Results: Aston Villa 1-3 Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea 1-0 Southampton, Leeds United 0-1 Newcastle United, Leicester City 0-2 Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool FC 3-1 Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest 1-8 Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Coventry City, West Ham United 0-4 Arsenal, Derby County 2-1 Everton, Charlton Athletic 2-0 Wimbledon
In the early weeks of February 1999, four sides still held genuine realistic chances of becoming Premier League champions. Just two points covered leaders Manchester United, second-placed Chelsea, early season pacesetters Aston Villa and reigning champions Arsenal. By the end of the 6th-8th February weekend, it became crystal clear that only three sides had serious title credentials.
Aston Villa’s form in the early weeks of 1999 was already concerning. They had managed just one victory at home to Everton and had been dumped out of the FA Cup by First Division Fulham. Nevertheless, John Gregory would still have been expecting a home victory against relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers. It didn’t turn out the way he hoped. Gareth Southgate scored an embarrassing own goal and further strikes from Ashley Ward and David Dunn helped Blackburn to an impressive 3-1 victory. It meant a league double over the Villans’ whose form completely collapsed. They would take just three points from their next eight matches and dropped to sixth by the season’s end.
If Villa’s challenge had completely wilted, Manchester United’s was in top gear. They visited bottom-placed Nottingham Forest and ran riot at the City Ground. Alan Rogers did briefly equalise after Dwight Yorke had given the league leaders an early lead but it went swiftly downhill from there for the home side. Yorke added another goal and there were two for his strike partner Andy Cole. At 4-1 up with 18 minutes left, Yorke was substituted to his clear disappointment and on came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He would leave his mark with an incredible four-goal haul of his own from the bench. The 8-1 final scoreline means it remains the biggest away victory in Premier League history.
Arsenal were now hitting their stride too. Out of Europe, their focus was now solely on retaining the league and cup double they’d managed in 1998. They won 4-0 at Upton Park with a classy attacking performance that was reminiscent of the closing weeks of their title triumph the previous season. Dennis Bergkamp was at his best, opening the scoring and completely controlling the game. It was a home debut to forget for Paolo di Canio but at least he didn’t get into any trouble against Arsenal – unlike his experience earlier in the season as a Sheffield Wednesday player.
Whilst Manchester United and Arsenal were winning with more than something to spare, Chelsea took the prudent approach. Gianfranco Zola’s free-kick was good enough to beat Southampton 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. Gianluca Vialli’s side would continue to dig in and made it a real three-way fight all the way until mid-April when their exertions in the Cup Winners’ Cup would catch up on their title challenge.
Leeds United were having an excellent season under David O’Leary but they came unstuck at home to mid-table Newcastle United. Nolberto Solano scored the only goal of the game to mark the Yorkshire’s club third defeat in their last four outings. This galvanised Leeds though, who would go on a stunning run of seven successive victories to match the mark set by Don Revie’s great side of the early 1970s.
Elsewhere, Liverpool FC moved into the top six with a 3-1 home victory over Middlesbrough. Like the reverse fixture on Boxing Day, defender Vegard Heggem was on target for the Reds’, who were well in control and 3-0 up by half-time. Defender Dominic Matteo was sent off in the second half but Middlesbrough could only muster a late consolation through substitute Phil Stamp.
On Monday Night Football, Charlton Athletic were absolutely desperate for a victory against Wimbledon. Charlton had gone 13 games without a win since beating West Ham United 4-2 at the backend of October and that had included a seven-game losing sequence which had seen them plummet from 9th to 19th. Martin Pringle picked the best time to score his first Addicks’ goal and a comical own goal by Dean Blackwell ensured a priceless 2-0 victory for Alan Curbishley’s side although the season would end with heartache on the final day and relegation from the top-flight after one season in the elite.
What else happened in February 1999?
- After a year of allegations, strain and defence, Bill Clinton is acquitted of impeachment proceedings in the US senate.
- King Hussein of Jordan dies from cancer and is succeeded by his son, Abdullah II.
- While trying to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon, Colin Prescot and Andy Elson set a new endurance record after being aloft for 233 hours and 55 minutes.
- 31 people are killed when an avalanche dismantles the small Austrian village of Galtür.
- The BBC announces that Noel’s House Party will be axed after eight successful years.
- Kelly Brook succeeds Denise van Outen as co-presenter of The Big Breakfast on Channel 4.
- Lauryn Hill makes history at the Grammy Awards by being the first female artist to win five Grammys in one night.