Stan Collymore, Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle, 1996 (Picture by: David Kendall / PA Archive/Press Association Images)

The 4-3 thriller: A game for the ages on “nerve-tingling” Anfield night

It was a game for the ages and one which is enshrined into club and Premier League history, where a Liverpool legend’s return to Anfield ended with him slumped over the advertising hoardings.

Iconic is the word and breathtaking was the overwhelming feeling.

When Newcastle arrived at Anfield on April 3, 1996, the visitors were three points adrift of leaders Man United with two games in hand, while Roy Evans’ Reds were eight behind having played one game less.

The stakes were high and the desperation to remain within striking distance of denying United their third league title in four seasons was simmering ahead of kick-off.

It ensured the perfect storm was brewing and it needn’t long to descend on Anfield, 97 seconds in fact.

COVENTRY, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 6, 1996: Liverpool's manager Roy Evans against Coventry City during the Premiership match at Highfield Road. Coventry won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Robbie Fowler, in his third season as a first-team regular, was the man to strike, steering his header beyond Paul Srnicek to set Anfield alight.

But within the space of 15 minutes the tables had turned as Newcastle had penetrated Liverpool’s defence twice within four minutes to see the scoreboard read 2-1 in the Magpies’ favour.

Les Ferdinand and David Ginola were responsible, with the Reds’ defence wilting as individual mistakes would hand Newcastle the impetus.

The tempo remained unrelenting and few would have predicted the twists and turns which would come in the second half.

After a bright start following the interval, Steve McManaman, who had been twice denied himself, beautifully fed the ball across the 18-yard line to Fowler who rifled home the equaliser without a second of hesitation.

A chance to take a breath never came as merely two minutes later the visitors pulled ahead once more after David James was swept up in the atmosphere as he charged off his line to turn a half-chance into a clear route to goal for Faustino Asprilla.

It was 3-2 to Newcastle with 58 minutes on the clock and as a report in the Mirror surmised, “to score three in the Anfield fortress should be enough to win any game,” but it wasn’t.

Within the space of 10 minutes, Liverpool had again established a level playing field after Jason McAteer delivered a sumptuous ball across the goal face, with Stan Collymore the man to convert at the back post.

The Reds were on their feet and the travelling Newcastle fans had their heads in their hands, momentum was in Liverpool’s favour but the ping-pong nature of the clash ensured no team felt safe and neither team felt they could be denied the winner.

But as the minutes ticked closer to the full-time whistle the affair looked destined to end with a share of the spoils.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 6, 1996: Liverpool's Stan Collymore celebrates scoring the third of his hat-trick of goals with team-mate Ian Rush against Rochdale during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That was until Collymore was found in acres of space in the penalty area, providing ample time to set himself and thunder his effort beyond a hapless Srnicek – lifting the roof of Anfield in the process.

As Collymore wheeled away in unbridled joy, Kevin Keegan was slumped over in his seat as he watched his team fall to defeat, and it would prove to be a defining and iconic image.

“I get goosebumps every time I hear it because it was such a special time,” Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler divulged.

“Poor Kevin Keegan slumped over the advertising hoardings at the end is one of the iconic shots of the game, perhaps the iconic shot. Whatever makes us so addicted to football it was the drug.

“I think if you take all the elements of why we all love football they all happened in this particular game.”

Neither team would go on to win the Premier League title that year, but there is no denying that “it was the most compelling advertisement for the English game, one that will be talked about for years. The kind of nerve-tingling football that jerks you to your feet,” as a reporter so eloquently framed it.

The Premier League‘s greatest ever game.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Wright, Scales, Ruddock; McAteer, Barnes, Redknapp, Jones, McManaman; Collymore, Fowler

Newcastle (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Howey, Albert, Beresford; Beardsley, Batty, Lee, Ginola; Ferdinand, Asprilla.