This match is regarded by many as the greatest game in Premier League history. As a spectacle the game had almost everything – great goals, end to end action and late drama. The match showcased the Premier League at its most exciting and frenetic best – two top sides going all-out for victory. While some purists may argue that the game was more about woeful defending and tactical naivety, it should really be seen as a victory for attacking football at its very best.
The 1995/96 season was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Premier League. Newcastle United had invested heavily in the summer with some big name signings. They came storming out of the blocks from the start, playing some brilliant attacking football. By Christmas they were 10 points clear of their closest challengers, Manchester United, with the title seemingly in the bag. However, the Red Devils began to put together a run of form, while Newcastle began to drop points on their travels. A 1-0 home defeat to United in March saw more pressure grow on the Magpies.
By the time this match kicked off in early April, both Liverpool and Newcastle were contenders for the league title. Newcastle were now second to Manchester United in the table, but only three points behind with two games in hand. Liverpool, under the management of Roy Evans, were third in the table and had played themselves into the reckoning. Both sides were blessed with lots of options in attack but equally lacked quality at the back.
Liverpool made a bright start to the game and went ahead after only two minutes. Striker Stan Collymore, a big money buy at the start of the season, was sent clear down the left flank, beat two defenders and unleashed a cross from the by-line. The prolific Robbie Fowler was left unmarked at the back post and headed past the exposed Newcastle goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek.
Newcastle showed their intent when Les Ferdinand managed to evade the Liverpool defence but shot straight at Reds No 1 David James. But they did not have to wait long to find an equaliser. The bandy-legged Faustino Asprilla went past Neil Ruddock as if he was not there and found Ferdinand on the edge of the six yard box. He took a touch then fired past James, who should have done better with the attempted save.
Newcastle were now in full flow and soon found themselves infront for the first time. Ferdinand sent a pass down the left to put David Ginola in behind the Liverpool defence. The French winger out-paced Jason McAteer before coolly slotting past James. Fowler twice went close to restoring parity but at half time it was 2-1 to the visitors.
Early in the second half James denied Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee with a good save. Liverpool then drew level when two of their young stars combined. Steve McManaman was given too much space down the right and he tore into the Newcastle defence and his cut back found Fowler just inside the area to crash home his second of the game.
Back came Newcastle as the game see-sawed from end to end. Lee’s pass from the centre circle sent Asprilla clear behind the Liverpool defence. The at times erratic Colombian made no mistake as he prodded past the onrushing James. At 3-2 Newcastle must have been expecting to hold on to their lead and give their title charge a shot in the arm.
To their credit Liverpool never gave up and continued to fight back from every Newcastle blow they received. Again their equaliser was not long in coming. Jason McAteer burst down the right and swung in a dangerous low cross between the defence and the goalkeeper and, following more uncertain defending, Stan Collymore poked the ball into the net at the back post.
The game was now anyone’s to win and anything was possible – both sides sensed that the next goal could affect the rest of their season. Ferdinand had an opportunity to grab the winner but was denied by James and it was to be the Reds who got the winner in injury time. John Barnes and late substitute Ian Rush combined to create the opportunity. Barnes found Collymore in acres of space on the left of the area and the striker unleashed a powerful effort that beat Srnicek at his near post to bring down the curtain on a night of great drama. Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan could only hang his head on an advertising hoarding, as he summed up his side’s mood. It was a cruel way to end a great game for Newcastle but an ecstatic one for Liverpool.
In the aftermath of the game both managers were proud with their team’s efforts. A typically ebullient Kevin Keegan said: “It was a terrific game, and we shall go on playing the same way, because that’s what we believe in. Either we go on, or I go.” He added: “I’ve never managed a team that played so well and got nothing.” It was a game that will be remembered for a very long time. It was not just the scoreline but the quality of both sides’ attacking play. In total there were over 30 attempts on goal – a statistic to get any fan of the game drooling.
Newcastle never fully recovered from the game and ended the season as runners-up behind Manchester United. Just weeks after the game Keegan came out with his famous “I would love it” rant towards Alex Ferguson. Liverpool finished third in the table, losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
From the Archive
Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United – April 3, 1996