Results: Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Aston Villa, Coventry City 1-3 West Ham United, Derby County 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Everton 0-2 Manchester United, Middlesbrough 1-0 Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday 2-2 Leeds United, Southampton 2-2 Leicester City, Sunderland 1-1 Nottingham Forest, Wimbledon 1-1 Newcastle United, Arsenal 1-2 Liverpool FC, Middlesbrough 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Having experienced a bad run in the early autumn of 1996 which included a three-game losing sequence, Manchester United had now embarked on a lengthy run of good form which had seen them lose just one of their previous 18 Premier League matches.
Favourites for a fourth championship in five seasons, the Red Devils extended that sequence with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park. The goals came in each half. One from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the second from Eric Cantona which briefly gave Alex Ferguson’s side a five-point lead at the top of the table. It turned out to be Joe Royle’s last match as Everton manager. He resigned days later after just over two-and-a-half years in the role having led the Toffees to victory in the 1995 FA Cup final over Manchester United.
Title rivals Arsenal and Liverpool FC met each other two nights later in what always looked like being a decisive game in the title race. The match centred on a controversial incident midway through the second half. Liverpool were 1-0 up through Stan Collymore’s goal when Robbie Fowler was played through by Mark Wright and hurdled over David Seaman’s challenge in the penalty area. Referee Gerald Ashby gave a penalty despite Fowler’s persistence that there had been no contact and Ashby should change his mind. He didn’t and although the forward went on to have his spot-kick saved by Seaman, Jason McAteer scored the rebound and Liverpool held off a late Arsenal surge to win 2-1 and emerge as Manchester United’s closest challengers for the championship. Fowler later won a Fair Play award for his honesty in the incident with Seaman.
Newcastle United fell eight points behind Liverpool and therefore, an automatic UEFA Champions League qualification spot after being held to a 1-1 draw by Wimbledon at Selhurst Park. They remained narrowly ahead of the chasing pack which was now being led by Aston Villa. They moved up two positions to fifth in the table after recording a 2-0 away victory at Blackburn Rovers, courtesy of second half goals from Tommy Johnson and Dwight Yorke.
At the wrong end of the table, just six points covered the bottom six clubs. Southampton remained at the foot of the table after squandering an advantage twice to draw 2-2 at home with League Cup finalists Leicester City. Alan Neilson’s 70th minute own goal ensured a share of the spoils. Coventry City dropped into the relegation zone as their winless month continued against fellow strugglers West Ham United. Despite taking the lead through a Marc Rieper own goal, the Sky Blues were no match for the Hammers. Two goals from new signing John Hartson and a first-ever senior goal by Rio Ferdinand helped West Ham to a 3-1 victory. They had now lost just one of their last six matches.
Despite their three-point deduction being in-place, Middlesbrough climbed out of the relegation positions after gaining four points from two home matches, drawing 1-1 with Nottingham Forest two days after Juninho’s header saw them beat Chelsea 1-0. However, Boro’s demanding schedule with their deep involvement in the cup competitions would ultimately catch up with their players in the final reckoning.
What else happened in March 1997?
- Prime Minister John Major announces the 1997 General Election will be held on 1st May.
- Unemployment levels continue to drop to 1.8 million which is the lowest level since December 1990.
- After declaring the Conservative Party as “tired, divided and rudderless,” The Sun newspaper decides to back Labour and Tony Blair ahead of the General Election.
- Channel 5 begins broadcasting in the UK as the fifth major terrestrial station.
- The English Patient wins Best Picture at the 69th Academy Awards.
- Julius Chan resigns as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
- A pile-up on the M42 motorway in Bromsgrove involves 160 vehicles. Three people die and 60 are injured.