Lessons from one of Premier League's greatest stories
On 3rd April 1996, the English Premier League produced one of the most scintillating games of all time. Going into the fixture, everyone knew that the score at the end of 90 minutes could decide the fate of three teams and mutate the title race.
August to October
Newcastle United started the 1995-96 season emphatically, winning nine and drawing one of their opening eleven games. Their only defeat in the first three months of the campaign came against Southampton. Scoring 27 goals and conceding only eight in that period, the Magpies were proving to be great challengers to Sir Alex's men. United too had a decent first three months in which they accumulated 26 points, two shy of Newcastle.
November to January
The period between November and 23rd December wasn't as remarkable as the first three months. Newcastle lost one and drew two of the eight games they played. However, Man United's poor run saw them win only twice in that space of time and Newcastle further increased their lead at the top of the table to 10 points.
On 27th December, Newcastle's 2-0 loss at Old Trafford helped United reduce the gap, however, the Magpies managed to extend their lead to 12 points on 20th January 1996. With only 15 games to go, Newcastle were emerging as favourites to reach the finish line first. But, the Premier League is known for producing astonishing results, and it did not fail to deliver.
February to March
Manchester United, who were rejuvenated by the return of Eric Cantona, marched on an impressive run and won all their matches in February. Moreover, the Magpies came to their aid by dropping vital points away to West Ham and Manchester City late in the month.
United took advantage of Newcastle's vulnerability on their trip to St. James' Park and thumped them 1-0. Les Ferdinand's side made amends for their poor form though by winning 3-0 at home against West Ham only to squander their lead again, at Highbury, on 23rd March.
The season had come a long way from the time when Newcastle had led by 12 points and the table on 30th March 1996 presented a thrilling prospect.
Repercussions of Newcastle's slip proved to be catastrophic as, all of a sudden, Liverpool also joined the race.
April to May
3rd April 1996 - Matchday
Newcastle had humbly welcomed Liverpool into the title race and bestowed the Reds with a glorious opportunity to supplement their misery when they travelled to Anfield on 3rd April 1996. It took Liverpool only two minutes to open the scoring, as Robbie Fowler headed in a cross. Newcastle responded immediately and scored twice, in the 10th and 14th minute, to take a one-goal lead.
Nine minutes into the second half, Steve McManaman charged towards the Newcastle defence and picked out a pass to Fowler, who equalized for Liverpool. However, the Magpies took the lead once again in the 57th-minute through a right-footed outside-of-the-boot strike from Asprilla. Scoring opportunities kept presenting themselves to both the sides, denying the spectators a moment to even blink. Liverpool equalized for the second time, in the 68th minute, when Stan Collymore shot past Newcastle's goalkeeper Pavel Srní?ek.
Right before the final whistle, Ian Rush and John Barnes played a couple of one-twos near the Newcastle end before the latter released a pass to Collymore on the left flank. As soon as Collymore's shot met the back of the net, all the Liverpool, as well as the United fans, jumped in ecstasy. The match ended in a thrilling 4-3 win for Liverpool.
To be fair, it was kamikaze defending. Managers would be dead within six months if every game was like that - Roy Evans (Liverpool manager)
Two weeks later, Newcastle lost against Blackburn to help United increase the lead at the top of the table to six points. Six Alex's men made a final leap towards the title, failing to win only once until the end of the season. Their decisive run helped them clinch the title. United had more than one reason to be jubilant at the end of the season as they also defeated rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
Lessons to be learnt
History repeats itself and the events of the 1995-96 season may reoccur this season. Just like Newcastle in 1995, City have also started boisterously. The current season is only 11 games old and the Citizens already have an 8-point lead at the top of the table. In addition to this, the manner in which they are battering teams makes it impossible to believe that they will succumb any time soon.
City may be a much stronger team than that Newcastle team, but so are the other teams. Like United and Liverpool in those days, every team should have the "cojones" to fight right until the end. City are going to slip up at some point in the season. The argument is whether the other teams will be ready to take advantage of that.
It cannot be ascertained whether the events of 1996 can reoccur this time around, but, for now, Man City's fall, while improbable, is not impossible. Until then, let's just hope for a season full of mind-boggling goals and exhilarating matches.