1996–97 Newcastle United F.C. season

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Newcastle United
1996–97 season
Chairman Daniel Rogers
Manager Kevin Keegan
Kenny Dalglish
Stadium St James' Park
Premier League 2nd
FA Cup Fourth Round
League Cup Fourth round
Charity Shield Runners-up
UEFA Cup Quarter-finals
Top goalscorer League:
Alan Shearer (25)
All:
Alan Shearer (28)
Highest home attendance 36 582 (vs. Sunderland)
Lowest home attendance 28 124 (vs. Halmstads)
Average home league attendance 36 467
Home colours
Away colours

The 1996-97 season saw English professional football club Newcastle United participate in the Premier League for the fourth consecutive season since their promotion from the Football League First Division in 1993. After the disappointment of finishing runner-up to Manchester United in the previous campaign despite having at one stage held a 12-point lead over their rivals, the club responded by signing Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers in July 1996.

Shearer would go on to become the leading goalscorer in Newcastle United history but his career began inauspiciously – his debut came against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in the 1996 FA Charity Shield in a game that the Magpies lost 4-0. Newcastle recovered quickly from that defeat and started the league camapign strongly, winning seven of their opening eight games. A 5-0 victory over Manchester United on 20 October 1996 at St James' Park seemed to confirm that a strong title challenge would again be mounted but a subsequent poor run of form, including a run of seven games without a win, saw the title challenge falter and ultimately culminated in the resignation of manager Kevin Keegan on 7 January 1997. Keegan's replacement, Kenny Daglish, was appointed on 14 January 1997 and was in charge as United lost 4-3 at Anfield for the second successive year. However, a late season surge in form, including a crucial win at Highbury on 3 May 1997 and a 5-0 rout of Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season, saw the club overtake Liverpool and Arsenal to finish runner-up again to Manchester United and qualify for the Champions League.

Performance in the cup competitions was mixed. The team were knocked out of the League Cup in the fourth round by local rivals Middlesbrough, who went on to reach the final. Ian Woan scored twice in the last fifteen minutes of a fourth round FA Cup tie at St James' Park to knock the home side out of the competition, whilst in the 1996–97 UEFA Cup, Newcastle performed better and reached the quarter-finals but were ultimately beaten 4-0 on aggregate by French side AS Monaco.

Background[edit]

In the previous season, Newcastle United and Manchester United contested for the title in a season described by Total Football magazine as "an absolute classic"[1] and which was in 2012 one of six nominees for an award for best Premier League season ever.[2] On 1 January 1996, Manchester United were beaten 4-1 by Tottenham Hotspur[3] and when Newcastle beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at home on 20 January 1996[4] they established what most presumed to be an insurmountable 12-point lead over their title rivals.[1][3] However, the Manchester club began embarked upon what sports writer Ian Cusack described as "a seemingly endless streak of 1-0 wins",[5] including a critical game at St James' Park on 4 March which saw Peter Schmeichel defy the hosts with several excellent saves before Eric Cantona scored a decisive break-away goal.[6] Indeed, after a 2-1 win at Middlesbrough largely inspired by debutant Faustino Asprilla, Newcastle lost five of their next eight,[7] including last-gasp defeats at Anfield, in a match later voted the greatest game of the first decade of the Premier League, and at Ewood Park thanks to a pair of goals from Geordie substitute Graham Fenton who scored on 86 and 90 minutes.[8] These factors meant that Keegan's side were caught by Alex Ferguson's side who ultimately went on to win the title by four points and then beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final to complete a domestic double.[9]

Newcastle's collapse was later described by Graham Lister of Goal.com as having "entered football folklore as the Premier League's ultimate Devon Loch moment".[10] Although midfielder Rob Lee later claimed that the failure to capture the title was due to falling player confidence[11] and Ian Cusack believed that Cantona was the difference, stating "Newcastle United had, player for player, the best team in the Premiership, but didn’t have the best player.",[5] the general consensus was that Newcastle had lost because of Keegan's attacking philosophy.[7] Mark Lawrenson summed up the prevailing consensus when he said: "I really think they should have won the league in the 1995-96 season...Kevin could have done it if he'd altered the system very, very slightly. But he didn't want to betray his principles...I think Kevin wanted it free-flowing in all departments and that doesn't necessarily happen."[12]

Transfers[edit]

Alan Shearer was the club's only signing in the 1996-97 pre-season. He arrived for a world record £15m fee.

Keegan responded to the previous season's disappointment by breaking the world record transfer fee to sign centre forward Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers for £15 million.[13] Shearer, whose five goals made him the top scorer in Euro 96,[14] had supported Newcastle since childhood – he had been a ball-boy at St James' Park on the day that Keegan had left in a helicopter after his final Newcastle appearance as a player.[15] He rejected offers to manage Blackburn[16] and to play for Manchester United to join the club who had rejected him after he had played in goal for two days during a trial as a teenager.[17]

The signing was confirmed by the manager on 30 July 1996[18] and was officially unveiled a week later in front of hundreds of journalists and around 15,000 fans who queued in the stadium car parks hoping to catch a glimpse of the player.[19] Keegan told the assembled fans "It's [the transfer fee] your money. It's the money you've spent on your replica shirts, the money you've spent on your season tickets and your bonds, the programmes and the Black and White magazines" whilst chairman Sir John Hall stated that "now we must get some silverware in the cupboard. In some ways it's a ridiculous price to pay but we've proved we mean business".[20][21] Both refuted claims that Les Ferdinand would be sold to part fund the signing, with Keegan stating "despite what some people think, I think they will make a terrific strike force. I think they can both take each other places where they dream about going" and that "they will form the most potent strike-force in world football". It was also confirmed that Les Ferdinand would give Shearer the number nine shirt for the new season.[20][21]

In[edit]

No. Position Player Transferred from Fee Date Ref
9 FW England Alan Shearer England Blackburn Rovers £15,000,000 30 July 1996 [13]
22 MF England Des Hamilton England Bradford City £2,500,000 27 March 1997 [22]

Out[edit]

No. Position Player Transferred to Fee Date Ref
16 FW England Darren Huckerby England Coventry City £1,000,000 23 November 1996 [23]
28 FW England Paul Kitson England West Ham United £2,300,000 6 February 1997 [24]

Managerial changes[edit]

It was reported by the Daily Mail that Keegan had offered to resign after failing to win the league championship in May 1996 but that he was dissuaded from quitting at that time.[25] On 5 January 1997, this claim was reiterated in an article by journalist Brian McNally in the Sunday Mirror which further alleged that he had offered to leave again after the 1996 Boxing Day defeat at Blackburn Rovers, telling the board that "he had taken the club as far as he could", but was dissuaded from leaving by Douglas Hall. McNally wrote: "the ghost of last season's spectacular championship fade-out still haunts Keegan. The simple truth is that Keegan hasn't mentally recovered from the choking disappointment of blowing the title seven months ago. As Manchester United gnawed away at Newcastle's seemingly unassailable advantage, Keegan became increasingly morose, withdrawn and bewildered". McNally was called to a three-hour meeting with club directors and told that there was no pressure on Keegan from the board and that his position was completely secure.[26] Keegan reacted furiously when questioned about the story at the end of a press conference after the FA Cup tie with Charlton Athletic, storming out after stating "I'm here to talk about the game. You know the guy who wrote that. End of story."[27]

However, on 8 January 1997, Kevin Keegan resigned as manager of Newcastle United.[25] He released a statement which read: "It was my decision alone. I feel I have taken the club as far as I can and that it would be in the best interest of all concerned if I resign now."[28] Despite his previous offers to leave, the resignation drew a shocked reaction from his assistant, Terry McDermott[29] and drew comment from the Mayor of Newcastle and the leader of the opposition, Tony Blair.[30] Several media sources reported outpourings of grief among Newcastle fans[25][30][31][32] though eye-witness Ian Cusack at When Saturday Comes later claimed: "I saw the stage-managed outpourings of false emotion at first hand. The composition of the crowd of around 400 that had gathered at the ground was a sociologist’s wet dream: the retired, the unemployed, the terminally lazy and the socially inadequate..As the untidy throng assembled outside the ground it became clear that this could not be a representative sample of Newcastle fans, if such a thing exists, and that they could be manipulated into acting the way the media wanted...photographers organized posed shots of supposedly broken-hearted youths clinging onto each other for support and news crews interviewed sobbing fans whose expressions often erred too close to smirks to be totally convincing.[33]

McDermott and Arthur Cox were placed in temporary charge of the first team.[34] The board had selected Bobby Robson as their first choice replacement and approached him to offer the position. Robson, a boyhood Newcastle supporter born in nearby Sacriston, was the manager of Barcelona at that time and refused to break his contract with the Catalan club, later stating: "Newcastle is my area, my home, but I turned down the job and I'm not looking back. It was the right job but it came at the wrong time and that's that. I'd barely arrived at Barcelona and I wasn't going to let it go just like that."[35] Having been rebuffed, the board moved to appoint their second choice, Kenny Dalglish, who had initially been the bookmakers' favourite to take over from Keegan and was out of work after having quit as manager of Blackburn Rovers after winning the league title in 1995.[34] The board felt that Dalglish would be able to strengthen the side defensively. The appointment was confirmed in a press conference at St James' Park on 14 January 1997, with the new manager telling the press: "The temptation of a job like this was too much to refuse. Kevin has set tremendous foundations here. I just hope that Kevin, having made his decision, is perfectly happy and content with himself."[36]

Pre-season[edit]

In July 1996 Newcastle undertook a tour in the far east, starting in Thailand. After arriving, Keegan voiced his surprise at the many people he saw wearing Newcastle replica shirts, claimed that the official club magazine sold 20,000 copies in the country and that the club were "the biggest rivals to Manchester United worldwide".[37] Newcastle played a Thailand national XI in Bangkok on 30 July, falling behind early in the game but they were level at halftime thanks to a goal from Asprilla and won the game 2-1 after a second half strike from Rob Lee.[38] United then travelled to Singapore to play a Singapore League Select XI at the National Stadium, though the game itself was overshadowed by the announcement of Alan Shearer's transfer – Keegan had to veto plans to parade the new signing in a cavalcade around the stadium even though Shearer was not even named among the substitutes. The match, played in front of a capacity crowd of 50,000, saw Newcastle run out easy 5-0 winners thanks largely to an excellent performance by David Ginola, who scored two of the goals.[39]

The final game of the tour was in Japan against Gamba Osaka. After problems had seen Shearer required to fly on a separate plane and Asprilla held by customs for lack of a visa,[40] Newcastle produced a very poor performance and were beaten 3-1 after two first half goals from Hans Gillhaus and a second half strike by Vjekoslav Škrinjar. Keegan was extremely critical of his players after the game, telling reporters: "I'm embarrassed. This is a tour before what we hope is going to be a championship winning season [but] very few players came out of this match with any credit. Some of our lads thought it was going to be a canter. I just had to stop watching in the second-half. It was poor. As simple as that".[41]

United returned home after the Gamba defeat and played Lincoln City at Sincil Bank. This match saw the first appearance of Alan Shearer in the side – his debut attracted over 200 journalists from around the world – and Shearer marked the occasion with a first half goal from the penalty spot. Philippe Albert scored a second after the break to give United a 2-0 win.[42] Newcastle completed their pre-season preparations with a 2-1 victory at Belgian league runners-up Anderlecht. Shearer and Asprilla combined just before the half time interval and the latter finished calmly to give the visitors a 1-0 half-time lead. A disputed penalty was awarded against Keith Gillespie on 60 minutes which allowed Gilles De Bilde to equalize, but United won the game thanks to a low finish by Ginola.[43] Keegan told reporters: "I thought it was a terrific performance and it was the one I was looking for. Anderlecht are a good side and they ask different questions of you. It wasn't like a normal friendly, it was played at a pretty hard pace. I got everything I wanted out of this game. We defended as a team, not as individuals. The midfield worked hard and were inventive and we looked lively up front."[44]

Pre-season results[edit]

Charity Shield[edit]

The FA Charity Shield is a match played between the reigning Premier League Champions and the FA Cup winners one week prior to the commencement of the Premier League campaign. However, Manchester United completed a domestic double the previous season and on 14 May 1996 the FA voted to invite Newcastle, rather than FA Cup beaten finalists Liverpool, to play against the Champions at Wembley.[48] The invitation was accepted on 22 May, with Newcastle defender Steve Watson telling the press: "It's brilliant news...It's not the way we wanted to qualify for the Charity Shield – we wanted to get there by winning the League. But it will be a great day for our fans and gives us a real lift before the start of the season."[49]

Although the Community Shield has been described by some media sources as a "glorified friendly",[50][51][52] the 1996 renewal sparked considerable local interest as it was to be the club's first appearance at Wembley since losing the 1976 League Cup final to Manchester City.[53] The signing of Alan Shearer less than one week earlier had sparked what several media outlets were referring to as "Shearer-Mania" on Tyneside[54][55][56] and demand for tickets to see the £15 million signing on his competitive debut was huge, with the original Newcastle allocation of 40,000 quickly sold out and fans queuing for three days to purchase some of the additional 5,000 tickets which were released for sale on 5 August.[57][58] The game had not merely attracted local interest; Ian Ridley of the Independent summed up the prevailing mood: "It [the Charity Shield] is a forgotten match once the real business of the season begins, but this year's may linger a little longer in the memory for 15 million and one reasons. The prospect of Alan Shearer's appearance for Newcastle United against the club who also tried to sign him has seen enthusiasm reach a rare pitch. The other reason is that the opponents are Manchester United, with whom Newcastle have become embroiled in one of the most intense rivalries of the modern game."[59]

After such an intense build-up, Newcastle fans were ultimately left disappointed as their side were soundly beaten in, according to Journalist David Lacey, "the most passionate Charity Shield in living memory by the second biggest margin since the occasion moved to Wembley 22 years earlier".[60] First half goals from man-of-the-match Cantona and Nicky Butt saw the champions lead 2-0 at the break and, despite Newcastle pressure for half an hour of the second half, the lead was held comfortably before two more goals in the last five minutes, by David Beckham and Roy Keane, gave the Manchester side a comprehensive 4-0 victory[61] after a Newcastle performance described by writer Harry Harris as "not just lamentable, but deplorable"[62] and by manager Keegan as "abysmal".[63] So far as the ramifications for the season's title race was concerned, the Daily Mirror commented that "Kevin Keegan has a big task in turning his team of stars into a unit which can challenge for the title. Keegan's team may well overwhelm some of the Premiership minnows but are clearly going to have to improve to compete with the likes of United. However these are early days and once Shearer settles in, Newcastle will be formidable opponents."[64]

11 August 1996
15:00 UTC+1
Manchester United 4–0 Newcastle United
Cantona Goal 24'
Butt Goal 30'
Beckham Goal 85'
Keane Goal 87'
Report
Wembley Stadium, London
Attendance: 73,214
Referee: Paul Durkin (Dorset)
Manchester United
Newcastle United
GK 1 Denmark Peter Schmeichel
RB 12 England Phil Neville
CB 6 England Gary Pallister
CB 4 England David May
LB 3 Republic of Ireland Denis Irwin Substituted off 45'
RM 10 England David Beckham
CM 8 England Nicky Butt Substituted off 41'
CM 16 Republic of Ireland Roy Keane Booked 40'
LM 11 Wales Ryan Giggs
CF 18 England Paul Scholes Substituted off 65'
CF 7 France Eric Cantona (c) Booked 65'
Substitutes:
GK 17 Netherlands Raimond van der Gouw
DF 2 England Gary Neville Substituted in 45'
DF 19 Norway Ronny Johnsen
MF 14 Netherlands Jordi Cruyff Substituted in 65'
MF 15 Czech Republic Karel Poborský Substituted in 41'
FW 13 Scotland Brian McClair
FW 20 Norway Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Manager:
Scotland Alex Ferguson
GK 1 Czech Republic Pavel Srníček
RB 19 England Steve Watson
CB 5 England Darren Peacock
CB 27 Belgium Philippe Albert Booked 16'
LB 3 England John Beresford (c)
RM 8 England Peter Beardsley Substituted off 75'
CM 4 England David Batty
CM 7 England Rob Lee
LM 14 France David Ginola Substituted off 77'
CF 9 England Alan Shearer
CF 10 England Les Ferdinand
Substitutes:
GK 15 Trinidad and Tobago Shaka Hislop
DF 2 England Warren Barton
DF 6 England Steve Howey
MF 18 Northern Ireland Keith Gillespie Substituted in 77'
MF 20 England Lee Clark
FW 11 Colombia Faustino Asprilla Substituted in 75'
FW 28 England Paul Kitson
Manager:
England Kevin Keegan

Match rules

  • 90 minutes
  • Penalty shootout if scores level
  • Seven named substitutes
  • Maximum of three substitutions

Premier League[edit]

August – October[edit]

Newcastle started their Premier League campaign on 17 August 1996 with a trip to Goodison Park to play Everton. Peter Beardsley and Darren Peacock were dropped from the starting line-up but excellent performances by Neville Southall in goal and future Newcastle striker Duncan Ferguson helped Everton win 2-0.[65][66] Keegan afterwards claimed that he was worried about the lack of invention from his side and their inability to win games when not playing well.[67] Four days later United beat Wimbledon F.C. by the same scoreline at home to claim their first win of the season. Batty opened the scoring with a 35 yard lob over goalkeeper Neil Sullivan similar to that executed by David Beckham for Manchester United a few days earlier before Shearer scored his first competitive goal for the club with a free-kick on 88 minutes.[68][69] On 24 August Sheffield Wednesday travelled to St James' Park and recovered from an early Shearer penalty to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Peter Atherton and Guy Whittingham. The win put Wednesday top of the league at the end of August with three wins from three games and Newcastle in tenth with fans criticising the team and manager Keegan, who told reporters "I think anyone would have the right to suggest there is a crisis. That was our worst home performance in my reign. We haven't started yet and we will have to start soon if we have ambitions to win anything, certainly the League."[70][71]

United's first game of September saw them make the short trip to Wearside to face unbeaten local rivals Sunderland at Roker Park in the 117th Tyne-Wear derby – the last derby to be played at the stadium before Sunderland's relocation to the Stadium of Light.[72] Beardsley was restored to the side and he cancelled out Martin Scott's opening goal with a header on 52 minutes before Les Ferdinand headed home a Ginola cross ten minutes later to win the game 2-1. The winning goals were greeted with near silence as a result of the ban on away fans at the match.[73] A Ferdinand brace on 7 September gave Newcastle another 2-1 away win, this time at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur[74] before a Shearer penalty and another Ferdinand goal saw United come from a goal down once more to record a third consecutive 2-1 victory, this time at home to Shearer's former club Blackburn Rovers, to move up to third in the table.[75] A trip to Elland Road on 21 September yielded a further three points after Carlton Palmer was sent-off and Shearer scored his first goal from open play on the hour after excellent approach play by Beardsley. Beardsley's performance was again praised afterwards, with journalist Colin Royce noting: " If the pounds 22 million partnership of Shearer and Asprilla is to develop into the "Dream Team" Keegan thinks it might, then they are going to need plenty of assistance from veteran Beardsley...It's all held together by Beardo in midfield. The little fella is propelling Newcastle back towards the top, which is where they belong."[76] Keegan's side then faced Aston Villa in what writer Colin Diball described afterwards as "the most amazing match of the season so far".[77] Two first half goals from Ferdinand, taking his total to eight in six games, and another from Shearer had cancelled out an early goal by Dwight Yorke to give the hosts a 3-1 half-time lead. However, Yorke completed his hat-trick in the second half and a Steve Howey goal on 67 minutes was required to secure a 4-3 home win and move the team up to second place in the table.[78] Afterwards, Keegan told reporters afterwards "Everyone says we're no good at defending. My team have proved that tonight"[78] but the partnership between Ferdinand and Shearer appeared to be flourishing, with The Independent noting "Ferdinand looks the perfect foil for Shearer, making nonsense of early-season suggestions by critics that they were an unsuitable pairing for club or country."[79]

Beardsley's good form since returning to the side continued and he was man-of-the-match in a 1-0 win at Derby County on 12 October. It was Newcastle's sixth successive victory and their fourth away from home in a row. Afterwards, Keegan said "We look more resilient. No one's calling us entertainers anymore - we're more like grinders now. We're sticking the odd chance away and defending well. Which you (the press) won't want to write because you like saying how badly we defend."[80] Newcastle's next fixture was at home to champions Manchester United on 20 October 1996. Despite their impressive league form, the pre-match focus remained on apparent defensive shortcomings, with writer Neil Harman claiming "The achilles heel of Newcastle's extravagant attempt to wrest the Premiership from Manchester United is a defence which, at moments of pressure, tends to react like a bunch of frisky colts. Defend like that against Manchester United tomorrow and they are surely done for. Newcastle continue to resemble a defensive sow's ear, with no silk purse in sight."[81] Keegan ignored the criticism and sent his side out with his usual instructions to entertain[82] and the result for his team was "their crowning achievement, a sign that their swashbuckling football that had lost them the title in tragi-comic circumstances the previous seasons could endure."[83] First-half goals from Peacock and Ginola saw the home side lead 2-0 at the interval before further goals from Ferdinand, Shearer and a lob over Schmeichel by Albert – described by writer Steve Millar as "magnificent; fit to win any game" – gave Newcastle a comprehensive 5-0 win.[84] Keegan claimed the result was revenge for the Charity Shield defeat, claiming "`This is my most satisfying day as a manager. I tell our players our fans expect miracles and we try to provide them. Today we were near to giving them one. After what happened last season and the Charity Shield, today's win was for our fans. My players went out today with my reminder of the Charity Shield ringing in their ears. We were like a team on a mission" whilst Shearer said "Not many teams have embarrassed Manchester United over the years, but that's what we did today."[85] The win left Newcastle top of the league, three points clear of Liverpool and Arsenal and five ahead of Manchester United.[86]

Supporters were brought back down to earth with news that Shearer would be sidelined for at least six Premiership games as a result of a groin injury which required surgery.[87] In their first game without the injured striker, United were beaten 2-0 at Filbert Street against newly promoted Leicester City after goal from Steve Claridge and Emile Heskey and a brilliant performance by home goalkeeper Casey Keller.[88]

November – December[edit]

Newcastle's first game of November was the Tyne-Tees derby with Middlesbrough at St James' Park. Two goals from Beardsley, in his 700th career league and cup match, helped his side to a 3-1 win.[89] Beardsley was on the scoresheet again – the 200th goal of his league career – on 16 November to rescue a point with an 83rd minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home to West Ham United in a match where the hosts hit the woodwork four times and saw Les Ferdinand leave the pitch with a depressed fracture of the cheekbone which ruled him out for six weeks.[90][91] Shearer made an early return from injury in time to score an equaliser at Stamford Bridge after Gianluca Vialli had given Chelsea the lead on 24 minutes. Newcastle held on for a point despite David Batty being sent off for the first time in his career for an elbow on Mark Hughes.[92] On 30 November Newcastle relinquished their place at the top of the table to Arsenal after the latter won 2-1 at St James' Park, despite having played 68 minutes with ten men after Tony Adams was sent off for a professional foul from Shearer.[93] Goals from Lee Dixon and Ian Wright were enough to give the visitors three points and Keegan afterwards told reporters: ""We were poor throughout. It wouldn't take too many performances like that before I change personnel. It was an extremely disappointing performance. At times it looked as if we had 10 men and they had 11. I've got no qualms about the result - justice was done."[94]

United's next league match was on 9 December at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest. Despite being bottom of the table, Forest held the visitors to a 0-0 draw – Newcastle's first goalless draw in 74 matches – in the first game in which Shearer and Ferdinand had played together since the 5-0 win against Manchester United. The result left Keegan's side five points behind leaders Arsenal albeit with a game in hand.[95] The result confirmed Newcastle's loss of form; they had taken six points from their last six matches.[96] The poor run continued on 17 December when they lost 2-1 at Coventry City. The hosts established as two-goal lead inside the first half an hour thanks to a goal and an assist from Darren Huckerby, who was transferred to Coventry from Newcastle a month earlier due to Keegan's decision to withdraw the reserve side out of the reserve league.[97] As the season moved into the festive period of fixtures, Newcastle welcomed league leaders Liverpool to St James'. Such was the home side's poor form, they entered this match as underdogs – the first time they had done so at home under Keegan.[98] Shearer gave United the lead after a Ferdinand header was saved by David James on 28 minutes, only for Fowler to equalise seconds before the half-time whistle. Despite several chances, neither side scored in the second half and both teams had to settle for a 1-1 draw which left Liverpool three points clear of Arsenal in second at Christmas and Newcastle level with Manchester United on 31 points but seven adrift of Liverpool in sixth place.[99] Newcastle's run of games without a win continued on Boxing Day when they were beaten 1-0 by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park where Shearer was subjected to abuse from home fans on his return to his former club. The defeat prompted the manager to say: "we didn't deserve to win but we still had two or three very good chances. We are not playing well - we can't kid anyone about that".[100] The defeat prompted journalist Alan Nixon to comment that Keegan's side "appear to be fading from the Championship race",[101] however, United re-found their best form just two days later at home when winning their first league game in almost two months by beating Tottenham Hotspur. Two goals each from Shearer, Ferdinand and Lee saw United overwhelm their opponents, though The Independent noted that: "the fulcrum of much of Newcastle's sweeping play was the brilliant Peter Beardsley, restored to the central attacking support role in which he schemes – even three weeks short of his 36th birthday – like a classic inside-forward."[102] Assistant manager Terry McDermott told reporters afterwards: "that's what I would call a classic Newcastle United performance. "We have come in for a lot of criticism and this was the perfect answer. It was a magnificent performance and the score could easily have reached double figures. We hadn't had a good Christmas but those seven goals have changed all that. We never believed we had blown the title. We're certainly not out of the race. People will write us off at their peril."[103] The result meant that Newcastle finished 1996 by moving back to within five points of leaders Liverpool, with Manchester United in second place.[104]

January – March[edit]

Newcastle began the new year by confirming their return to form with a 3-0 home win over Leeds United. Two goals from Shearer and a late Ferdindand goal were enough to give the home side three points and close the gap on Liverpool, who lost 1-0 at Chelsea, in what was Keegan's last match in charge.[105] Terry McDermott was placed in temporary charge for the game at Villa Park. Two goals in 21 minutes from Shearer and Clark gave United the lead but replies from Yorke and Milosevic saw the game finish 2-2. McDermott later dedicated the performance and result to Keegan and claimed to be proud of the players reaction to Keegan's departure.[106] Dalglish took charge for the first time when his new side travelled to The Dell to face Southampton. Newcastle, who had not won at Southampton in 25 years, once again established a two goal lead, through Ferdinand and Clark. However, a mistake by Hislop on 88 minutes gifted a goal to Neil Maddison and one minute later Le Tissier scored a goal from thirty yards described by writer Joe Melling as an "exquisite demonstration of glorious individual skill" to rescue a point for the home side.[107] The month ended with a home game against Everton on 29 January. United performed poorly in the first half and were fortunate to trail at half-time only by a single goal scored by future Newcastle player Gary Speed after three minutes and the team were booed off the pitch at the break. However, the introduction of Asprilla galvanised the home side and goals from Ferdinand, Lee, Shearer and Elliott in the last sixteen minutes gave the hosts a flattering 4-1 victory.[108][109]

February started with a home game against Leicester City. Robbie Elliot put the home side ahead but profligacy in front of goal was punished when Matt Elliott, Steve Claridge and Emile Heskey scored in the second-half to give the away side a 3-1 lead. However, Shearer then led what one report called "an unbelievable revival" – firstly firing home a powerful free-kick on 77 minutes to reduce the arrears to 3-2, shooting home again on 85 minutes to equalise before finishing a flowing passing move in injury time to complete a 13 minute hat-trick and give the hosts three points and keep them five behind the league leaders, albeit having played a game more.[110] On 22 February, United travelled to the Riverside Stadium for the Tees-Tyne derby and prevailed 1-0 thanks to a ninth minute Ferdinand goal which kept alive the visitors' faint title hopes.[111]

On 1 March Southampton visited St James' Park and inflicted Kenny Dalglish's first league defeat as Newcastle manager thanks to Matt Le Tissier's seventh goal in nine games against a home side playing without the injured Shearer and who saw Ferdinand also succumb to an injury at half-time. The defeat dealt a severe blow to lingering title hopes but Dalglish refused to contemplate that the title challenge was over, telling reporters afterwards: "no one should start thinking that this is the end of the title race. We're a few points worse off after losing - but nothing has been decided yet."[112] United the travelled to Anfield, just under one year since losing 4-3 in a match regularly cited as the best Premier League game ever played.[113][114][115] The odds on a repeat of that scoreline were 100-1 but remarkably the teams played out another 4-3 game, though the score somewhat flattered Newcastle; indeed, The Independent reported that "they [Liverpool] routed Newcastle. Liverpool were creating chances at will. It was too easy. The match was won. Newcastle had been abject. The scoreline was identical to last year's thriller, the circumstances somewhat different."[116] Liverpool raced into a 3-0 half-time lead and were in complete control even after Keith Gillespie scored what looked like a consolation goal on 71 minutes. However, goals from Asprilla and Warren Barton in the last five minutes seemed to have rescued a point for the visitors until Robbie Fowler scored a winning goal two minutes into stoppage time. The result left United nine points behind Manchester United and eight behind Liverpool at the top of the table.[117]

Newcastle responded by beating Coventry City 4-0 at St James' Park. Despite the absence of Shearer and Ferdinand through injury, goals from Watson, Lee, Beardsley and Elliott saw the home side win comfortably in a match notable for an excellent performance from Asprilla and a performance from referee Gerald Ashby described by writer John Edwards as "the most wretched performance I've ever seen from a top-flight official".[118] March concluded with a trip to Selhurst Park on 23 March 1997 to face Wimbledon. Another excellent Asprilla performance, this time capped with a second-half goal, was enough to secure a 1-1 draw though claims from Dalglish that the title was still a realistic proposition were mocked by Dons manager Joe Kinnear; indeed, the gap to Manchester United was by this time 11 points and one bookmaker had priced Newcastle at 33-1 to claim the title.[119][120]

Appearances, goals and cards[edit]

(Substitute appearances in brackets)
No. Pos. Name League FA Cup League Cup UEFA Cup Charity Shield Total Discipline
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Yellow card.svg Red card.svg
1 GK Czech Republic Pavel Srníček 22 0 0 0 1 0 6 0 1 0 30 0 ? ?
2 DF England Warren Barton 14 (3) 1 1 (1) 0 1 0 4 (2) 0 0 0 20 (6) 1 ? ?
3 DF England John Beresford 18 (1) 0 3 0 0 0 3 (1) 0 1 0 25 (2) 0 ? ?
4 MF England David Batty 32 1 3 0 2 0 6 0 1 0 44 1 ? ?
5 DF England Darren Peacock 35 1 3 0 2 0 8 0 1 0 49 1 ? ?
6 DF England Steve Howey 8 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 9 1 ? ?
7 MF England Robert Lee 32 (1) 5 2 1 1 0 8 0 1 0 44 (1) 6 ? ?
8 MF England Peter Beardsley 22 (3) 5 3 0 2 1 6 2 1 0 34 (3) 8 ? ?
9 FW England Alan Shearer 31 25 3 1 1 1 4 1 1 0 40 28 ? ?
10 FW England Les Ferdinand 30 (1) 16 2 (1) 1 1 0 4 4 1 0 38 (2) 21 ? ?
11 FW Colombia Faustino Asprilla 17 (7) 4 0 0 2 0 6 5 0 (1) 0 25 (8) 9 ? ?
14 MF France David Ginola 20 (4) 1 2 0 2 0 6 (1) 1 1 0 31 (5) 2 ? ?
15 GK Trinidad and Tobago Shaka Hislop 16 0 3 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 22 0 ? ?
17 MF Republic of Ireland Jimmy Crawford 0 (2) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 (2) 0 ? ?
18 MF Northern Ireland Keith Gillespie 23 (9) 1 1 (1) 0 1 0 6 (2) 0 0 (1) 0 31 (13) 1 ? ?
19 DF England Steve Watson 33 (3) 1 2 (1) 0 0 (1) 0 4 (1) 0 1 0 40 (6) 1 ? ?
20 MF England Lee Clark 9 (1) 2 2 (1) 1 1 0 2 (3) 0 0 0 14 (5) 3 ? ?
26 DF England Robbie Elliott 29 7 1 (1) 0 2 0 4 (1) 0 0 0 36 (2) 7 ? ?
27 DF Belgium Philippe Albert 27 2 2 0 2 0 7 (1) 1 1 0 39 (1) 3 ? ?
28 FW England Paul Kitson 0 (3) 0 0 0 0 (2) 0 0 (1) 0 0 0 0 (6) 0 ? ?
29 GK England Steve Harper 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ? ?
30 DF Northern Ireland Aaron Hughes 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ? ?
31 MF England Paul Barrett 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ? ?
33 DF England Stuart Elliott 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ? ?

Coaching staff[edit]

Position Staff
Manager Scotland Kenny Dalglish
Assistant manager England Terry McDermott
First-team coach England Arthur Cox
Goalkeeping coach England
Development coach England Nigel Pearson
Reserve team coach England John Carver
Chief scout Scotland Steve Clarke

Last updated: 3 May 2011
Source: [1]

Match results[edit]

Premier League[edit]

UEFA Cup[edit]

FA Cup[edit]

Football League Cup[edit]

League table[edit]

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts Notes
1 Manchester United 38 21 12 5 76 44 +32 75 UEFA Champions League 1997–98 Group stage
2 Newcastle United 38 19 11 8 73 40 +33 68 UEFA Champions League 1997–98 Second qualifying round
3 Arsenal 38 19 11 8 62 32 +30 68 UEFA Cup 1997–98 First round
4 Liverpool 38 19 11 8 62 37 +25 68
5 Aston Villa 38 17 10 11 47 34 +13 61
6 Chelsea 38 16 11 11 58 55 +3 59 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 1997–98 First round1
7 Sheffield Wednesday 38 14 15 9 50 51 -1 57
8 Wimbledon 38 15 11 12 49 46 +3 56
9 Leicester City 38 12 11 15 46 54 -8 47 UEFA Cup 1997–98 First round2
10 Tottenham Hotspur 38 13 7 18 44 51 -7 46
11 Leeds United 38 11 13 14 28 38 -10 46
12 Derby County 38 11 13 14 45 58 -13 46
13 Blackburn Rovers 38 9 15 14 42 43 -1 42
14 West Ham United 38 10 12 16 39 48 -9 42
15 Everton 38 10 12 16 44 57 -13 42
16 Southampton 38 10 11 17 50 56 -6 41
17 Coventry City 38 9 14 15 38 54 -16 41
18 Sunderland 38 10 10 18 35 53 -18 40 Relegated to 1997-98 Football League First Division
19 Middlesbrough 38 10 12 16 51 60 -9 393
20 Nottingham Forest 38 6 16 16 31 59 -28 34

Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points

1 Chelsea qualified for the Cup Winners' Cup as FA Cup winners

2 Leicester City qualified for the UEFA Cup as League Cup winners

3 Middlesbrough were deducted three points for failing to fulfill a fixture

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External links[edit]