LIFTING THE LID: Ahead of Newcastle’s trip to Anfield on Thursday evening we caught up with Rob Lee to relive one of the most memorable Premier League games of all time.
“Twenty-odd years later and people are still saying it’s the best game they’ve ever seen in the Premier League…”
Former Newcastle United midfielder Rob Lee is reflecting upon his old side’s involvement in one of the most remarkable matches to have ever taken place in the Premier League; one that always finishes up near the top of any poll looking back at the greatest games in history: the 1995/96 season’s Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle.
“It’s very nice for everyone to say it’s the best game the Premier League has ever seen,” Lee tells BETDAQ. “But I’d still have preferred it if it had been a bit more boring and we’d have won it!”
Won it and Newcastle under Kevin Keegan may well have gone on to win their first top-flight league title since 1927.
If ever there was a season where the Magpies looked like they might finally be crowned champions of England once more, this was it. Boasting the likes of David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla, Les Ferdinand and Peter Beardsley, Keegan had Newcastle playing some of the most exciting attacking football the division had seen for years.
Watch the video here -> https://youtu.be/AF7Kp41oqEA
In January, the Magpies were a mammoth 12 points clear at the top of the table – yet by the time they were heading for their trip to Anfield to face Liverpool on 3rd April 1996, they had surrendered their lead to Manchester United after a decline in results over the previous few months.
“We knew we needed a result against Liverpool as Manchester United were catching us,” former England international Lee says. “Confidence certainly wasn’t low going into the game. Yes, we’d had a few dodgy results – a few 3-3s, we’d lost a few – but that was the way we played.
“At the start of the season we couldn’t stop winning and after Christmas things changed and United kept winning, so it made things very difficult. But we didn’t go into any game not confident of winning given the strength of players we had.”
Lee added: “We fancied ourselves strongly against Liverpool, but you have no idea what sort of game it will be until you’ve finished it… and all these years later people are still commenting on it!”
That famous game at Anfield sprung into life after just two minutes as Robbie Fowler opened the scoring for the Reds with a header. Newcastle’s inconsistent form looked all set to continue.
“It was still a long way to go,” Lee says. “We knew we had players that would score goals. We knew we would score as there weren’t many times that we didn’t. You look around the team – Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Peter Beardsley – we could always score goals.”
And score goals they did, as just 12 minutes later the visitors had turned the game on its head with strikes from Ferdinand and Ginola edging Newcastle in front to silence the home crowd.
Ten minutes after the restart, Fowler struck for Liverpool to level proceedings, but just two minutes later and Lee had put through Asprilla, who found the back of the net with the outside of his boot to make it 3-2 to Newcastle. Stan Collymore soon equalised for the Reds on 67 minutes and with little over 20 minutes to go, the game was firmly in the balance.
“It was tense going into the final stages,” Lee says. “I watch football these days and maybe teams would put a defender on when they were winning, but that’s not the way we played. Keegan was saying at half-time let’s get the third, let’s get the fourth. That was just the way we played, we attacked.
“But Liverpool had some good attackers of their own – Fowler, Collymore, Jamie Redknapp, John Barnes… I’ve spoken to John a few times about the game. We said it was like a football game you used to play as a kid: they attacked, we attacked, they attacked… We were in midfield and were just running up and down really!
“We always attacked, even 2-1 up at Anfield. But unfortunately we found ourselves at 3-3 with a few minutes to go. Even then we’re disappointed at 3-3, disappointed that we’ve only got a draw. And then Stan pops up at the end…”
Watch the video here -> https://youtu.be/gppygBUd-WM
With the match looking all set to end in a draw, deep into stoppage time Liverpool built one last attack, which culminated in Collymore latching onto Barnes’ pass before firing past Pavel Srníček. Anfield erupted as a heartbroken Keegan slumped himself over the advertising boards in disbelief – one of the Premier League’s most iconic shots.
“That was a devastating blow for us because we’d played really well, got three goals at Anfield…” Lee says. “Not many teams get three goals at Anfield and lose. But that was the way it was going at the time, we’d played well in a few games and were still losing or getting a draw. We were still scoring and playing attractive football but not winning a game. And that one was a particularly devastating blow for us.”
Lee added: “Keegan was like all of us at full-time – down, as he knew we didn’t deserve to lose the game. A 3-3 draw would have been a fair result, we’d both played well and scored goals. So, he was obviously very down, as we all were. You don’t mind losing games when you deserve to lose them, but unfortunately in football you don’t always get what you deserve.”
The defeat for Newcastle left Manchester United three points clear at the top of the table with six matches of the season to go, though the Magpies did have one game in hand.
“We didn’t feel the Liverpool defeat was the end of our title challenge, not at all,” Lee says. “Right up until the last game of the season we still believed we could win it.”
While Newcastle followed up the Anfield loss with three points against Queens Park Rangers, a 2-1 loss to Blackburn followed. Keegan, famously, soon lost his head with his “I will love it” outburst at Alex Ferguson, and two draws in the Magpies’ final two games ensured United won the league by four points.
“There are a few games you could look at for where it went wrong,” Lee says. “And yeah, the Liverpool game, if we’d have won that it would have given us even more impetus to push forward. But you can analyse every game and say you should have won. If we’d have won all those games we’d definitely have won the league, but it’s all in hindsight.”
Lee added: “Everyone goes on about the Liverpool game every time the fixture comes around. People still remember it all this time later, but I’d much rather have been on the winning team. It’s a much easier watch. I don’t mind watching up to 70 minutes, but I don’t like watching the last 20!”
Watch the video here -> https://youtu.be/NCPa7hYQBOI