seasons and I’m sure more is to come from him in the 2017-2018 season.

Memorable Matches: Queens Park Rangers 2-3 Liverpool FC (October 2014)

Goalscorers: Richard Dunne 67 OG, Eduardo Vargas 87, Philippe Coutinho 90, Steven Gerrard 90+1 OG, Steven Caulker 90+5 OG

Teams:

Queens Park Rangers: Alex McCarthy, Yun Suk-Young, Nedum Onuoha (Matt Phillips 45), Richard Dunne, Steven Caulker, Mauricio Isla, Sandro (Armand Traore 60), Karl Henry, Leroy Fer, Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora (Eduardo Vargas 79)

Liverpool FC: Simon Mignolet, Jose Enrique, Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Emre Can (Joe Allen 66), Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling (Kolo Toure 90), Adam Lallana (Philippe Coutinho 66), Mario Balotelli

Referee: Phil Dowd, Attendance: 18,069

Bottom of the table with just four points from eight matches, Queens Park Rangers were struggling for form and confidence ahead of this meeting with Liverpool FC. At the end, they came off the field wondering how they’d lost a game they’d largely controlled.

Brendan Rodgers recalled Mario Balotelli after he had been dropped for the home win over West Bromwich Albion before the international break. Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp made six alterations to his QPR side following their dreary display and 2-0 defeat to West Ham United. One player reintroduced to the fold was Bobby Zamora and he was a pest all afternoon. Zamora played a part in the best moments of a scoreless first half. Twice he set-up Dutch international Leroy Fer and on both occasions, Fer was desperately unlucky not to score with his efforts bouncing off the woodwork.

Liverpool looked disjointed and stuck for ideas without the injured Daniel Sturridge. Raheem Sterling, who had complained to England boss Roy Hodgson a week earlier to rest him because of fatigue, was largely non-existent. That was until the arrival of Philippe Coutinho off the bench which set-up a barnstorming final 25 minutes.

The visitors’ took the lead on 67 minutes. Quick thinking from a free-kick saw Sterling guide in a low cross that Richard Dunne turned into his own net. It was the 10th own goal of Dunne’s Premier League career – an unwanted record. Redknapp’s response was to remove Zamora from the action and play his wildcard in the Chilean forward Eduardo Vargas.

With four minutes remaining, it looked like the decision would work wonders. Charlie Austin’s knockdown gave Vargas the opportunity to level the scores with his first Queens Park Rangers goal since joining on-loan from Napoli. The least the home side deserved was a share of the spoils but it looked like Liverpool FC were going to luck into victory as the clock struck 90 minutes.

Coutinho produced a superb finish which via a deflection off Steven Caulker’s boot, left Alex McCarthy powerless to stop the shot. Coutinho had scored the winner between these sides at Anfield when they last played each other in May 2013 and he was having the final say here.

That was until an almighty goalmouth scramble led to a second QPR equaliser. Vargas scrambled in his second goal although it was officially credited as an own goal off the Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping left a lot to be desired.

Just when it looked like the drama was over, Liverpool flew forward and Sterling did the damage. His attempted pass was cut-out by Caulker who was desperately unfortunate to see his clearance end up in the back of the net.

Liverpool climbed upto fifth spot but this match would be the paradox for both of the club’s retrospective seasons. The Reds’ looked off-form and failed to sparkle on their way to a distant sixth spot, whilst Queens Park Rangers were relegated back to the Championship through a mixture of poor luck and naïve defending.

Great Goals: Alan Shearer – NEWCASTLE UNITED vs. Everton (December 2002)

The Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer has scored a range of fine goals over the years from a variety of angles in many different methods. Alan Shearer was the main man at Newcastle United and this was one of his very best.

Trailing 1-0 to Everton with just four minutes remaining, it looks like the Magpies’ have run out of ideas. They started playing long balls to substitute Shola Ameobi. His aerial presence meant he was able to knock the ball down to Shearer. Sitting up nicely for the no.9 striker, he took a chance and smashed an unstoppable volley into the Everton goal.

Craig Bellamy completed the turnaround and Newcastle won the match 2-1. The comeback though was inspired by Shearer’s stunner.

Premier League Rewind: 7th-9th December 1996

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.

Iconic Moments: Big Sam does it again (May 2016)

When Dick Advocaat decided to walk out on Sunderland in the early days of October 2015, things look grim again for the Black Cats. With yet another relegation scrap on the horizon, they turned to survival specialist Sam Allardyce to fill the managerial vacancy.

Initially, there wasn’t much of a bounce despite another Tyne & Wear derby victory over Newcastle United and Sunderland went into 2016 seven points adrift of safety. By early April, performances had steadily improved but results still weren’t coming. The Wearsiders’ still looked odds-on to be relegated.

They then beat relegation rivals Norwich City 3-0 at Carrow Road in mid-April, which turned out to be a decisive moment. It meant Allardyce now had managed to wrestle control in the battle to stay alive in the top-flight. It was a time when both Sunderland and Newcastle United were collecting points at a regular rate. It was still all to play for going into the final month of the season.

Sunderland had two games at home against Chelsea and Everton. Maximum points would be enough to see them beat relegation again for a fourth successive season where their long-term future looked risky. Jermain Defoe scored a crucial winner at home to Chelsea as Sunderland won 3-2. Newcastle’s failure to beat already relegated Aston Villa ensured a victory in the midweek fixture against Everton would secure safety.

What a time then for Lamine Kone to come up with his first two Sunderland goals. Patrick van Aanholt’s free-kick completed the scoring. Everton were very poor and the 3-0 final scoreline didn’t flatter Sunderland. This latest Everton performance cost Roberto Martinez his job a day later. For Sunderland, it kept them safe and this escape would earn Big Sam briefly at least the call to manage his country.

He had done it again and still has never been relegated from the top-flight with any club.

Shock Results: Arsenal 1-2 Watford (January 2017)

Goalscorers: Younes Kaboul 10, Troy Deeney 13, Alex Iwobi 58

Teams:

Arsenal: Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel, Francis Coquelin (Lucas Perez 67), Aaron Ramsey (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 20), Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud (Theo Walcott 45), Alexis Sanchez

Watford: Heurelho Gomes, Daryl Janmaat, Craig Cathcart, Miguel Britos, Younes Kaboul, Sebastian Prodl, Tom Cleverley, Valon Behrami (Abdoulaye Doucoure 63), Etienne Capoue, Troy Deeney (Stefano Okaka 85), M’Baye Niang (Isaac Success 70)

Referee: Andre Marriner, Attendance: 60,035

At the end of January 2017, Arsenal were still holding onto faint title hopes when Watford came calling to the Emirates Stadium. Nine days earlier, the Gunners’ had beaten Burnley in dramatic circumstances due to a late penalty from the inspirational Alexis Sanchez. They were second in the table and looked to be the only side who might give Chelsea a few headaches in the closing months.

By contrast, Watford’s form was wretched ahead of this London derby. Walter Mazzarri’s side had just been dumped out of the FA Cup by League One outfit Millwall and were on a seven-game winless streak in the Premier League that stretched back to a 3-2 win over Everton in mid-December. As far as home bankers went before kick-off, you would have got long odds on a Hornets’ win in this midweek match.

However, they made a stunning start, catching Arsenal completely cold. The home side put in a shambolic first half display and were brutally punished for their slack opening. Only 10 minutes had elapsed when they went a goal behind. Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Younes Kaboul tried his luck from distance. The centre-back’s strike took a deflection off Aaron Ramsey and the ball flew past a stranded Petr Cech.

Three minutes later and Watford incredibly doubled their lead. Frenchman Etienne Capoue ghosted through an Arsenal backline that seemed happily content to allow him to try his luck. Cech denied him but the ball fell perfectly to the Watford skipper Troy Deeney. He couldn’t miss from just a few yards out and the scoreline was 2-0 to the visitors. It could have got worse. Only Cech’s acrobatics stopped Sebastian Prodl from making it 3-0. Arsenal failed to have a single shot on target in the first half. Manager Arsene Wenger, who was serving a touchline ban and watching in the stands, seemed absolutely powerless.

As expected, Arsenal improved in the second half. They had to and hard work from Sanchez in the 57th minute allowed Nigerian Alex Iwobi to halve the deficit. Arsenal went onto half four more shots on target but none of them burst Heurelho Gomes’ net. The closest they came was through substitute Lucas Perez, who struck the woodwork in the closing moments. It was a frustrating evening for the home faithful.

Watford’s first win in the top-flight at Arsenal’s home since 1988 was a special night in a tricky season which would end with another change in management come the season’s conclusion. This result saw Arsenal drop nine points off the pace and began a calamitous run of form that not only buried any outside title hopes but would ultimately cost them a place in the top-four finishing positions for the first time in Wenger’s reign. Wenger told the BBC afterwards: “It was obvious we lost duels and were not sharp enough. It looked more mentally that we were not ready for the challenges.”

This however was a night that belonged to Watford for their ruthless finishing in one of the biggest shocks of the 2016-2017 season.

Seasonal Records: 1996-1997

For all the statistical fans out there, here are some of the season’s records from the 1996-1997 Premier League season, which saw the first ever points deduction for a team in the Premier League.

FINAL TABLE

Position Team P W D L F A GD PTS
1 Manchester United 38 21 12 5 76 44 +32 75
2 Newcastle United 38 19 11 8 73 40 +33 68
3 Arsenal 38 19 11 8 62 32 +30 68
4 Liverpool FC 38 19 11 8 62 37 +25 68
5 Aston Villa 38 17 10 11 47 34 +13 61
6 Chelsea 38 16 11 11 58 55 +3 59
7 Sheffield Wednesday 38 14 15 9 50 51 -1 57
8 Wimbledon 38 15 11 12 49 46 +3 56
9 Leicester City 38 12 11 15 46 54 -8 47
10 Tottenham Hotspur 38 13 7 18 44 51 -7 46
11 Leeds United 38 11 13 14 28 38 -10 46
12 Derby County 38 11 13 14 45 58 -13 46
13 Blackburn Rovers 38 9 15 14 42 43 -1 42
14 West Ham United 38 10 12 16 39 48 -9 42
15 Everton 38 10 12 16 44 57 -13 42
16 Southampton 38 10 11 17 50 56 -6 41
17 Coventry City 38 9 14 15 38 54 -16 41
18 Sunderland 38 10 10 18 35 53 -18 40
19 Middlesbrough* 38 10 12 16 51 60 -9 39
20 Nottingham Forest 38 6 16 16 31 59 -28 34

*Middlesbrough were deducted three points for failing to fulfil a fixture away at Blackburn Rovers in December 1996

THE BASIC STATS

Goals Scored 970
European qualifiers Manchester United (UEFA Champions League), Newcastle United (UEFA Champions League), Arsenal (UEFA Cup), Liverpool FC (UEFA Cup), Aston Villa (UEFA Cup), Leicester City (UEFA Cup), Chelsea (UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup)
Longest winning run 7 games (Newcastle United)
Longest unbeaten run 16 games (Manchester United)
Longest winless run 16 games (Nottingham Forest)
Longest losing run 6 games (Everton)
Highest attendance 55,314 (Manchester United vs. Wimbledon)
Lowest attendance 7,979 (Wimbledon vs. Leeds United)

AWARDS

PFA Players’ Player of the Year Alan Shearer (Newcastle United)
PFA Young Player of the Year David Beckham (Manchester United)
Football Writers’ Award Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea)
PFA Team of the Year David Seaman, Stig Inge Bjornebye, Tony Adams, Mark Wright, Gary Neville, David Batty, Roy Keane, Steve McManaman, David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Ian Wright
Manager of the Year Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
Goal of the Season David Beckham (Wimbledon vs. MANCHESTER UNITED)

HAT-TRICK HEROES

Player Teams Score Date
Fabrizio Ravanelli Middlesbrough vs. Liverpool FC 3-3 17th August 1996
Kevin Campbell Coventry City vs. Nottingham Forest 0-3 17th August 1996
Ian Wright Arsenal vs. Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 16th September 1996
Dwight Yorke Newcastle United vs. Aston Villa 4-3 30th September 1996
Gary Speed Everton vs. Southampton 7-1 16th November 1996
Robbie Fowler (4 goals) Liverpool FC vs. Middlesbrough 5-1 14th December 1996
Alan Shearer Newcastle United vs. Leicester City 4-3 2nd February 1997
Ian Marshall Leicester City vs. Derby County 4-2 22nd February 1997
Steffen Iversen Sunderland vs. Tottenham Hotspur 0-4 4th March 1997
Fabrizio Ravanelli Middlesbrough vs. Derby County 6-1 5th March 1997
Kevin Gallacher Blackburn Rovers vs. Wimbledon 3-1 15th March 1997
Paul Kitson West Ham United vs. Sheffield Wednesday 5-1 3rd May 1997

TOP SCORERS

Position Player Teams No of Goals
1 Alan Shearer Newcastle United 25
2 Ian Wright Arsenal 23
3= Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United 18
3= Robbie Fowler Liverpool FC 18
5 Dwight Yorke Aston Villa 17
6= Les Ferdinand Newcastle United 16
6= Fabrizio Ravanelli Middlesbrough 16
8= Matt Le Tissier Southampton 13
8= Dion Dublin Coventry City 13
8= Juninho Middlesbrough 13
11= Dennis Bergkamp Arsenal 12
11= Stan Collymore Liverpool FC 12
11= Steve Claridge Leicester City 12
14= Eric Cantona Manchester United 11
14= Efan Ekoku Wimbledon 11
14= Dean Sturridge Derby County 11
14= Chris Sutton Blackburn Rovers 11
18= Andy Booth Sheffield Wednesday 10
18= Emile Heskey Leicester City 10
18= Kevin Gallacher Blackburn Rovers 10
18= Duncan Ferguson Everton 10
22= Savo Milosevic Aston Villa 9
22= Gianluca Vialli Chelsea 9
22= Gary Speed Everton 9
22= Egil Ostenstad Southampton 9

BIGGEST VICTORIES

Newcastle United 7-1 Tottenham Hotspur 28th December 1996
Everton 7-1 Southampton 16th November 1996
Middlesbrough 6-1 Derby County 5th March 1997
Manchester United 5-0 Sunderland 21st December 1996
Newcastle United 5-0 Manchester United 20th October 1996
Newcastle United 5-0 Nottingham Forest 11th May 1997
Aston Villa 5-0 Wimbledon 22nd December 1996
Chelsea 6-2 Sunderland 16th March 1997
Liverpool FC 5-1 Chelsea 21st September 1996
West Ham United 5-1 Sheffield Wednesday 3rd May 1997

HIGHEST SCORING GAMES

No of Goals Teams Date
9 Southampton 6-3 Manchester United 26th October 1996
8 Newcastle United 7-1 Tottenham Hotspur 28th December 1996
8 Everton 7-1 Southampton 16th November 1996
8 Chelsea 6-2 Sunderland 16th March 1997
7 Middlesbrough 6-1 Derby County 5th March 1997
7 Newcastle United 4-3 Aston Villa 30th September 1996
7 Newcastle United 4-3 Leicester City 2nd February 1997
7 Liverpool FC 4-3 Newcastle United 10th March 1997
7 West Ham United 4-3 Tottenham Hotspur 24th February 1997
6 Liverpool FC 5-1 Chelsea 21st September 1996
6 Liverpool FC 5-1 Middlesbrough 14th December 1996
6 West Ham United 5-1 Sheffield Wednesday 3rd May 1997
6 Liverpool FC 4-2 Nottingham Forest 17th December 1996
6 Wimbledon 4-2 Sheffield Wednesday 12th October 1996
6 Leicester City 4-2 Derby County 22nd February 1997
6 Middlesbrough 4-2 Sheffield Wednesday 18th January 1997
6 Chelsea 2-4 Wimbledon 19th October 1996
6 Middlesbrough 4-2 Everton 26th December 1996
6 Blackburn Rovers 2-4 Leicester City 11th May 1997
6 Derby County 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur 22nd March 1997

YOUNGEST PLAYERS USED

Player Teams Age at the time Date
Richard Dunne Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Everton 17 years, 3 months, 21 days 11th January 1997
Michael Owen Wimbledon 2-1 Liverpool FC 17 years, 4 months, 22 days 6th May 1997
Wesley Boyle Leeds United 0-1 Newcastle United 17 years, 5 months, 22 days 21st September 1996
Michael Ball Everton 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur 17 years, 6 months, 10 days 12th April 1997
Danny Cadamarteri Everton 1-2 Chelsea 17 years, 6 months, 29 days 11th May 1997
Andy Campbell Aston Villa 1-0 Middlesbrough 17 years, 7 months, 12 days 30th November 1996
Jody Morris Southampton 0-0 Chelsea 17 years, 7 months, 27 days 18th August 1996
Rio Ferdinand Arsenal 2-0 West Ham United 17 years, 9 months, 10 days 17th August 1996
Michael Branch Wimbledon 4-0 Everton 17 years, 10 months, 20 days 7th September 1996
Michael Bridges Sunderland 0-0 Leicester City 18 years, 12 days 17th August 1996

OLDEST PLAYERS USED

Player Teams Age at the time Date
Gordon Strachan Coventry City 1-2 Derby County 40 years, 2 months, 24 days 3rd May 1997
Bryan Robson Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough 39 years, 11 months, 21 days 1st January 1997
Steve Ogrizovic Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Coventry City 39 years, 7 months, 29 days 11th May 1997
Les Sealey Manchester United 2-0 West Ham United 39 years, 7 months, 12 days 11th May 1997
Neville Southall Everton 1-2 Chelsea 38 years, 7 months, 25 days 11th May 1997
Mick Harford Wimbledon 0-2 Aston Villa 38 years, 1 month, 28 days 9th April 1997
Dave Beasant Southampton 0-1 Liverpool FC 37 years, 9 months, 9 days 29th December 1996
Paul McGrath Derby County 1-3 Arsenal 37 years, 5 months, 7 days 11th May 1997
Chris Woods Blackburn Rovers 2-1 Southampton 37 years, 16 days 30th November 1996
Brian Borrows Coventry City 1-2 Derby County 36 years, 6 months, 13 days 3rd May 1997

CLEAN SHEETS

Position Player Teams No of Clean Sheets
1 Nigel Martyn Leeds United 19
2 Peter Schmeichel Manchester United 14
3 Ian Walker Tottenham Hotspur 13
4 David James Liverpool FC 12
5= Kevin Pressman Sheffield Wednesday 11
5= Neil Sullivan Wimbledon 11
7= Michael Oakes Aston Villa 10
7= David Seaman Arsenal 10
7= Tim Flowers Blackburn Rovers 10
7= Ludek Miklosko West Ham United 10

25 years of the most envied league in the world!