Thieving The Magpies – recalling a premiership classic

3rd, April 1996

Liverpool 4
Fowler 2, 55, Collymore 68, 90

Newcastle 3
Ferdinand 10, Ginola 14, Aspirilla 57

I don’t know what it is about us but I suspect if Sky were to compile a top ten of “Classic Premiership Games” we’d feature in it quite heavily. Would the last “blockbuster” between us and Arsenal feature? One which certainly would is our game with Newcastle back in 1996 and as we are due to play them tomorrow, it seemed appropriate to recall it.

The back ground was a familiar one. Both teams were chasing The Mancs in the title race. Newcastle, having made all the early pace, had slowly been reeled in. Now the Mancs were top by three points but having played two games more. We were third on 59 points so we really needed to win this game to keep our title hopes alive. To go top Newcastle needed to win by three clear goals.

This was the Newcastle side under Kevin Keegan, who took his place in the dug out wearing what looked to be a Butlins Red Jacket, that was regarded by many at that time as the most entertaining, if not necessarily the most efficient, in the league. Keegan’s positive philosophy was to play a brand of football where the emphasis was heavily on attack. They were a good side to watch but ultimately the fans expectant hankering for a return to these days with subsequent Newcastle sides was the undoing of many of Keegan’s predecessors?

We came into this game on the back of reaching the FA Cup Final with a 3-0 win against Aston Villa in the semi at Old Trafford. Under Roy Evans we had slowly picked after Graeme Souness had left. We’d finished third the season before and were widely tipped to win the title. However, although we were in third place it was the generally held belief that the title would be won by either The Mancs or Newcastle.

The pitch before this game looked less than ideal with large patches having been returfed. Nonetheless for us the beginning was perfect. Jamie Redknapp’s long ball to the left wing was helped on by Rob Jones to Stan Collymore who hit the touch line. His cross was headed sharply down by Robbie Fowler past Srnicek.

The early goal didn’t deter Newcastle and they set about attacking as if this was the only approach they knew. Les Ferninand was quick to test David James then, shortly after, Steve Watson’s throw was collected by Peter Beardsley. The ex red fed Asprilla who wriggled past Neil Ruddock and Redknapp and squared to Ferdinand on edge of the six yard area. His rising shot looked rather innocuous but James didn’t deal with what looked like an easy take.

Newcastle, galvanised by their equaliser, laid siege to our goal. Beardsley and Ginola nagged away, teasing and probing our defenders trying set Ferdinand and Aprisilla up. However, it was basic move that put Newcastle ahead. Ferdinand’s long curving ball from his own area bisected the centre circle and was picked up by Ginola on the right. The Frenchman glided on leaving McAteer in his wake to blast past James.

From being ahead we were behind however slowly we worked our way back into the game. Redknapp, after terrific passing build up, went close from distance. Then Fowler from a free kick amidst a crowded area winkled the ball out from under his feet to fire just past Srnicek’s right hand post. McManaman, and then Redknapp from a free kick, both drove over the top. In-between Fowler agonisingly missed McManaman’s cross with a despairing dive.

In the second half Newcastle had the first chance. Rob Lee was allowed to run right into the penalty area and shoot from the penalty spot, but James did well to bale his defensive colleagues out. However, again most of the pressure was from us. McManaman, a low shot from Redknapp’s corner, Scales again from a corner which Fowler failed to help on. Eventually we got the breakthrough. McManaman on the right advanced into the area with Newcastle defenders tumbling and lurching in his wake, scared to challenge him for fear of conceding a spot kick. As a result Macca was able square to Fowler and before Newcastle could do anything, the ball was drilled home with lethal efficiency leaving Watson and Scnichek flailing.

Newcastle kept the pot boiling by nudged themselves in front again albeit against the run of play. Lee released Asprilla who beat the offside trap and give himself a easy task of knocking the ball past the onrushing James. By now no one had any idea of what might happen so it was no real surprise that immediately after McAteer threaded a ball across into the area into the corridor of indecision – just in front of the keeper and behind the back four. Srnicek guessed incorrectly and stayed on his line allowing Collymore got there first and flick it home.

Three each and not a sign of the pace or the action relenting as both sides exchanged “blows”. Fowler glanced one over after good work by Macca. Then Ferdinand, after collecting Albert’s long ball and evading Harkness, saw James successfully stand up to his shot. Next it was Srnicek’s turn to be busy, palming away Barnes cross shot from the right and then, in the last minute, beating down Redknapp’s effort. Then the killer moment happened serving up the sort of conclusion to a game that you only read about or enact in your imagination.

Schales to Barnes, a one two with Rush, then back to Rush again. Rush in trying to make space for the shot, runs into Barnes. Amidst the confusion Barnes manages to squirt the ball square and wide to Collymore on the left who, after what seemed an age, rifles it home between Srnicek and his near post leaving Keegan sagging over the advertising hoardings like someone let all the air out of him.

A terrific game. Often time builds up contest into something it wasn’t. However, I watched a full rerun of the match a few months and it still holds up. The pace was relentless and the desire of both sides to go forward unremitting. And what of that season? Although after the game we were five points behind Mancs with a match in hand our title hopes were effectively scuppered by a defeat to Coventry. We lost the FA Final to The Mancs in the infamous “white suit” final. Cantona’s goal securing United their second double. Of Keegan and Evans The Times suggested.

“One suspects that Evans’s managerial career may bring more trophies than Keegan’s. Idealism so often deserves better than it receives.”

Sadly for both it was not to be and within two years both were gone.

Liverpool: James, Wright (Harkness, 46), Scales, Ruddock, McAteer, Redknapp, Barnes, McManaman, R Jones (Rush, 86), Fowler, Collymore. Sub not used Warner

Newcastle: Srnicek, Watson, Howey (Peacock, 82), Albert, Beresford, Beardsley, Lee, Batty, Ginola, Ferdinand, Asprilla. Subs not used Clark, Gillespie.

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