Results: Aston Villa 1-1 Southampton, Blackburn Rovers 3-0 West Ham United, Derby County 0-0 Crystal Palace, Leeds United 2-0 Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City 0-1 Everton, Liverpool FC 1-0 Coventry City, Sheffield Wednesday 1-4 Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Barnsley, Newcastle United 0-1 Manchester United, Wimbledon A-A Arsenal
This was the final round of matches before Christmas 1997, so the 1997-1998 Premier League table was beginning to take shape.
Defending champions Manchester United came into this round of fixtures four points clear. Whatever happened over the course of the weekend, they would spend Christmas Day on top of the table. They visited Tyneside to take on Newcastle United, who had been their closest challengers for the title in the last two seasons.
Newcastle though were not a factor this season and were beaten by their former hero, Andy Cole, whose second half header was enough to ensure a fifth successive victory for Alex Ferguson’s side since their November loss at Highbury to Arsenal. Peter Schmeichel though played a major part in them claiming the three points. His amazing save from a John Barnes header would earn him the ‘Save of the Decade’ at the Premier League 10 Seasons Awards in 2002.
Newcastle were 17 points off the pace and languishing in ninth spot having not won a single game in December. Instead, the nearest challengers to the Red Devils were the only other former Premier League title winners in Blackburn Rovers. Roy Hodgson’s side had lost just twice all campaign and responded brilliantly to a 4-0 loss at Old Trafford three weeks earlier. They consolidated second spot in the table, as they swotted aside West Ham United 3-0 at Ewood Park. Young prodigy Damien Duff scored twice for the home side whilst West Ham had Steve Lomas sent off.
Chelsea were enjoying their best run of form in the season and Ruud Gullit’s side would complete the top three on Christmas Day. They won 4-1 at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday. Former Owls player Dan Petrescu, Gianluca Vialli, Franck Leboeuf from the penalty spot and Tore Andre Flo all scored in another impressive away display from the Blues. It was Ron Atkinson’s first home defeat since returning to Wednesday for a second spell as manager.
Leeds United were having a good campaign in George Graham’s first full season in the dugout. They beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at Elland Road to remain in the top four. Liverpool FC edged out Coventry City 1-0 to move into fifth and above Arsenal, who were now trailing United by 13 points in the table. The Gunners had lost four of their last six Premier League games and their title hopes looked slim at this point in the season. However, they couldn’t respond to all their rivals winning earlier in the weekend.
13 seconds into the second half of their Monday Night Football match with Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, the floodlights failed with the scoreline at 0-0. The lights didn’t come back on and incredibly, a third Premier League match in the season had been abandoned because of floodlight failure.
After two heavy losses, there was some relief for new Tottenham boss Christian Gross as his side comfortably beat Barnsley 3-0 at White Hart Lane, ensuring the Tykes would be bottom of the table at Christmas. Despite the win, Spurs remained in the bottom three as did Everton, who recorded their first win and goal in five matches. Gary Speed’s 89th minute penalty beat Leicester City 1-0 at Filbert Street.
What else happened in December 1997?
- There is a political wedding as the leader of the Conservative party, William Hague marries Ffion Jenkins.
- Football legend Tom Finney and singer Elton John are among those knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
- After 44 years in service, the Royal Yacht, Britannia is decommissioned.
- Inside Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland, Ulster loyalist paramilitary leader Billy Wright is assassinated.
- The highest grossing film of all-time, Titanic makes its premier in the United States.
- The Kyoto Protocol is adopted by a UN committee.
- The capital of Kazakhstan is moved from Almaty to Astana.