On this day, April 3, 1996: Liverpool beat Newcastle in the 'greatest game' in Premier League history
Roy Evans' Reds emerge victorious at Anfield after what the manager described as 'kamikaze' football
It is a game lauded as the greatest of the English Premier League era – but one everyone connected with Newcastle United wishes had a different ending.
The wheels were well and truly falling off the Magpies’ title bandwagon by the time Kevin Keegan's side rocked up at Anfield on April 3, 1996.
Their lead at the top of the table, as high as 12 points at one stage, had disintegrated and they now sat in second place behind Manchester United, albeit with two games in hand.
Next up was Liverpool away and Newcastle, with just one win in four, were in dire need of three points to reignite hopes of winning a first top-flight title since 1927.
Liverpool, though, were no mugs, sitting third in the table five points behind the Magpies and in very good form – winning six of their previous nine and losing just once in 21.
Both teams were packed with attacking firepower. Liverpool had the likes of Steve McManaman, Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler in their starting XI. Newcastle could count on David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla and Les Ferdinand for their offensive flair.
Since being promoted to the Premier League in 1993, Keegan’s team had been dubbed "The Entertainers" for their commitment to free-flowing attacking football and scoring goals. Even their centre-half, Belgian international Philippe Albert, was attack-minded and had the ability to produce a stunning finish at the other end of the pitch when required.
“The incredible thing I remember about that season more than anything else was we were getting clapped onto grounds away from home,” Keegan would tell journalist Martin Hardy in his book Touching Distance.
“For a side that played like we did, that wasn’t one of the big teams for a long while, we were everyone’s second team.”
Both Keegan and his assistant, Terry McDermott, had both played key roles in the great Liverpool teams that dominated English and European football during the mid 1970s to early 1980s, so the midweek match on Merseyside would hold even greater significance.
“I felt pride as the team pulled into Anfield,” said McDermott. “We knew we had a good team.”
The match itself kicked off and flew straight into top gear – and would remain at that level until the final whistle.
"We were third and Newcastle were second and we were going to try to keep things tight and try to nick a win," said Liverpool striker Collymore. "Game plans went out the window pretty early on, though."
Fowler headed the home side in front from a Collymore cross after just two minutes. Eight minutes later, Asprilla ghosted past Neil Ruddock before setting up Ferdinand to level.
French winger Ginola then sprang Liveprool’s offside trap down the left before surging into the box and finishing well, with less than a quarter-of-an-hour gone.
Momentum would swing both ways early in the second half. After 55 minutes, Fowler drove home his second goal after fine work by McManaman. Within two minutes, Robert Lee had threaded through a ball to Asprilla and the rubber-legged Colombian produced a sensational curling finish with the outside of his right foot, past onrushing Liverpool goalkeeper David James.
With little over 20 minutes to go, Liverpool were level again. A teasing ball across the box from the right by Jason McAteer found Collymore on the edge of the six-yard box who made it 3-3.
“So now it’s like two heavyweight boxers on their last legs in the 12th round and were still swinging away at each other, hoping to land the knockout blow,” remembered Newcastle defender John Beresford.
The killer punch came in injury time when Liverpool veterans John Barnes and Ian Rush combined to set up Collymore to smash home the winner.
"I wanted to hit it across Pavel Srnicek [Newcastle’s goalkeeper], which is what you're supposed to do, but I hit it so hard that it beat him at his near post. I didn't know what to feel after,” said Collymore. “It was fantastic. I ran over to the Kop and was thinking: 'What have I done?'"
Anfield erupted as TV cameras panned to a distraught Keegan, slumped behind advertising hoardings. “When the final whistle went, I was sick, absolutely sick,” said McDermott in Touching Distance.
“It was a great game but that’s the most sick I’ve ever been. It scarred Kevin. I’m convinced of that.”
Keegan’s reaction, though, summed up his footballing philosophy. “Go on then, see if you can find anything negative to say about that,” he said in a post-match interview.
“As long as football matches end up like this, people will come and watch and you won’t get empty seats at stadiums because it was a real classic. We carry on playing this way – or I go.”
Roy Evans, his Liverpool counterpart, offered a more pragmatic view. "That was kamikaze football," he said. "Great for the fans but realistically, nobody will win the championship defending every week like these teams did tonight."
And that proved to be the case. Defeat at Anfield was Newcastle’s fourth in six matches and the title was slipping away. “I honestly believe if we had won at Liverpool, we would have gone on to win the league,” said Ferdinand. “That was a pivotal one.”
They would finish the season runners-up, four points behind Alex Ferguson’s United and seven ahead of third-placed Liverpool.
Updated: April 3, 2020 09:57 AM