The fifth Premier League season saw a colossal tussle for the trophy as Manchester United and Newcastle United fought for bragging rights. The Red Devils were hoping to take back their crown after missing out to Blackburn the previous season, whilst Kevin Keegan was hellbent on delivering Newcastle’s first league title since 1927.
‘’You can’t win anything with kids’’ - said Alan Hansen after United lost 3-1 to Aston Villa on the opening day. Little did he know that the youngsters promoted to the Man United first team would go on to conquer the Premier League for the next decade.
Notable transfers the previous summer included the duo of Les Ferdindand and David Ginola to Newcastle from Queen’s Park Rangers and Paris Saint Germain respectively.
Arsenal splashed the cash for highly-rated Dutch forward Dennis Bergkamp whilst Brazilian youngster Juninho joined Middlesborugh.
Manchester United sold Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, and Andrey Kanchelskis in what was, at the time, considered a bizarre exodus. Question marks hung over Old Trafford as people wondered if ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ could cut the mustard in both the domestic league and European competition. Supporters at Old Trafford were used to success and such expectations could have proved to be too much for the promoted class of ‘92.
Things were very different in the blue half of Manchester. A disappointing 94/95 campaign saw Brian Horton get the sack and World Cup winner Alan Ball occupied the dugout in Maine Road ahead of the new season. Would things be much different with Ball at the helm?
Arsenal fans were hoping to see a much improved campaign with the signing of the talismanic Bergkamp and the appointment of Bruce Rioch. Also in the title fight were Liverpool, Aston Villa, and reigning champions Blackburn Rovers.
The 1995/96 Season Summary
The opening months of the season saw Newcastle United stake their claim at the apex of the Premier League table. Keegan’s swashbuckling team decimated opposition and the Magpies soon ran away with a 12-point lead at Christmas.
On 27 December the top-two sides met for the first time that season and goals from Eric Cantona and former Newcastle star Andy Cole gave United three points at Old Trafford. However, Newcastle embarked on a five-game winning streak to restore their sizable lead at the summit and it would take a miracle for United to catch them.
That miracle came in the form of a spectacular Newcastle collapse. Losing four out of six games across early 1996, the Magpies’ once generous lead ebbed away until they were in front by a few measly points. In early March, the two sides met again and, despite a resolute performance, Newcastle lost 0-1 at home to Manchester United after a lone Cantona goal. Man United were now only a point away from usurping Newcastle at the top of the table.
Manchester United’s defeat at Southampton in April 1996 marked the last time the Red Devils dropped points that season. This game was notable due to United’s half-time kit change where the players swapped their grey away kits to their blue-and-white third kits. The game finished 3-1 to the Saints.
Kevin Keegan famously exclaimed ‘’I would love it if we beat them, love it!’’ after a victorious game against Leeds, however the damage had already been done. An infamous game on 3 April saw new signing Faustino Asprilla score two goals against Liverpool, before a late Stan Collymoore brace gave the Reds a pulsating 4-3 victory. Considered one of the best Premier League games of all-time, the encounter produced an iconic visual of a distraught Keegan slumped over the advertisement hoardings. The Toon Army left Merseyside knowing that their chance at Premier League glory had just passed them by.
Manchester United finished the season on 82 points, four ahead of Newcastle, to win their third Premier League trophy. Liverpool took third place and would lose that year’s FA Cup final to their archrivals Man United. Aston Villa and Arsenal took fourth and fifth place respectively.
Manchester City, Queens Park Rangers, and Bolton Wanderers were relegated whilst Southampton stayed up on mere goal difference. Champions Blackburn endured an insipid season, although the fine form of Alan Shearer was rewarded with a second Golden Boot in as many seasons.
The 1995/96 season was highly memorable due to the nature of the title race and Newcastle’s incredible collapse in the face of near-guaranteed victory. The phrase ‘doing a Newcastle’ is still used by football supporters today to describe an ill-fated title pursuit and the North East club never did win that elusive league title, or any major trophy, with Keegan at the helm. He would leave the club less than a year after the 1995/96 season concluded.
Order was restored with Manchester United back on top and it would take a special team and a special manager to unseat them.
Season Statistics (Team)
Champions - Manchester United (82 points)
Runners-up - Newcastle United (78 points)
Third Place - Liverpool (71 points)
Season Statistics (Individual)
Golden Boot - Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers, 31 goals)
Most Assists - Steve McManaman (Liverpool, 15 assists)
PFA Player of the Year - Les Ferdindand (Newcastle United)
PFA Young Player of the Year - Robbie Fowler (Liverpool)
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