Just over nineteen years ago Liverpool and Newcastle United played out an enthralling, seven-goal thriller which has gone done as one of the greatest games of football in recent memory. Simon Collings recalls that night at Anfield.
It had it all: great players, great goals, and a stoppage-time winner.
Fortunately for Reds fans it was a Stan Collymore strike at the Kop end which gave Liverpool victory – causing Kevin Keegan’s title-chasing Newcastle side to crumble.
As the two sides prepare to face each other at Anfield once again, many can’t help but reminisce about that special night all those years ago. Miraculously, the following season it happened again – with a last-minute winner breaking Toon hearts once more. Yet the original 4-3 encounter on April 3rd 1996 has to be one the greatest individual games of football ever played in the English game.
At the time both sides were fighting it out with Manchester United for the Premier League title. United had the upper-hand with a three-point lead over Newcastle, though had played two games more. Liverpool were seven points adrift, with one game in hand.
Whatever the result, it was going to affect the destination of the Premiership trophy so the whole country was effectively glued to their television screens.
The array of attacking players on show was immense: Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore, Steve McManaman for the Reds; Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla for Newcastle.
A dull 0-0 draw it was never going to be!
Open, attacking football
Liverpool took the lead inside the first few minutes with their first attack. Fowler heading in Collymore’s deep-lying cross – taking his goal-tally to an impressive 27 for the season.
Newcastle equalised soon after with Ferdinand’s powerful close-range shot, after Asprilla had nut-megged Neil Ruddock. David James should have done better though.
The game was already opening up and it was Newcastle who took the lead. Ginola raced on to Ferdinand’s through-ball and flashed in a left-foot strike at the near post – giving the visitors a deserved 2-1 lead at the interval.
Soon into the second half Fowler doubled his tally on the night after good work from McManaman, yet his joy was short-lived as Asprilla prodded in an exquisite effort after James has rushed out.
It was clear the match was turning into something special.
Newcastle were looking the more dominant side with their tails up, and should have extended their lead.
However Liverpool equalised once again, this time through Collymore – turning in Jason McAteer’s inviting cross.
‘‘Barnes, Rush, Barnes, Rush… still John Barnes’’
There was still twenty minutes to play, and it was Liverpool who smelt blood – pouring men forward.
Just as it looked like it might end all square John Barnes combined with substitute Ian Rush to pick out the on-rushing Collymore. With Pavel Srnicek, and the Kop bearing down, Collymore fired in a thunderous winner to send Anfield into delirium – concluding one of the greatest games of football ever played.
We all remember the images of a devastated Kevin Keegan hanging his head as the Kop celebrated.
The title-race had been swung wide open, and showed the rest of the footballing world what the Premier League was all about.
The bosses at Sky Sports were no doubt rubbing their hands with joy!
So, was this the greatest match ever?
If it were an FA Cup final it would easily be regarded as the greatest final ever – simple. As it was a Premiership match, ranking it as No.1 isn’t that straightforward.
In 2012, the Manchester derby from 2009 was voted the greatest Premier League clash of all time at the Premier League 20 Seasons Awards. Rightly so some might say, as this was also a classic encounter to behold.
Liverpool-Newcastle from 1996 was voted second. Both were similar encounters with great goals, great players, and last-minute winners.
United fans will say there’s was better, Reds fans will suggest ours. Newcastle and City fans probably won’t care!
It’s a difficult one to call as it all depends on the perspective of the football fan watching. What is certain, however, is that whenever Liverpool and Newcastle meet in the Premier League those images from the original 4-3 masterpiece will always linger before kick-off.
To watch it was it on the telly was enthralling. To have been there must have been unforgettable. To play in, well I don’t think words could describe!
Due to our current form in the league, I’d gladly take a scrappy 1-0 win on Monday night. Yet to get another 4-3 victory however might just cheer everyone up!
You never know?
Liverpool starting XI (3-5-2): James; Wright, Scales, Ruddock; McAteer, Barnes, Redknapp, Jones, McManaman; Collymore, Fowler
Newcastle starting XI (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Howey, Albert, Beresford; Beardsley, Batty, Lee, Ginola; Ferdinand, Asprilla.