Great Goals: Ruud van Nistelrooy – MANCHESTER UNITED vs. Fulham (March 2003)

Ruud van Nistelrooy was one of Europe’s great goalscorers. His habit was being in the right place at the right time to score from close-range or play off high offside traps and exposing weaknesses in defensive strategies.

This goal was all about skill, class and pace as well – the latter never being one of Van Nistelrooy’s true qualities. He collected possession from just inside his own half and spun away from Sylvain Legwinski who claimed he had been fouled by this movement. After this though, the rest is all about genuine class.

Van Nistelrooy beats no fewer than five Fulham players who either back off or put in feeble challenges. When in the penalty area, you always would back him and this was no exception, scooping the final effort beyond the Cottagers back-up goalkeeper, Maik Taylor.

This was the second goal of a Van Nistelrooy hat-trick in United’s 3-0 victory which set them up for an eighth Premier League title in 11 seasons. Van Nistelrooy won the Golden Boot that season too and there weren’t many better efforts in his Manchester United spell that this special solo strike.

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Premier League Files: Emmanuel Petit

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1997-2000), Chelsea (2001-2004)

Arsenal’s first Premier League title success in 1997-1998 was built around a strong defensive core unit. Whilst Arsene Wenger might have been slightly fortunate to inherit the famous Arsenal defence of Seaman, Bould, Adams, Dixon, Winterburn and Keown, his signings of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit was crucial in helping the Gunners get the better of Manchester United.

Some of Petit’s game wasn’t pretty. He would often break play up, foul players to stop counter-attacks and ensure referees got a hard time from him too. Nevertheless, he was still an excellent player whose partnership with Vieira remains one of the best central midfield combinations in Premier League history. He also was part of the French squad that won back-to-back major international competitions, scoring the third goal in the 1998 World Cup final.

Petit’s connections with Arsene Wenger went back before their link-up at Arsenal. He was signed by Wenger when just 18. Arsene was the manager of AS Monaco at the time and he would spend nine years in the Principality, appearing 222 times, scoring four goals. During his time with Monaco, he captained them to the French league title in 1997 and also played in the 1992 European Cup Winners’ Cup final when Monaco were beaten by German side SV Werder Bremen.

It was Jean Tigana who was manager when Petit won the league with Monaco and it became clear that he would move on to pastures new in the summer of 1997. Scottish champions Rangers were interested in signing him but the lure of working for Wenger again was simply too hard for Petit for ignore. He joined Arsenal for £2.5 million and Wenger immediately switched him from a box-to-box to defensive-minded player. It was a shrewd move.

Despite being red-carded in a goalless draw with Aston Villa in October 1997 for shoving referee Paul Durkin in an unsportsmanlike manner, Petit was one of Arsenal’s heroes of the season. He settled in very quickly into his new surroundings and his partnership with Vieira was a real plus point for all supporters. As the season wore on, he got stronger and stronger as Wenger’s team erased an 11-point margin in the New Year to be crowned champions at the beginning of May. Petit helped Arsenal on their way with a vital home winner from outside the area against Derby County a few days before the title crowning.

1998 was a golden year for Petit. Not only did he win the Premier League title, he also won the FA Cup and then, he played a significant contribution to France’s success on home soil in the World Cup finals. Emmanuel scored a winning goal in the group stages against Denmark, before starting and finishing a swift counter-attack in the final moments of the rather one-sided final in the Stade de France against Brazil. It had been a memorable 12 months for the Frenchman and he showed his caring side later that year when he was fortunate enough to win £17,000 worth of francs on a fruit machine in a Monte Carlo hotel and gave it all to a local charity. Later in 1998, he even played himself as a special guest in the Christmas episode of ITV police drama “The Bill,” visiting parents of a young girl who was recovering from injuries in hospital with flowers and a match ball signed by the team.

No more trophies followed at Arsenal but Petit added another six league goals to his tally, including another cracking goal against Derby County, this time in a 2-1 win at Pride Park in August 1999. He also made the PFA Team of the Year in 1998-1999. However, he moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2000 alongside his club teammate Marc Overmars in a £7 million transfer. That was after helping the French to victory at EURO 2000. His time in Spain was disappointing, as he suffered a number of frustrating injuries and he often played as a makeshift centre-back, something ‘Manu’ was never comfortable with.

After just one season with the Catalans, he returned to English football and London in the summer of 2001, joining Chelsea for £7.5 million who beat Tottenham Hotspur to his services. Petit played 55 times in the Premier League for the Blues. His best time with the club was the 2002-2003 season where he and Frank Lampard were among the core of a settled squad that finished in the top four and secured Champions League football just before Roman Abramovich came in to buy the club. There was also a rare goal away at of all places, Highbury in January 2003 although this did come in a losing cause.

The 2003-2004 campaign was one of immense disappointment for Petit. He was restricted to just four Premier League appearances all term due to a long-standing knee injury. His final appearance in Chelsea colours came in February 2004 in a 3-2 away win at Blackburn Rovers, where he set-up a goal for Lampard in the first half. He was released at the end of the season.

After turning down a summer approach from Bolton Wanderers and realising he wouldn’t return to his peak fitness levels, Petit announced his retirement from the game in January 2005, with the knee problem that was similar to the ones that ended the playing careers of Glenn Hoddle and Marco van Basten. He often appears today as an analyst on French television and is a brand ambassador for online trading broker UFX.com.

When Petit made the decision to retire, Wenger said: “He was fantastic. I feel his home is at Arsenal Football Club. We were lucky at Arsenal to have Petit at the peak of his career. He was a tremendous player.”

Most Arsenal supporters would agree with that.

Iconic Moments: An Argentine ownership opera at West Ham (August 2006)

The East End of London has seen some unbelievable drama down the years in the Premier League but even EastEnders would have struggled to have matched the ownership opera of two star Argentine players that could have had severe repercussions for West Ham United in 2006.

When West Ham signed South American superstars Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez on the August transfer deadline day from Corinthians, it was seen as a real coup. Both players had sparkled in the World Cup finals that summer in Germany and had been linked to leaving their home continent and joining one of the European superpower sides. It was even a surprise to Hammers manager Alan Pardew but he was never going to pass up the opportunity to sign these two players.

The club claimed they had agreements with the players’ representatives but there was suspicion seen by several of the Londoners rivals about the legality of the transfers. It came more to light in January 2007 when Mascherano left after an unhappy few months at Upton Park and joined Liverpool FC, initially on-loan before it became a permanent deal more than a year later.

Also that month, West Ham were asked to provide details of their agreement with the representatives of Tevez and Mascherano and this was something they failed to comply with. They were linked with Media Sports Investment, a company formerly run by Kia Joorabchian.

In March, West Ham were given two charges of breaching transfer regulations over third-party ownership which was strictly forbidden. In a statement, the Premier League said: “It is the board’s complaint that there were agreements in relation to both these transfers that enabled third parties to acquire the ability materially to influence the club’s policies and/or the performance of its teams in League matches and/or the competitions set out in Rule E10. The board’s view is this constitutes a breach of rule U18.”

A points deduction was expected. As they were 10 points adrift of safety before the charges were made, a docking of points would have seen the club all-but relegated. At this stage, Tevez finally clicked into form, scoring goals on a regular basis as West Ham began a late season surge towards safety. Before the season ended, West Ham pleaded guilty at a tribunal to the charges. They were given a hefty £5.5 million fine but escaped a points deduction. This infuriated their relegation rivals, Sheffield United, Fulham and Wigan Athletic. Ultimately, West Ham survived on the final day with a victory at Old Trafford and it was the Blades who were relegated to the Championship.

Tevez scored the winner that day at Old Trafford and would spend the next two years playing at the Theatre of Dreams and winning back-to-back titles. He was the driving force behind the Hammers’ escape act of 2006-2007 but it still remains one of the most controversial transfer dealings in Premier League history.

Memorable Matches: Manchester City 4-2 Arsenal (September 2009)

Goalscorers: Micah Richards 20, Robin van Persie 62, Craig Bellamy 74, Emmanuel Adebayor 80, Shaun Wright-Phillips 84, Tomas Rosicky 88

Teams:

Manchester City: Shay Given, Wayne Bridge, Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Micah Richards, Gareth Barry, Stephen Ireland (Martin Petrov 73), Nigel de Jong, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia, Gael Clichy, William Gallas, Bacary Sagna (Emmanuel Eboue 77), Thomas Vermaelen, Abou Diaby, Alex Song (Eduardo 77), Denilson (Tomas Rosicky 52), Cesc Fabregas, Niklas Bendtner, Robin van Persie

Referee: Mark Clattenburg, Attendance: 47,339

Big-spending Manchester City had made a 100% start to the 2009-2010 season, winning matches against Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Portsmouth. This was their first genuine test though against an established member of the ‘big 4’ as Arsenal visited Eastlands in September 2009.

Arsenal had been beaten in Manchester just before the international break by United at Old Trafford and their goalscorer that day, Andrey Arshavin was out of this match with a groin injury. City had two former Arsenal players in their line-up in Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor. For the latter, it turned out to be a very dramatic afternoon against his former employers.

After William Gallas spurned a great early opportunity, City took the lead after 20 minutes. Gareth Barry guided in a free-kick which was met by a terrific leap from Micah Richards. His header came off the post and went into the net via an unfortunate deflection off Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.

After a high-tempo first half, the frenetic pace continued in the second half. Arsenal stepped up their levels in the opening 15 minutes with Shay Given having to be at his best to deny a long-range effort by Thomas Vermaelen. Eventually, the pressure told in the 62nd minute. Robin van Persie escaped the attentions of Joleon Lescott on his home debut and placed a low shot away from Given’s reach. It levelled the scores deservedly and was the first goal Manchester City had conceded all season.

Arsenal should have built on this momentum but they would be breached worryingly three times in 10 minutes to put the game comprehensively out of reach. First, Richards did brilliantly to work his way past Alex Song. He squared the ball back for Craig Bellamy to lash the ball past Almunia and put Mark Hughes’ side back in the lead against the run of play. Moments earlier, Adebayor had been involved in an ugly confrontation with Van Persie which had seen the City striker stamp on the head of his former teammate. This was not spotted by Mark Clattenburg but the Togolese forward was later charged by the FA and banned for two matches for this act of violent conduct.

Adebayor had been jeered all afternoon by travelling supporters but he would have the last laugh. 10 minutes from time, Clattenburg played a brilliant advantage after Gael Clichy had fouled Shaun Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips played on, delivered the perfect cross and Adebayor got a free header which flew into the net. He then set off on a dash to the other end of the field to celebrate, deliberately at the Arsenal supporters who responded by throwing objects onto the pitch. He was booked and apologised afterwards as the emotions got the better of him.

There was still time for Wright-Phillips to make it 4-1, finishing off a free-flowing counter-attack which had been started by Bellamy. Tomas Rosicky did grab a late consolation on his comeback from injury but it was all in vain.

City won the battle but Arsenal had the last laugh. They’d finish in the top four, whilst their opponents missed out, finishing fifth and Hughes was sacked midway through the season to be replaced by Roberto Mancini.

Premier League Files: Marc Albrighton

Premier League Career: Aston Villa (2009-2014), Leicester City (2014-PRESENT)

Leicester City’s incredible Premier League title triumph in 2015-2016 saw plenty of heroes. Whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante stole most of the headlines, there were plenty of unsung players who played such a vital part in the greatest story ever played out in Premier League history.

One of those unsung heroes was Marc Albrighton. The Tamworth-born player figured in every single match that campaign and put in the best performances of a career which has flourished in the colours of the Foxes’ after a frustrating end to his time with Aston Villa. He is also in the Premier League record books for scoring the 20,000th goal in the league’s proud history, achieving this feat against Arsenal in December 2011.

Albrighton could have actually started his career out at West Bromwich Albion, who offered him a trial but ultimately rejected him. Aston Villa took him into their academy at the age of just eight and he would spend the next 17 years within their surroundings. His Premier League breakthrough came in 2009. After featuring prominently in pre-season, he made his debut in the top-flight on the opening weekend at home to Wigan Athletic. Wigan might have won the match 2-0 but this was a proud moment for Albrighton when he came on as a substitute in the second half. A month later, he extended his contract at Villa Park by three years and Martin O’Neill admitted he was impressed by his rapid rate of development.

O’Neill left abruptly before the start of the 2010-2011 campaign but reserve team coach Kevin McDonald had every confidence in Albrighton’s abilities and handed him his first start in the Premier League for the opening day match against West Ham United. Villa won 3-0 and Albrighton caught the eye, setting up two of the goals. His first goal at this level came in a 2-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur two months later and he also found the target with a clinical finish at home to Manchester United when the home side produced one of the best counter-attacking moves of the season.

He returned impressive figures of five goals in 29 appearances in 2010-2011 and would make Premier League history the following season. In December 2011, he scored the equaliser at home to Arsenal and therefore, scored the league’s 20,000th goal. Albrighton won a £20,000 cheque from the league’s sponsors, Barclays which he donated to his chosen charity, the Acorns Children Hospice.

Although Arsenal did end up winning the match 2-1, Albrighton knew the significance of his strike. He told talkSPORT: “It’s something to tell the kids and the grandkids. It is a massive thing; the Premier League is one of the greatest leagues in the world, if not the greatest, so to score the 20,000th goal is definitely special to me.”

Unfortunately, his form started to fade at Villa and a throat operation in the early weeks of the 2013-2014 campaign didn’t help matters. He had a brief one-month loan at Wigan Athletic to help regain match fitness. After returning, he figured 19 times so it was a surprise that the club decided to release him at the end of the season. Leicester City wasted no time in snapping him up from their Midlands rivals.

Initially, he looked like a spare part at Leicester too and struggled to break into the starting XI on a regular basis. That changed nearer the end of the season when manager Nigel Pearson started to integrate wing-backs into his formation. Albrighton was used frequently in this position and he scored twice towards the backend of the campaign as Leicester rallied from bottom of the table at the start of April and seven points adrift of safety to finish 14th, winning seven of their last nine matches.

Pearson was sacked by the club’s owners in the summer and in came Claudio Ranieri. This could have put another stumbling block in Albrighton’s career in a summer where he was hit by a personal tragedy. His partner, Chloe Fulford suffered the terrible loss of her mother in the terrorist attacks in Tunisia in June 2015. This was a dreadful shock to the entire family and was a reminder that football was a secondary matter. It did seem to inspire Marc onto even greater levels of performance and he scored on the opening weekend in the 4-2 win over Sunderland. He pointed straight to the sky in his celebration. It was clear who he dedicated that goal to.

In 2015-2016, Albrighton was part of a regular four-man midfield alongside the energy of Kante, the world-class talents of Mahrez and the revival in the form of Danny Drinkwater. Ranieri later said: “He is a great worker who embodies the spirit of Leicester.”

Even when he was scarified from the start of the game at home to Swansea to combat with a Vardy suspension, Albrighton came on and made a big impact, scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 victory which took Leicester closer to Premier League paradise. He became a title-winner a week later after Tottenham failed to beat outgoing champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Albrighton richly deserved his place in the realms of Premier League winners.

There was more personal success for Marc in 2016-2017. He scored Leicester City’s first-ever goal in the UEFA Champions League, scoring inside six minutes of their Matchday 1 3-0 win away in Belgium over Club Brugge. He later scored in the round-of-16 home leg over Sevilla as Leicester reached the quarter-finals in their maiden Champions League adventure. League form did dip though and reports emerged that Albrighton was one of the main figures to meet the Leicester owner after the first-leg defeat to the Spanish side which ultimately led to Ranieri’s shock sacking as manager.

Albrighton was furious and upset. He put out a strong statement, denying his involvement in Ranieri’s downfall. Part of it read: “At the worst time of my family’s life, the manager helped me achieve something I didn’t think in my wildest dreams would be possible. It helped us to be positive about something when everything was negative.

“The first day I met the manager he told me he believed in me; before the last game of his LCFC reign, he told me the same.

“I will never be truly able to thank him for everything he has helped me achieve and the faith he has shown in me and he knows that I always did my best for him.”

Albrighton has rediscovered his title-winning season form in 2017-2018. He set-up two goals on the opening night in a narrow 4-3 loss to Arsenal and has scored for new manager Claude Puel in positive results against West Ham United and Huddersfield Town.

Marc Albrighton has had to work hard for his success. He had to endure some tricky challenges and always come out of them as a tougher person for these experiences. No-one should forget his role in the 2015-2016 Leicester City fairytale and still only 28, he has plenty more football ahead of him.

Referees in the Middle: Mark Clattenburg

Premier League Career: 2004-2017

First Premier League Match: Crystal Palace 1-3 Everton (21 August 2004)

Final Premier League Match: West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Leicester City (29 April 2017)

In 2017, the Premier League bid farewell to Mark Clattenburg. The 42-year-old from County Durham accepted the opportunity to become the Head of Refereeing for the Football Federation in Saudi Arabia.

A referee since 1990, Clattenburg officiated 292 Premier League matches over a 13-year career in the English top-flight. He flashed the yellow card to players 946 times and showed nearly 50 red cards but his controlling influence on matches made him one of the regulars in some of the league’s most tempestuous and key fixtures. The peak of his career came in 2016, when he took charge of the FA Cup final, UEFA Champions League final and the European Championships final in a space of a few weeks.

He took up refereeing through the rewarding Duke of Edinburgh scheme and three years later, became an assistant referee in the Northern League. He made the National List of Football League refs in 2000 and his first match came that year as Chesterfield beat York City 4-1 in a Division Two clash. He was just 25 at this appointment, breaking several post-war records.

Clattenburg spent the next four years plying his trade in the Football League, often called in to take charge of crucial semi-finals in the play-offs. He was the man in the middle for the 2004 Third Division play-off final between Huddersfield Town and Mansfield Town and was promoted to the Select Group of officials later that year.

In August 2004, Mark was given his first Premier League appointment as Everton won 3-1 away at Crystal Palace, awarding the visitors a penalty in this match which was converted by Thomas Gravesen. His first difficult moment came five months later when Tottenham Hotspur were denied a late win at Old Trafford. Pedro Mendes’ goal-bound effort from distance was dropped over the goal-line by Roy Carroll but wasn’t spotted by the linesman. Clattenburg was in a poor position, so couldn’t award the goal as he wasn’t 100% sure it had crossed the line.

He became a FIFA referee in 2006 and even took charge of a testimonial match for Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer on his retirement from playing. His allegiance towards the Magpies’ means he has never refereed a competitive match involving Newcastle United.

Clattenburg has shown the red card over the years on nearly 50 occasions. Some of his key dismissals include:

  • His first red card came on his Premier League debut, with Gary Naysmith dismissed for dragging back Wayne Routledge in Everton’s 3-1 win at Crystal Palace in August 2004.
  • Everton were on the receiving end in a Merseyside Derby in October 2007 – losing Tony Hibbert and Phil Neville to red cards in a 2-1 loss to Liverpool FC at Goodison Park. David Moyes said afterwards: “The referee has had a very bad day at the office!”
  • Sent off Manchester City defender Dedryck Boyata just four minutes into a clash with Arsenal in October 2010 for a professional foul. Arsenal win the match 3-0.
  • Jonny Evans was dismissed in the Manchester Derby of October 2011 for hauling down Mario Balotelli in a goalscoring opportunity. Manchester City take full advantage to beat their local rivals 6-1 at Old Trafford.
  • Dismissed West Bromwich Albion full-back Goran Popov for spitting during a home match with Tottenham Hotspur in February 2013.
  • Awarded Liverpool FC three penalties at Old Trafford in March 2014 and sends Nemanja Vidic off in LFC’s 3-0 win over the reigning champions.
  • Gave two penalties to Leicester City and sends off Manchester United youngster Tyler Blackett during an eight-goal contest between the teams in September 2014.
  • Per Mertesacker saw red in January 2016 as Chelsea win 1-0 at The Emirates Stadium to complete a league double over Arsenal.

In 2008, Clattenburg was appointed as referee for the FA Community Shield match between Manchester United and Portsmouth but this was later given to Peter Walton after an investigation that led to him missing the majority of the 2008-2009 campaign. He was suspended during the investigation which was looking into alleged debts incurred by companies with which he was connected to. Citing a breach of contract, the referees’ governing body dismissed Clattenburg but he appealed the decision, denying any wrongdoing. The PGMOB reinstated him in February 2009 but back-dated his suspension to eight months meaning he took charge of just one Premier League match all season, the final day encounter at The Etihad Stadium between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers.

He re-established his integrity over the next four seasons, earning the 2012 League Cup final for his rewards and also, took charge of the men’s football final at the 2012 London Olympics when gold medal favourites Brazil were humbled by Mexico 2-1 at Wembley Stadium. Controversy was never that far away though for Mark.

In October 2012, Manchester United ended Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the domestic season, winning 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. Clattenburg sent off Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres during the match and also allowed United’s winner to stand even though Javier Hernandez was clearly in an offside position. After the game, Chelsea accused him of using racist language towards their Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel when he was booked.

The FA took him out of the firing line for a month but cleared him of any wrongdoing nine days after the fixture in west London and charged Mikel with using “threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour” towards Clattenburg after the match. Mikel was found guilty and received a three-match ban and a £60,000 fine.

In a statement afterwards, he said: “I know first-hand the ramifications of allegations of this nature being placed into the public domain ahead of a formal process and investigation. I hope no referee has to go through this in the future.”

2016 was Mark’s big break. First, he was appointed to the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. He sent Chris Smalling off in extra-time but Louis van Gaal’s side still prevailed to win 2-1. A week later, he was in Milan to officiate the biggest game in European club football, the final of the UEFA Champions League. Real Madrid played city rivals Atletico Madrid and won 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Then, he went to France as one of the English officials at the 2016 European Championships. He was given the showpiece final gig which saw hosts France shocked 1-0 by Portugal, again after an extra-time conclusion.

Never one to accept the appointments quietly, he had the logos of the UEFA Champions League and the 2016 UEFA Euros tattooed on his arm to remember the final of the two competitions that he officiated in a few months later.

In February 2017, it was confirmed that he was to leave his post as a Premier League official to educate younger referees in Saudi Arabia. Replacing another huge figure in Howard Webb, the PGMOL said in a statement: “Mark is a talented referee; he has been a great asset to the English game and hopefully an inspiration to those who want to get into refereeing at the grassroots of the game.

His final top-flight match in this country was a fairly uneventful Midlands Derby in April 2017 between West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City which Leicester won 1-0 thanks to a Jamie Vardy goal. Even though he isn’t in the middle in England, he has still made headlines recently from infidelity allegations about his love life to admitting that he let Tottenham Hotspur self-destruct at Stamford Bridge in May 2016 on the night where their 2-2 draw handed the title to 5000-1 outsiders Leicester City.

However, he is one of the best referees we’ve seen in the Premier League and his achievements in the game can’t be ignored despite some of the controversy.

Shock Results: Burnley 1-0 Manchester United (August 2009)

Goalscorers: Robbie Blake 19

Teams:

Burnley: Brian Jensen, Graham Alexander (Joey Gudjonsson 73), Andre Bikey, Clarke Carlisle, Tyrone Mears, Stephen Jordan, Grant McCann, Wade Elliott, Robbie Blake, Steven Fletcher (Steven Thompson 81), Martin Paterson (Chris Eagles 73)

Manchester United: Ben Foster, Wes Brown (Gary Neville 71), Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, John O’Shea, Anderson (Antonio Valencia 59), Michael Carrick, Ji-Sung Park, Ryan Giggs, Michael Owen (Dimitar Berbatov 63), Wayne Rooney

Referee: Alan Wiley, Attendance: 20,872

After an absence of 33 years, top-flight football returned to Turf Moor and Burnley’s first-ever Premier League match at the ground was the one the fans had been waiting for all summer, as reigning champions Manchester United arrived in Lancashire.

Despite an opening day 2-0 loss to Stoke City, the home support of nearly 21,000 were keen not to miss this piece of history for their club. However, they surely were heading to the ground more in hope than expectation. Manchester United didn’t lose many early-season matches and could call on the likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs among their attacking options.

Owen was a summer arrival at Old Trafford on a free transfer from relegated Newcastle United and he should have marked his first competitive start for his new club with a goal inside two minutes. Patrice Evra produced a perfect delivery to the near post but the England forward couldn’t make any decisive contact and the chance was gone. Burnley went toe-to-toe with their more illustrious opponents and created their own openings. Steven Fletcher had two half-chances but couldn’t find the target, whilst Ben Foster, deputising for the injured Edwin van der Sar in the Manchester United goal, had to smother Martin Paterson when he attempted to round the goalkeeper.

In the 19th minute, Burnley took a shock lead. Ex-Manchester City defender Stephen Jordan produced a floating cross to the back post. Evra only got a partial header to it and the ball dropped perfectly to Robbie Blake. Blake produced a volley of the highest quality that flew past Foster at his near post. Although most goalkeepers would be criticised for being beaten at their near post, Foster couldn’t be blamed for this. It was a sublime strike from Blake and it left home supporters dreaming of the unlikely result coming true.

Owen missed another clear opportunity infront of the England boss Fabio Capello, heading wide from Wes Brown’s cross. Moments later, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had a wonderful chance to equalise. Owen played through Evra, who was hauled down by the Burnley goalscorer Blake. Despite Owen and Rooney being on the pitch, it was Michael Carrick who was the surprise choice of penalty-taker. His spot-kick wasn’t firmly in the left-hand corner and Brian Jensen guessed right to save the penalty and become just as big as a hero as Blake on the night.

Into the second half and Blake nearly doubled his tally. He sent a curling free-kick wide of the post. Jensen’s fine evening continued with super saves to deny Ji-Sung Park and Giggs. The Clarets held on during four minutes of injury-time to record a famous victory, their first at Turf Moor against the Red Devils since September 1968. Their 2009-2010 season did end in relegation and manager Owen Coyle left in January for the Bolton Wanderers job but the supporters will always remember the night they beat Manchester United fair and square.

Premier League Files: Gunnar Halle

Premier League Career: Oldham Athletic (1992-1994), Leeds United (1996-1999), Bradford City (1999-2001)

Born in Larvik, Norway, Gunnar Halle spent the bulk of his playing career playing in England. He was one of the few foreign players who featured in the opening season of the Premier League and was a constant attacking threat from full-back.

Halle moved into the English game in 1991, joining Oldham Athletic for £280,000. He is often considered as one of the club’s finest players during their two-season spell in the Premier League era. In total, Halle played 212 league games for the Latics and scored 21 times. One of his goals came in the thrilling 4-3 victory over Southampton on the final day in 1993; a victory which saw Oldham protecting their Premier League status at the expense of Crystal Palace.

In the winter of 1996 and with Oldham’s decline well underway, Halle moved down to Yorkshire and joined Leeds United for £500,000. One of George Graham’s first signings, he would compete with the long-serving Gary Kelly at right-back and became a very useful addition to the squad at Elland Road. He played 83 times for Leeds, scoring four goals as they finished fifth and fourth under the stewardship of first Graham, then David O’Leary.

By the summer of 1999, Halle was 34 and Leeds decided to move him onto Yorkshire rivals Bradford City, allowing them to go and sign Danny Mills from relegated Charlton Athletic. Halle cost Bradford £200,000 and turned out for them 70 times, leaving the club one season after their relegation from the top-flight in 2002.

After a short spell with Wolverhampton Wanderers, he returned to Norway to finish his playing days with Lillestrøm. On the international stage for Norway, Halle scored a hat-trick against no-hopers San Marino in the qualification for the 1994 World Cup finals. Gunnar would feature at that World Cup in the United States and also at the 1998 edition in France. He won 64 caps for Norway, retiring in 1999.

Since retirement, Halle has moved into coaching and has served as assistant manager at several of the bigger sides in Norwegian club football, including Molde FK, Viking FK and Lillestrøm. He has also worked alongside former Manchester City forward Uwe Rosler, who is currently the manager of English League One side Fleetwood Town.

Halle is currently the assistant at Strømmen IF, a role he has held since 2013.

Premier League Files: Elano

Premier League Career: Manchester City (2007-2009)

Before Manchester City enjoyed their bounty of richness following the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008, one of their main superstars was the passing expert Elano. The Brazilian wowed City fans with some storming performances in the 2007-2008 season and had an excellent reputation for causing havoc from direct set-pieces. Capped 50 times by Brazil, he had a successful playing career, winning two league titles in Ukraine and several honours in his homeland.

Elano joined the Citizens in August 2007 for £8 million. He arrived after winning the league in both his seasons in Ukrainian football with Shakhtar Donetsk. Allocated the no.11 shirt after this was vacated by current incumbent Darius Vassell, he started life as a Manchester City player in fantastic fashion. He scored a netbusting free-kick against Newcastle United in September 2007 and followed it up with a similar strike at home to Middlesbrough eight days later. He scored eight goals in his debut Premier League season and showed his versatility too, even playing at right-back in a home win over Portsmouth in April 2008.

He started 2008-2009 also in fine form, striking twice in a 3-0 win over West Ham United. However, the acquisition of Shaun Wright-Phillips and fellow compatriot Robinho in the closing days of the summer 2008 transfer window restricted his dominance on the City side. His only remaining goals came from penalties during the season, ending with figures of six goals from 28 appearances.

With the money now pouring in and clearly not a Mark Hughes signing, Elano moved to Galatasaray in July 2009, spending 15 months in Turkey before returning home to Brazil. He stopped playing in 2016 and was most recently the interim manager of former World Club champions, Santos before being sacked on New Years’ Eve 2017.

Great Goals: Eden Hazard – CHELSEA vs. Arsenal (February 2017)

Chelsea met Arsenal in February 2017 in a game that had been billed as Arsenal’s last chance to stop their fellow Londoners heading towards a fifth Premier League title. It was a match that required a bit of brilliance and Eden Hazard certainly provided it with one of my personal favourite goals from the 2016-2017 campaign.

The hosts were already 1-0 ahead when this moment occurred. Receiving possession from a Diego Costa header, Hazard evaded an early Laurent Koscielny challenge before holding off Francis Coquelin. Coquelin did his best to foul the Belgian but failed in his efforts to bring him down as Hazard showed his strength to brush the defensive midfielder to the ground. He then took on Koscielny again, turned him inside out and then produced a deft finish past former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. It was a stunning solo effort and Hazard at his world-class best.

Chelsea won the game 3-1 and would go onto win the title whilst Arsenal’s away slump following this result would cost them a shot at finishing in the top four at the end of the campaign.

Premier League Rewind: 14th-16th September 2013

Results: Manchester United 2-0 Crystal Palace, Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United, Fulham 1-1 West Bromwich Albion, Hull City 1-1 Cardiff City, Stoke City 0-0 Manchester City, Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Norwich City, Everton 1-0 Chelsea, Southampton 0-0 West Ham United, Swansea City 2-2 Liverpool FC

The 2013-2014 Premier League campaign was a year where plenty of change was happening at the top clubs. This was the first season since 1986 that Manchester United were experiencing a campaign without Sir Alex Ferguson as their manager. Manchester City also had a new boss with Manuel Pellegrini in charge and Jose Mourinho was back at Chelsea for his second spell.

The leaders going into this weekend were Liverpool FC. Brendan Rodgers’ side had won their first three matches by a scoreline of 1-0. They would remain top at the end of the weekend but forfeited their 100% record in the process. The Reds travelled to Swansea City on a night in the Sky studios when Jamie Carragher revealed in a tactical discussion about full-backs that “no-one wants to grow up to be a Gary Neville” right infront of his fellow pundit!

In the match itself, Jonjo Shelvey had an eventful night. Playing in his first game against the Merseysiders since leaving them for the Welsh club in the summer, Shelvey put Swansea ahead inside the opening two minutes, before making two careless mistakes to allow Liverpool FC to take the lead, through Daniel Sturridge and new on-loan arrival, Victor Moses. The midfielder made amends with a neat header to tee-up Michu for the equaliser in the second half. The match finished 2-2.

After losing on the opening day to Aston Villa, Arsenal fans had lost patience with Arsene Wenger, urging him to spend some money in the transfer window on new players. On deadline day, he broke their club-record fee to sign Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. He made his debut at The Stadium of Light against Sunderland and immediately set-up the opening goal of the game for Olivier Giroud. Arsenal won 3-1 to go just a point behind Liverpool. Sunderland had boss Paolo di Canio sent to the stands as they tumbled to a third defeat in four games.

Manchester United bounced back from their recent loss at Anfield. David Moyes’ side won 2-0 in the lunchtime kick-off against newly-promoted Crystal Palace. Robin van Persie’s penalty and a Wayne Rooney free-kick helped United to three points but it was a match overshadowed by accusations that were made about diving from winger Ashley Young. Even Moyes had to warn his midfielder on his future conduct afterwards.

Chelsea suffered their first defeat in the second Mourinho reign, going down 1-0 to Everton at Goodison Park. Steven Naismith’s header in first half injury-time was enough to give Roberto Martinez his first win since being appointed Everton boss in the summer. It was a frustrating afternoon also for Manchester City as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.

Elsewhere, Gareth McAuley’s injury-time equaliser earned West Bromwich Albion a late point in a 1-1 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage. It was West Brom’s first goal of the 2013-2014 season. Also, Newcastle United recorded an excellent 2-1 away win at Aston Villa.

What else happened in September 2013?

  • The Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya is attacked by Islamic militants. At least 62 people are killed and 170 others injured.
  • The IOC awards the 2020 Summer Olympics to the Japanese capital, Tokyo.
  • Following a trial in Manchester, Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell, who plays Kevin Webster in the ITV soap, is cleared of child sex allegations.
  • The Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans resigns after being charged with sexual offences.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron rejects an invitation for a head-to-head TV debate on Scottish independence with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.
  • The UK’s largest public library is opened in Birmingham.
  • The founder of Dolby Laboratories, Ray Dolby, dies from leukaemia at the age of 80.

The Managers: Alex Neil

Premier League Clubs Managed: Norwich City (2015-2016)

Still only 36-years old, Alex Neil has only begun his managerial journey and has the drive and determination to once again reach the limelight of being a Premier League manager.

The experience he gained at Norwich City will only help him going forwards and even if his reign in Norfolk ended with the sack in March 2017, Neil did achieve a surprise promotion via the play-offs and got his chance to pit himself in the top-flight against top-class managers like Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini.

He is currently employed by SkyBet EFL Championship side Preston North End and with the club among the play-off chasing pack this season, the fiery Scotsman could be back sooner rather than later in the Premier League.

A loyal Hamilton man

In his playing days, Alex Neil spent the bulk of his time in Scottish football, joining Airdrieonians on a free transfer in 1999 after a brief youth stint with Dunfermline Athletic. He scored five times in just 16 appearances with the club playing in the First Division.

Having the confidence to try his luck in England, Neil moved to Barnsley less than a year after making his professional breakthrough. He made 121 appearances for the Tykes across four years, experiencing the disappointment of relegation from the First Division in 2002. He was a regular figure in Barnsley’s teams in Division Two though before spending one campaign with Mansfield Town.

However, it was his time at Hamilton Academical where Alex made his most positive strides, both as a player and eventually, a coach. Having been made surplus to requirements at Mansfield by former England international Carlton Palmer, Neil signed a two-year deal with Hamilton in 2005 and become a loyal member to the team for the next decade.

In 2007-2008, he won promotion to the Scottish Premier League with them, scoring a spectacular 40-yard free-kick against Stirling Albion which was voted as the club’s Goal of the Season. He remained as a player on Accies’ books until the start of 2015 but by then, he had already cut his teeth into management.

At the age of 31, he was given the full-time managerial role at New Douglas Park in May 2013 after a brief stint in interim charge. Hamilton had slipped back into the First Division but Alex quickly made amends for this. Having narrowly been edged out to the Championship title by Dundee, they recovered a first-leg deficit in the play-offs and embarrassed Edinburgh giants Hibernian on their own patch on a penalty shootout to earn promotion to the Scottish Premiership, relegating Hibs in the process.

The form continued on their return to the top-flight. Neil guided Hamilton to an amazing 1-0 victory away at mighty Celtic in October 2014; Hamilton’s first win at Parkhead in 76 years. He was going places and English clubs were taking note.

A successful gamble by the Canaries

Norwich City were only mid-table halfway through the 2014-2015 Championship season. They had dispensed with club icon Neil Adams and looked to be only a distant challenger for the play-off positions in their first season back in the second-tier following Premier League relegation.

The Canaries decided to take a gamble and approached Hamilton, who allowed Neil permission to speak to the club. The opportunity was simple too good to ignore and in January 2015, Alex cut his ties with Hamilton and took the vacancy at Carrow Road, ending his playing career in the process too.

He made a brilliant start. 24 hours after his appointment, Norwich beat league leaders AFC Bournemouth 2-1 to revive their stuttering season. In 25 matches, Norwich won 17 times and only a late-season home defeat to Middlesbrough meant they were pipped to automatic promotion by AFC Bournemouth and Watford. The play-offs beckoned and with Neil’s experience from the Scottish system, that bode well for the Norfolk team.

Local rivals Ipswich Town were beaten 4-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals, setting up a final at Wembley Stadium with Middlesbrough. On the day, Norwich were hungrier, better and sharper than their opponents. First half goals from Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond ensured a 2-0 victory and they were returning to the Premier League at the first attempt of asking.

At 34, he would be one of the youngest managers in Premier League history. The sky seemed to be the limit for Alex Neil. However, tougher times did lie ahead.

Learning the hard way

The early signs in 2015-2016 were encouraging for Norwich City. They beat Sunderland 3-1 in their first away match; defeated AFC Bournemouth by the same scoreline and a Russell Martin equaliser earned them a hard-fought point at Anfield against Liverpool FC.

The Christmas programme saw them claim a famous win at Old Trafford and home victories over Aston Villa and Southampton. With nine points from four games, Norwich had one of the best festive programme points returns for the season – only bettered by Tottenham Hotspur and equalled by Arsenal.

The New Year was less successful as Alex began to learn the hard way the trials and tribulations of Premier League management. Norwich went on a damaging run of form, losing eight of their next 10 matches, including a 5-4 home defeat to Liverpool FC. Even the January arrivals of Steven Naismith from Everton and Timm Klose from Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg couldn’t halt the slide in form that left their Premier League status in severe jeopardy.

Back-to-back wins over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United did briefly leave them masters of their own destiny but a 3-0 home defeat to relegation rivals Sunderland and survival specialist Sam Allardyce left it out of the club’s hands. Despite beating Watford 4-2 in their penultimate match, Norwich were relegated after Sunderland’s late rally got them out of trouble.

It was a crushing disappointment for Neil and one he wouldn’t recover from. Despite losing just two of the first 12 matches back in the Championship, Norwich dropped from 2nd in mid-October to 12th by Boxing Day, losing 5-0 at Brighton & Hove Albion along the way. After a 5-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday in early March, former Labour Shadow Chancellor and new owner Ed Balls decided a change was needed and ask Neil to clear his desk.

He was only out of the game for four months though and when Simon Grayson decided to leave Deepdale to try his luck unsuccessfully at Sunderland, Preston North End offered Alex the opportunity to get back into football management. He has proved it was a wise appointment. Preston have lost only six times this season and sit 7th in early February 2018, just six points adrift of the play-off positions.

Alex Neil has enjoyed the highs of beating Celtic in Scottish football as a manager and the ultimate low of Premier League relegation but he has dealt well with the knockbacks and has plenty of time left to make a positive impact on the Premier League – should that be with Preston North End or with another team in the future.

25 years of the most envied league in the world!