There are certain fixtures in the Premier League that, when due to be played, evoke memories of enthralling previous encounters between the two sides in question. Liverpool vs. Newcastle United, set to take place on Sunday afternoon, is one of these fixtures, mainly because of two meetings in the mid-1990s, the first of which in particular is etched strongly in the memory of both sets of supporters.
Sitting just three points behind leaders Manchester United but with two games in hand, Newcastle went into the game on April 3 1996 still harbouring realistic expectations of winning that season’s Premier League title, to end their chase for a first trophy since 1969. Also still in contention of being crowned champions, although to a lesser extent at five points adrift of the Magpies in third, were Liverpool.
Third plays second at an expectant and vibrant Anfield. The stage was set. To say that the pulsating game which unfolded did not disappoint would do it an injustice. To remind that in 2003 it was voted the best match of the decade on behalf of the Premier League, which was then celebrating its 10th anniversary, is the most appropriate definition of what was a very special affair.
God, as Robbie Fowler was (and in some quarters still is) affectionately referred to by Liverpool supporters, drew first blood for the home side, only for this to be quickly reversed as goals from Les Ferdinand and David Ginola gave Newcastle the lead. They would hold this until 10 minutes into the second-half. Fowler then brought Liverpool level, only for Tino Asprilla to almost immediately restore the Magpies advantage, before Stan Collymore eradicated it to tie the game at 3-3 and set-up a grandstand finish. This saw the same player score in front of the Kop in the second minute of injury time to effectively sink Newcastle’s title dreams and their manager, Kevin Keegan, to his knees.
Whilst this image of Keegan persists as one of the most telling in the history of the Premier League, so too does his infamous “love it” quote aimed at Sir Alex Ferguson remain one of the most memorable. Ultimately Keegan’s wishes were denied. His side finished second, left to rue, amongst other things, the leads that they surrendered during that epic game at Anfield, which amazingly staged another seven-goal thriller between the two teams the following season, albeit the circumstances of this were very different.
Trailing 3-0, going into the last 2- minutes, goals from Keith Gillespie, Asprilla and Warren Barton brought Newcastle level. However, this time it was the turn of Fowler to strike in injury time to cruelly defeat the Magpies, who again finished as runners-up to Ferguson’s United, with Liverpool also securing a top four place.
That both of these classics were delivered in consecutive seasons at a time when both sides were competing for the title leaves little doubt that they deserve to be recognised as among the finest to be played in the history of the Premier League. Time for another one to be added to that list on Sunday?
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