Great Goals: Olivier Giroud – ARSENAL vs. Crystal Palace (January 2017)

The first day of 2017 saw one of the Premier League’s best goals of the calendar year. Olivier Giroud was often used as a substitute during the 2016-2017 campaign but he got a rare start at home to Crystal Palace and he produced a goal which you won’t tire of seeing again and again.

Arsenal launched a counter-attack in the 17th minute. Typically, it is Alexis Sanchez leading the charge. The Chilean picks out Giroud who runs across the near post and delightfully produced a ‘scorpion kick’ to flick the ball from behind him, up and over Wayne Hennessey off the crossbar on its way in.

The goal came just a few days after Henrikh Mkhitaryan produced a similar kind of goal on Boxing Day for Manchester United against Sunderland. Both goals were rightful Goal of the Season contenders and in most campaigns, would have won the award.

Arsenal won the clash with their London rivals 2-0. Giroud will do well to beat this kind of effort for the rest of his career.

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Seasonal Records: 1998-1999

For all the statistical fans out there, here are some of the season’s records from the 1998-1999 Premier League season; the last full season of the 20th century.

FINAL TABLE

Position Team P W D L F A GD PTS
1 Manchester United 38 22 13 3 80 37 +43 79
2 Arsenal 38 22 12 4 59 17 +42 78
3 Chelsea 38 20 15 3 57 30 +27 75
4 Leeds United 38 18 13 7 62 34 +28 67
5 West Ham United 38 16 9 13 46 53 -7 57
6 Aston Villa 38 15 10 13 51 46 +5 55
7 Liverpool FC 38 15 9 14 68 49 +19 54
8 Derby County 38 13 13 12 40 45 -5 52
9 Middlesbrough 38 12 15 11 48 54 -6 51
10 Leicester City 38 12 13 13 40 46 -6 49
11 Tottenham Hotspur 38 11 14 13 47 50 -3 47
12 Sheffield Wednesday 38 13 7 18 41 42 -1 46
13 Newcastle United 38 11 13 14 48 54 -6 46
14 Everton 38 11 10 17 42 47 -5 43
15 Coventry City 38 11 9 18 39 51 -12 42
16 Wimbledon 38 10 12 16 40 63 -23 42
17 Southampton 38 11 8 19 37 64 -27 41
18 Charlton Athletic 38 8 12 18 41 56 -15 36
19 Blackburn Rovers 38 7 14 17 38 52 -14 35
20 Nottingham Forest 38 7 9 22 35 69 -34 30

THE BASIC STATS

Goals Scored 963
European qualifiers Manchester United (UEFA Champions League), Arsenal (UEFA Champions League), Chelsea (UEFA Champions League), Leeds United (UEFA Cup), Tottenham Hotspur (UEFA Cup), Newcastle United (UEFA Cup), West Ham United (UEFA Intertoto Cup)
Longest winning run 7 games (Leeds United)
Longest unbeaten run 21 games (Chelsea)
Longest winless run 19 games (Nottingham Forest)
Longest losing run 8 games (Charlton Athletic)
Highest attendance 55,316 (Manchester United vs. Southampton)
Lowest attendance 11,717 (Wimbledon vs. Coventry City)

AWARDS

PFA Players’ Player of the Year David Ginola (Tottenham Hotspur)
PFA Young Player of the Year Nicolas Anelka (Arsenal)
Football Writers’ Award David Ginola (Tottenham Hotspur)
PFA Team of the Year Nigel Martyn, Denis Irwin, Sol Campbell, Jaap Stam, Gary Neville, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira, David Beckham, David Ginola, Nicolas Anelka, Dwight Yorke
Manager of the Year Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
Premier League Goal of the Season Steve Froggatt (COVENTRY CITY vs. Everton)

HAT-TRICK HEROES

Player Teams Score Date
Clive Mendonca Charlton Athletic vs. Southampton 5-0 22nd August 1998
Michael Owen Newcastle United vs. Liverpool FC 1-4 30th August 1998
Michael Owen (4) Liverpool FC vs. Nottingham Forest 5-1 24th October 1998
Dion Dublin Southampton vs. Aston Villa 1-4 14th November 1998
Robbie Fowler Aston Villa vs. Liverpool FC 2-4 21st November 1998
Chris Armstrong Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton 4-1 28th December 1998
Darren Huckerby Coventry City vs. Nottingham Forest 4-0 9th January 1999
Dwight Yorke Leicester City vs. Manchester United 2-6 16th January 1999
Robbie Fowler Liverpool FC vs. Southampton 7-1 16th January 1999
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (4) Nottingham Forest vs. Manchester United 1-8 6th February 1999
Nicolas Anelka Arsenal vs. Leicester City 5-0 20th February 1999
Kevin Campbell Everton vs. West Ham United 6-0 8th May 1999

TOP SCORERS

Position Player Teams No of Goals
1= Dwight Yorke Manchester United 18
1= Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Leeds United 18
1= Michael Owen Liverpool FC 18
4= Andy Cole Manchester United 17
4= Nicolas Anelka Arsenal 17
6= Julian Joachim Aston Villa 14
6= Robbie Fowler Liverpool FC 14
6= Hamilton Ricard Middlesbrough 14
6= Alan Shearer Newcastle United 14
6= Dion Dublin Coventry City & Aston Villa 14
11= Gianfranco Zola Chelsea 12
11= Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United 12
11= Dennis Bergkamp Arsenal 12
11= Gus Poyet Chelsea 12
15= Tore Andre Flo Chelsea 10
15= Tony Cottee Leicester City 10
15= Noel Whelan Coventry City 10
15= Marcus Gayle Wimbledon 10
19= Deon Burton Derby County 9
19= Lee Bowyer Leeds United 9
19= Ian Wright West Ham United 9
19= Paulo Wanchope Derby County 9
19= Steffen Iversen Tottenham Hotspur 9
19= Kevin Campbell Everton 9
19= Darren Huckerby Coventry City 9

BIGGEST VICTORIES

Nottingham Forest 1-8 Manchester United 6th February 1999
Liverpool FC 7-1 Southampton 16th January 1999
Everton 6-0 West Ham United 8th May 1999
Middlesbrough 1-6 Arsenal 24th April 1999
Arsenal 5-0 Leicester City 20th February 1999
Everton 5-0 Middlesbrough 17th February 1999
Charlton Athletic 5-0 Southampton 22nd August 1998
Leicester City 2-6 Manchester United 16th January 1999
Manchester United 5-1 Wimbledon 17th October 1998
Arsenal 5-1 Wimbledon 19th April 1999

HIGHEST SCORING GAMES

No of Goals Teams Date
9 Nottingham Forest 1-8 Manchester United 6th February 1999
8 Liverpool FC 7-1 Southampton 16th January 1999
8 Leicester City 2-6 Manchester United 16th January 1999
7 Middlesbrough 1-6 Arsenal 24th April 1999
7 Blackburn Rovers 3-4 Chelsea 21st September 1998
7 Derby County 3-4 Newcastle United 3rd April 1999
7 West Ham United 3-4 Wimbledon 9th September 1998
7 Aston Villa 3-4 Charlton Athletic 8th May 1999
6 Everton 6-0 West Ham United 8th May 1999
6 Manchester United 5-1 Wimbledon 17th October 1998
6 Arsenal 5-1 Wimbledon 19th April 1999
6 West Ham United 1-5 Leeds United 1st May 1999
6 West Ham United 5-1 Derby County 17th April 1999
6 Liverpool FC 5-1 Nottingham Forest 24th October 1998
6 Coventry City 1-5 Newcastle United 19th September 1998
6 Aston Villa 2-4 Liverpool FC 21st November 1998
6 Leicester City 2-4 Chelsea 21st November 1998
6 Charlton Athletic 4-2 West Ham United 24th October 1998
6 Liverpool FC 4-2 Newcastle United 28th December 1998
6 Southampton 3-3 Middlesbrough 7th November 1998

YOUNGEST PLAYERS USED

Player Teams Age at the time Date
Owen Morrison Sheffield Wednesday 0-1 Leicester City 17 years, 18 days 26th December 1998
Joe Cole Manchester United 4-1 West Ham United 17 years, 2 months, 2 days 10th January 1999
Gareth Barry Everton 0-0 Aston Villa 17 years, 5 months, 23 days 15th August 1998
Adam Murray West Ham United 5-1 Derby County 17 years, 6 months, 18 days 17th April 1999
Paul Konchesky Charlton Athletic 2-2 Newcastle United 17 years, 8 months, 2 days 17th January 1999
Chris Doig Manchester United 3-0 Nottingham Forest 17 years, 10 months, 13 days 26th December 1998
Mikael Forssell Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea 17 years, 10 months, 16 days 31st January 1999
Wayne Bridge Southampton 1-2 Liverpool FC 18 years, 11 days 16th August 1998
Francis Jeffers Derby County 2-1 Everton 18 years, 13 days 7th February 1999
Alan Smith Liverpool FC 1-3 Leeds United 18 years, 17 days 14th November 1998

OLDEST PLAYERS USED

Player Teams Age at the time Date
Steve Ogrizovic West Ham United 2-0 Coventry City 41 years, 3 months, 16 days 28th December 1998
Dave Beasant Nottingham Forest 1-3 Chelsea 39 years, 11 months 20th February 1999
Dave Watson Southampton 2-0 Everton 37 years, 5 months, 26 days 16th May 1999
Richard Gough Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Nottingham Forest 37 years, 1 month, 3 days 8th May 1999
Hans Segers Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur 36 years, 10 months, 20 days 19th September 1998
Mark Bright Everton 4-1 Charlton Athletic 36 years, 10 months, 18 days 24th April 1999
Stuart Pearce Liverpool FC 4-2 Newcastle United 36 years, 8 months, 4 days 28th December 1998
Kevin Hitchcock Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Chelsea 36 years, 7 months, 5 days 10th May 1999
Steve Bould Arsenal 1-0 Derby County 36 years, 5 months, 16 days 2nd May 1999
Raimond van der Gouw Manchester United 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday 36 years, 24 days 17th April 1999

CLEAN SHEETS

Position Player Teams No of Clean Sheets
1 David Seaman Arsenal 19
2 Shaka Hislop West Ham United 15
3= Ed de Goey Chelsea 14
3= Kasey Keller Leicester City 14
3= Thomas Myhre Everton 14
6= Nigel Martyn Leeds United 13
6= Mark Schwarzer Middlesbrough 13
8 Peter Schmeichel Manchester United 11
9 Mark Bosnich Aston Villa 9
10 Mart Poom Derby County 8

Premier League Files: Odion Ighalo

Premier League Career: Watford (2015-2017)

Still only 27, Odion Ighalo still has plenty of promise to fulfil and he has already shown this on the Premier League stage with Watford.

The Nigerian began his career in his native country before making his European breakthrough in 2007 with Lyn Oslo in Norway. After spells with Udinese and Granada, Ighalo made the move to Watford in 2014, initially on-loan before becoming a permanent signing after just eight appearances with the Hornets.

Ighalo played a significant part in the club’s promotion to the Premier League, scoring 20 times including four in a 7-2 thumping of Blackpool. He continued where he left off in the Premier League with a goal on his top-flight debut as a substitute in Watford’s 2-2 draw with Everton.

A devout Christian, Ighalo’s partnership with Troy Deeney in the club’s attack was scaring defenders up and down the country. Deeney’s physical prowess and Ighalo’s pace and own power meant they were a difficult combination to defend against. He won the December Player of the Month award in 2015, scoring in four successive matches including twice in a 3-0 triumph over Liverpool FC.

Ighalo ended with 15 goals for the season but his form tailed off in the closing weeks of the 2015-2016 campaign and although he signed a new contract in the summer, his confidence was hurt by personal issues and a change in Watford’s formation.

He netted just once in 2016-2017 against West Ham United before being sold in the January transfer window for £20 million to Changchun Yatai F.C. in the Chinese Super League.

For now, Odion Ighalo’s Premier League career is on-hold but I’ve got a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him in this country just yet.

Shock Results: Aston Villa 0-1 Oldham Athletic (May 1993)

Goalscorers: Nick Henry 29

Teams:

Aston Villa: Mark Bosnich, Paul McGrath, Steve Staunton, Shaun Teale, Earl Barrett, Kevin Richardson, Garry Parker (Tony Daley 61), Ray Houghton, Dwight Yorke, Dalian Atkinson, Dean Saunders

Oldham Athletic: Paul Gerrard, Steve Redmond, Craig Fleming, Richard Jobson, Gunnar Halle, Neil Pointon, Mike Milligan, Paul Bernard, Nick Henry, Ian Olney, Darren Beckford

Referee: David Allison, Attendance: 37,247

Aston Villa went into their penultimate match of the 1992-1993 season still harbouring hopes of winning the inaugural Premier League title. However, they had to beat struggling Oldham Athletic to stand any hope of catching Manchester United. Any other result and the championship would return to Old Trafford after a 26-year absence.

They were facing an Oldham side that looked dead and buried in the battle to survive. They required three wins from their last three matches to even have a hope of catching Crystal Palace or Sheffield United. The mathematics looked against Joe Royle’s side. However, no game of football has ever been written on just a piece of paper.

It was a sunny but gusty afternoon in the Midlands and it was the visitors’ who made the brighter start. Young goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, preferred to the veteran Nigel Spink was forced to make a great save after 14 minutes when facing Oldham’s Ian Olney in a one-on-one situation. The chance came from his scuffed goal-kick but he did well to make amends. Royle’s side were showing no fear despite their precarious situation in the table and deservedly took the lead in the 29th minute.

A long-ball was played up the park. Full-back Gunnar Halle had pushed forward and managed to beat Steve Staunton in the air. As Villa’s centre-backs went AWOL, Darren Beckford raced onto the knockdown. His control wasn’t great but fortunately for him and Latics’ supporters, Nick Henry had tracked the ball and scored across Bosnich’s bows to stun Villa Park.

It woke Villa up from their slumbers. Dean Saunders was desperately unlucky with a free-kick three minutes later that smashed the crossbar with Oldham goalie Paul Gerrard completely stranded. Seconds later, the former Liverpool FC forward had a volley cleared off-the-line from a corner.

As the game progressed though, Oldham started to look more comfortable. Heroic displays from the likes of Richard Jobson and Craig Fleming helped them towards a rare clean sheet. Villa’s usual creative spark was evidently missing. Ron Atkinson admitted afterwards that he had toyed with the idea of throwing some of the youngsters into the spotlight before electing to stick with the trusted combination that had got them so close, yet so far.

On the final whistle, it was Manchester United fans celebrating. Their Greater Manchester rivals had just ended their title drought and the party could begin at Old Trafford. For the record, Oldham won their final two matches and survived on the final day at the expense of Crystal Palace.

The Managers: Alex McLeish

Premier League Clubs Managed: Birmingham City (2007-2008), (2009-2011), Aston Villa (2011-2012)

The Midlands and especially, the city of Birmingham dominated the management career of Alex McLeish in the Premier League. The Scot was a huge success in Scottish football but his English spell wasn’t so rewarding. Despite winning the League Cup in 2011 with Birmingham City, two relegations and an uneasy season at Villa Park in 2011-2012 meant it was an unfulfilling experience in the top-flight for McLeish.

Early Scottish success

As a player, McLeish was a central defender for Aberdeen during their own monopoly of Scottish football in the 1980s. He scored in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup final over the mighty Real Madrid and made 493 appearances for Aberdeen across 16 seasons. His performances saw him voted Scottish Player of the Year in 1990 and it led to international recognition from Scotland on no fewer than 77 occasions.

McLeish’s first management role came at Motherwell where he made the final appearances of his playing time. Under his guidance, the Lanarkshire club finished second to Rangers in 1995 but he was unable to build on this and in the next two campaigns, relegation battles followed. He left Motherwell in 1998 to take over at Hibernian.

McLeish arrived too late to stop the Edinburgh side sliding out of the top-flight but he guided them straight back into the Premiership and soon consolidated Hibs into a comfortable, attractive side to watch. He even managed to tempt the likes of former French international Franck Sauzee to Easter Road. Hibernian finished best of the rest in 2001 behind the Glasgow dominant Celtic and Rangers combination. The latter had noted his good work and at Christmas time in 2001, he was chosen by Dick Advocaat as his future successor.

Stopping the Celtic steamroller

Any doubts about McLeish’s appointment by Rangers supporters were instantly quelled. Although the title was always going to go to Martin O’Neill and Celtic long before his arrival in 2001-2002, McLeish did preside over a domestic cup double against the old enemy. The likes of Barry Ferguson, Peter Lovenkrands and Ronald de Boer made swift contributions as Rangers swept the board in 2002-2003. McLeish was keeping the winning tradition going at Ibrox. How they wish they had these days back nowadays…

Another title followed in 2005 and also under his guidance, Rangers reached the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, becoming the first Scottish side to get through the group stage since the competition’s reformation in 1992. However, Celtic had bounced back and regained the grip on Scottish football. With fan pressure growing, McLeish stood down in the summer of 2006.

After a brief hiatus from the game, he took over as manager of his country in January 2007. Under his reign as Scotland manager, the Scots stunned France in Paris to beat them in qualifying for the 2008 European Championships. Sadly though, a defeat in Georgia ended any realistic hopes of a first major tournament finals’ appearance in 10 years. A loss to Italy in the final round of games ensured Scotland’s brave failure was complete.

Days after the Italian defeat, he resigned and took over the vacancy at Birmingham City which was left open after Steve Bruce went to Wigan Athletic. His chapter in English football was about to begin.

Highs and lows with Birmingham

McLeish’s debut match as Birmingham manager was a memorable one. Sebastian Larsson’s stunning strike helped the Blues’ to a 3-2 away win at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur. They briefly climbed to 11th in early March but a poor run of results towards the end of the season ended with the team’s relegation to the Championship, despite beating Blackburn Rovers 4-1 on the final day of the season.

Things did improve. An immediate promotion back to the top-flight followed and then, he produced a sound 2009-2010 campaign which saw Birmingham finish an impressive ninth; their highest finish in over half a century. Among the achievements was a club-record 12-match unbeaten run in the top-flight and the Manager of the Month award for December 2009.

In 2010-2011, expectations were therefore fairly high and there was a victory over champions Chelsea, plus creditable home draws with Liverpool FC and Manchester United. In February 2011, Birmingham stunned favourites Arsenal at Wembley Stadium to win the Carling Cup 2-1. However, a nightmarish run followed in the Premier League. Just two wins in their last 11 matches saw the club relegated for the third time in just over five years. Birmingham’s plight was confirmed by a 2-1 defeat on the final day to Tottenham Hotspur.

The board wanted to keep McLeish in charge but in June 2011, he controversially resigned from his position via e-mail. Five days later, he liked the Midlands so much; he stayed in the region and became Aston Villa boss. Protests were held outside Villa Park on his appointment. He was not the fans’ popular choice. McLeish signed Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia on his arrival. Neither signing would ultimately work out well. Villa did remain unbeaten until mid-October but there was never any comfort in the role, or a great brand of football being played by his team.

Chelsea were beaten 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on New Years’ Eve but just four wins were achieved all term at home and relegation was avoided by a mere two points. His contract was terminated by Randy Lerner after defeat at Norwich City on the final day consigned Villa to a lowly 16th-place finish.

Since then, Alex McLeish had the briefest of spells at Nottingham Forest (7 games) following by stints working in Belgium and Egypt. Alex McLeish has experienced the highs and lows in football management. His teams weren’t the prettiest to watch but they were very successful in his homeland. It didn’t quite work out though in England.

Premier League Files: Sam Ricketts

Premier League Career: Hull City (2008-2009), Bolton Wanderers (2009-2012)

Sam Ricketts represented nine different clubs over the course of 16 years before a knee injury forced him to retire from professional football in November 2016. At the time, he was the club captain at Coventry City.

The ex-Welsh international was commonly deployed as a full-back but could play on either side of a back four and should an injury crisis develop, he would also chip in with a role at the heart of central defence. Ricketts played for both Hull City and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League. These clubs produced the most fruitful spells of his career.

Ricketts came from a showjumping background. His father, Derek Ricketts was the world showjumping champion in 1978 and Uncle John Francome is a former jockey champion in horse racing and a respected TV pundit. As a teenager, he was tempted by the world of horse racing but elected to concentrate on football instead.

He began his career at Oxford United in October 2000 and joined Swansea City four years later after a spell in the non-league with Telford United. He helped Swansea win promotion to League One during his time in south Wales before moving to Hull City for £300,000 in 2006.

Three years later, Ricketts played an important role in Hull’s shock promotion to the Premier League in 2009 and made 29 appearances in his debut Premier League campaign as the Tigers’ stayed in the top-flight by the narrowest of margins at the expense of Newcastle United. Although Hull wanted to extend his contract, Ricketts’ performances had caught the attention of Gary Megson who brought him to Bolton Wanderers in July 2009.

Four months into his maiden season with the Trotters’, Ricketts was involved in one of the most comical own goals in Premier League history. At home to Blackburn Rovers, Ricketts got himself into a big muddle with goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. As the Finnish goalkeeper came out to sweep up a Blackburn free-kick, Ricketts headed the ball towards his own goal, leaving Jaaskelainen stranded and Blackburn given a gift on their way to a 2-0 victory. The reactions of both players summed up embarrassment and massive strain.

In February 2011, he snapped an Achilles tendon in an FA Cup tie against Wigan Athletic which ruled him out of action for the best part of seven months. When he returned to the fold, Bolton were in the midst of a relegation dogfight. He scored on his first game back on New Years’ Eve against Wolverhampton Wanderers but it would be a losing battle against top-flight status. Bolton dropped out of the league on the final day of the season.

He stayed for one more campaign in Lancashire before moving to Wolves and therefore reuniting with his manager from the Swansea days, Kenny Jackett. As club captain, he helped spearhead the Black Country club make an instant return to the Championship with over 100 points. He ended his career with Coventry and played 56 times for the Sky Blues’ before quitting the game on medical advice. He won 52 international caps for Wales.

Iconic Moments: Everton escape the drop (May 1994)

On Saturday, 7 May 1994, Everton’s Premier League future looked in severe jeopardy. They began the day in the bottom three after a shocking campaign and faced the real prospect of being relegated to the Endsleigh League Division One.

On the final day, they faced Wimbledon at home. The Crazy Gang were the most in-form side in the division coming into the game, having won seven of their last nine matches. After 20 minutes, things looked very gloomy for the Toffees’ faithful. A Dean Holdsworth penalty and an own goal by Gary Ablett had the home side 2-0 down.

A lifeline was thrown by Graham Stuart’s own penalty in the 24th minute but at half-time, Everton were the only team of the strugglers to be losing. They were going down at this stage.

With nothing to lose, manager Mike Walker threw everything available to him off the bench. On 67 minutes, Barry Horne hit the goal of his life. The Welshman’s rocket into the top corner made it 2-2 and gave the supporters real belief of the great escape. With nine minutes left, ecstasy swept the ground.

Stuart played a fairly untidy one-two combination with Tony Cottee and the midfielder took a weak shot on which somehow squirmed past Hans Segers and into the net. This moment came under further scrutiny when the Dutchman became at the centre of match-fixing allegations less than a year later. In his autobiography, ‘The Final Score,’ his claim was: “He (Stuart) hit a shot that took a deflection off another player’s leg, so that made the ball change direction slightly. The pitch was uneven and the ball hit a bump and spun beyond my control as I dived.”

At the full-time whistle, fans ran onto the pitch in celebration. Everton’s win meant they were safe as long as the other teams they were fighting with all hadn’t won. None of them did. Sheffield United’s late loss at Stamford Bridge meant the Blades went down instead with Oldham Athletic and Swindon Town.

It wouldn’t be the only escape Everton would have against the drop in the 1990s on the final day either. This one was down to fighting spirit, luck and a very poor piece of goalkeeping.

Memorable Matches: Swansea City 5-4 Crystal Palace (November 2016)

Goalscorers: Wilfried Zaha 19, Gylfi Sigurdsson 36, Leroy Fer 66, 68, James Tomkins 75, Jack Cork 82 OG, Christian Benteke 84, Fernando Llorente 90+1, 90+3

Teams:

Swansea City: Lukasz Fabianski, Neil Taylor, Jordi Amat, Federico Fernandez, Kyle Naughton (Jefferson Montero 86), Jay Fulton, Jack Cork, Leroy Fer, Wayne Routledge (Fernando Llorente 66), Gylfi Sigurdsson, Modou Barrow (Angel Rangel 80)

Crystal Palace: Wayne Hennessey, Martin Kelly (Zeki Fryers 73), Scott Dann, James Tomkins, Joel Ward, James McArthur (Bakary Sako 82), Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, Connor Wickham (Andros Townsend 52)

Referee: Kevin Friend, Attendance: 20,276

From an entertainment perspective, the match between Swansea City and Crystal Palace in November 2016 will go down as one of the most exciting ever played in the Premier League. If you are looking for a defending masterclass, my advice would be to stay well clear of this match.

Going into the game, neither side was in any kind of form. Swansea were yet to win under American manager Bob Bradley since he took charge in early October. Crystal Palace were on a ghastly run of five successive defeats and Alan Pardew was the bookies’ favourite to be sacked next in the top-flight. This would turn out to be the 21st Premier League game to see nine or more goals scored. However, the first half never threatened to preview what would happen in a crazy final 25 minutes.

It was 1-1 at the interval. Wilfried Zaha put the visitors’ infront in the 19th minute. Zaha, who was about to confirm he would represent the Ivory Coast at international level, easily beat two defenders before slicing a low shot past Lukasz Fabianski. The Eagles’ lead lasted 15 minutes before a trademark Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick levelled the scores.

There was a worrying start to the second half when Crystal Palace forward Connor Wickham needed extensive treatment on the pitch. His foot got trapped in the turf whilst he was attempting to tackle Sigurdsson. The game was delayed for seven minutes. Wickham went off on a stretcher with a serious knee injury. His match and season were over. The match first turned Swansea’s way when Bradley brought Fernando Llorente off the bench on the hour mark. With his very first touch of the game, the Spaniard caused panic in the Palace backline and Leroy Fer cashed in to hand the hosts the lead. Two minutes later, Dutchman Fer slid in from close range from a Sigurdsson free-kick.

Pardew’s side looked down and out in the 74th minute. Yet 10 minutes later, they had turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. Now, it was Swansea’s defenders to feel the jitters. James Tomkins scored a scrambled effort, before Jack Cork flicked in Zaha’s free-kick over Fabianski and into his own net. Then, more atrocious defending allowed Christian Benteke to hit a shot off the post and rebound in. However, there was another twist in this enthralling encounter.

Llorente had a point to prove. He had been dropped from the squad for the previous weekend’s match with Everton. He answered the doubts of his manager in fabulous fashion. In the first minute of time added on, Sigurdsson had an effort saved and Llorente was quickest to flash the ball past Hennessey. He wasn’t finished. More kamikaze Palace defending in the third minute of stoppage time allowed Llorente to stab the ball past Hennessey and seal Swansea’s amazing 5-4 victory.

Neither manager survived 2016 in their post. Pardew was sacked four matches later, whilst Bradley went after a Boxing Day battering by West Ham United. Both clubs would ultimately win their fights against relegation. There were some great games in the 2016-2017 campaign but none could topple this see-saw afternoon in south Wales.

Referees in the Middle: Peter Walton

Premier League Career: 2003-2012

First Premier League Match: Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-3 Leicester City (25 October 2003)

Final Premier League Match: Everton 2-0 West Bromwich Albion (31 March 2012)

Peter Walton spent almost a decade as a Premier League referee before deciding to step aside in 2012. He is now general manager of PRO (Professional Referee Organisation) in North America. On taking the role, Walton said: “I think the referees we’ve got in North America are very good. I think the competitive nature of our leagues are very good as well and what I’m intending to do is match-up the referee abilities to that of the playing side.”

He has a professional career in the middle which spanned nearly 20 years. Walton, from Long Buckby in Northamptonshire began refereeing in 1986 in the local leagues. In that spell, he had time to enjoy playing football as a hobby, playing in the United Counties League.

Like many of his predecessors, Walton started learning the trade as an assistant referee in the big leagues. He made that list for Premier League matches in 1994 and was an assistant referee at the 1996 FA Cup final – made famous for Liverpool FC’s embarrassing pre-match white suit debacle.

Although he was on the assistant referees’ list for Premier League appointments as early as the third Premier League campaign, it wasn’t until 2003 before Walton took charge of his first top-flight matches. It was a Midlands’ derby which saw seven goals and a dramatic collapse by Leicester City. Leicester led Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 at half-time but somehow conspired to lose 4-3 at Molineux by the full-time whistle.

Walton took charge of 169 Premier League games. He was the referee during the infamous game involving Stoke City and Arsenal in February 2010. That was when Aaron Ramsey suffered a double leg fracture after an awful tackle by Ryan Shawcross which led to a red card for the Stoke defender. The only game Walton sent off two players in the same match was a pre-Christmas 2010 fixture between Manchester City and Everton. Kolo Toure and Victor Anichebe both collected two yellow cards, which therefore equalled dismissals.

His last appointment as a Premier League official came on 31 March 2012. Everton beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at Goodison Park. Three days later, he had moved into his new role to look after referees in the United States and Canada. It is a role he still holds today.

Peter Walton did his time, gained his experience and was a safe referee who would show authority but wouldn’t hog the headlines unlike some in his generation as a Premier League official.

Shock Results: Arsenal 2-3 West Ham United (February 2006)

Goalscorers: Nigel Reo-Coker 25, Bobby Zamora 32, Thierry Henry 45, Matthew Etherington 80, Robert Pires 89

Teams:

Arsenal: Jens Lehmann, Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos, Sol Campbell (Sebastian Larsson 45), Kerrea Gilbert (Mathieu Flamini 27), Gilberto Silva, Abou Diaby (Dennis Bergkamp 71), Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie

West Ham United: Shaka Hislop, Paul Konchesky, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand, Clive Clarke (Carl Fletcher 76), Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun (Shaun Newton 66), Matthew Etherington, Bobby Zamora (Dean Ashton 73), Marlon Harewood

Referee: Mark Halsey, Attendance: 38,216

West Ham United’s last trip to Highbury would be a visit that their fans will always remember. They capitalised on a shoddy Arsenal defensive display to claim all three points in an impressive return to the Premier League fold.

The Hammers’ had beaten Fulham in their previous match and now had new signing Dean Ashton available, although he would begin on the bench. Arsene Wenger handed a debut to his January arrival, midfielder Abou Diaby. It was Arsenal who started the stronger. In the 7th minute, Robin van Persie’s trickery almost broke the deadlock. His close-range effort crashed against the upright after carving through the Hammers’ defence.

It was the away side though who took the lead on 25 minutes. Sol Campbell’s attempt at a clearance on the halfway life was nothing short of horrific. Nigel Reo-Coker was the beneficiary. He raced clear on goal and the skipper kept his nerve to slot past Jens Lehmann. Seven minutes later, it was 2-0 and again, Campbell had to take the responsibility. Bobby Zamora was a tough competitor to face but the way he shrugged off Campbell’s advances in the penalty area was surprising. With the defender on the floor, Zamora proceeded to curl his effort beautifully into the Arsenal net.

The home side needed a response and they grabbed a goal back right on the stroke of half-time. After a brief scramble, Robert Pires struck a low shot through a crowd of players and into the back of the net. Replays later confirmed that Pires’ effort did take a deflection off Thierry Henry. This goal gave the Frenchman the league goals record for Arsenal, overtaking Cliff Bastin’s total of 150.

Campbell disappeared at half-time and wouldn’t emerge for the second half. Wenger later confirmed that he had requested to be substituted as he wasn’t in the right frame of mind. He wouldn’t play for the first-team again until mid-April. It meant youngster Sebastian Larsson got a rare opportunity and more reshuffling was made to the defence.

Arsenal started the second half with the same command as they demonstrated in the first half but once again, it didn’t produce them with a goal. Pires and Freddie Ljungberg both wasted good chances and Van Persie constantly caused problems from set-pieces. It was West Ham again though who found the crucial goal and the timing was massive. Larsson was caught in possession and after some lax play from Phillipe Senderos; Matthew Etherington stretched the lead to 3-1.

Pires pulled a goal back as injury-time beckoned but the Hammers held on for a hard-fought victory and their first at Highbury since a Don Hutchinson winner in March 1995.

Great Goals: Gareth Bale – West Ham United vs. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (February 2013)

West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur have played out a bruising and enthralling contest at Upton Park which is locked together at 2-2. To win the game, it needed either a big mistake or a moment of utter brilliance. It received the latter from the untouchable Gareth Bale.

Bale might have gone onto win big silverware in Spain with Real Madrid but it was Tottenham who gave him the platform to become the world’s most expensive footballer until Paul Pogba transferred back to Manchester United in the summer of 2016. He begins this move with another of his slalom runs before being tackled. The ball breaks to Gylfi Sigurdsson who finds substitute Tom Carroll.

Bale is back on his feet and beckons the ball from Carroll. The youngster duly obliges. Bale is given the time to assess his options but West Ham defenders probably didn’t expect what he would do next. The Welshman hits a special curling effort that leaves Jussi Jaaskelainen completely stranded. Tottenham win the game and once again, Bale is the decisive difference.

Premier League Files: David Platt

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1995-1998)

David Platt’s Premier League career lasted just three seasons but he was part of the Arsenal team that won the double in 1998 and broke Manchester United’s stranglehold on the top-flight title. His career was littered with many magical moments but the league prize he won with the Gunners’ was to be his only championship prize.

It was at Manchester United where Platt began his career as an apprentice. However, he started to make a name for himself in the old Fourth Division, playing as an attacking midfielder for Crewe Alexandra. After moving to Aston Villa in 1988, Platt had an amazing time in the Midlands, scoring an impressive 50 goals in 121 league matches across three seasons. His performances were noted by his fellow professionals, who voted him PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1990.

His goalscoring ability was also noted by Sir Bobby Robson. Robson handed Platt his international debut in 1989 and he really came into the national thinking with his last-gasp strike in extra-time to sink Belgium in the round-of-16 at Italia 90. Platt then went onto score a header in the quarter-final victory over Cameroon as England enjoyed their best-ever World Cup on foreign soil.

With English clubs still banned from playing in European competition thanks to the Heysel disaster, Platt moved to Serie A which was experiencing a boom in technical players joining the revolution in Italy. He played for Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria before returning to England with Arsenal in the summer of 1995.

The Gunners’ spent £4.75 million to bring Platt back to these shores and came in the same summer of Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival at Highbury. There was interest in Platt’s services from both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal got their man after vice-chairman David Dein flew out to Sardinia to persuade Platt to make the move to the red side of north London. On joining, he said: “I’ve signed for Arsenal because I think I can play a key role in this club winning the title again. This will happen within two or three seasons at the most.” His prediction would prove to be correct.

Things began well for the Platt/Arsenal alliance. He scored in the second game of the season away to Everton, then scored a venomous volley at home to Nottingham Forest just one week later. Unfortunately, he sustained a knee injury in the latter match and missed two months of action. When he returned, it looked like the exploits in Italy had caught up with Platt. He had to play in a holding midfield position for much of the campaign. It was a role he never looked comfortable in under Bruce Rioch’s stewardship.

1996-1997 was better for Platt. Arsene Wenger came into the club and saw Platt’s experience as important for young Frenchman Patrick Vieira to learn from. He was seen as a safe pair of feet to have in the middle of the park as Wenger started to transform Arsenal’s playing style. David scored four times in the campaign, including the equaliser in a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday. In the close season, it looked like he was set to leave Arsenal behind and join relegated Middlesbrough. Although he was given permission to talk to Boro, a fee was never agreed between the two clubs and so, Platt stuck it out for the final year of his contract.

By now, Emmanuel Petit had arrived to form a destructive partnership with Vieira and therefore, it reduced Platt’s role to a regular substitute unless either of the two Frenchman were injured or suspended. He still chipped in though with a valuable headed goal to beat Manchester United in November 1997.

He left quietly in the summer of 1998 and returned to Italy for a controversial stint as manager of Sampdoria. He resigned shortly before the club’s relegation to Serie B with other sides complaining that he didn’t have the required qualifications to coach in Serie A.

In July 1999, he returned to England for a management role with Nottingham Forest which ended with the club spending heavily, signing average players who didn’t perform well and going nowhere in Division One. He is still considered as an unpopular figure by many Forest fans within the area. In 2001, he accepted a role as manager of the England Under-21s which lasted three years. His last coaching role was as a first-team coach during Roberto Mancini’s reign at Manchester City. That ended when the Italian was sacked days after losing the 2013 FA Cup final to Wigan Athletic.

David Platt was correct in forecasting Arsenal would win the title in his days at Highbury. However, he never quite lived up to the billing that was banded about when he signed for the club. His best playing moments had come before his arrival in north London. He still won the championship medal that was missing from his career though and he wouldn’t swap that for anything else he achieved in his playing days.

25 years of the most envied league in the world!