So did Liverpool deserve to win that? Yes. But then, so did Newcastle. It was just one of those games. Such entertainment, a tale told at a million miles an hour from the get-go. On this evidence, either team would be a worthy champion … though knocking Manchester United off their perch may now be easier said than done. This amazing title race, however it pans out, is certain to stay with us for a mighty long time. Whatever happens next, we’re sure to love it. Love it. Thanks so much for reading this MBM! Nighty night!
Here’s poor old Kevin Keegan, desperately trying to put a brave face on it. “Disappointed, but we lost nothing in defeat here today. Whatever they charge here, I don’t think people will be sending their tickets back saying they want a refund! A lot of energy and some great goals in a terrific atmosphere at a great stadium. It was a classic. It would have been much nicer to stand here talking about a 4-3 win, and it could so easily have been that result.”
A word with victorious boss Roy Evans, who is dazed rather than ecstatic, having been put through the emotional mill. “It’s kamikaze football really. Great for the fans, but it could have killed me and Kevin off. It was great that both teams were so desperate for the win to stay in the championship race. It was great enjoyment for the fans, which is always important, and they were brilliant tonight. We’ve gone behind, we’ve gone ahead, they’ve lost it late on. It’s mad, isn’t it?”
Do the stats tell a story? Do they ever, really? But here they are anyway. Liverpool had the bulk of the possession, with 63% of the ball. They had 29 attempts on goal to Newcastle’s 12; nine were on target compared to Newcastle’s seven. Their passing accuracy was 85% compared to Newcastle’s 74%. Liverpool won 12 corners to Newcastle’s three. Newcastle made 16 fouls to Liverpool’s 12. They picked up all three yellow cards shown tonight, and David Batty should probably have seen red, but let’s not add insult to injury. Yet despite it all, Newcastle could quite easily have won as well. Go figure.
Liverpool’s victory keeps them on the fringes of the title race, five points behind leaders Manchester United in third. However that’s four defeats in six matches for Newcastle, who remain three points behind Alex Ferguson’s men but now with only one game in hand and an inferior goal difference. Whisper it around Anfield, but this has been a great night for Manchester United as well.
FULL TIME: Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United
The referee blows his whistle and the roof comes off Anfield! Keegan sportingly embraces Evans on the touchline before fleeing sadly down the tunnel. On the field, Collymore stretches his arms to the sky before catching James and then dropping him, Adams-Morrow style, thankfully without similar consequences. You’ll Never Walk Alone rings around the famous old stadium. You’ll never see another match quite as wild and wonderful.
90 min +3: What a finish by Collymore. What an assist by Barnes. What contributions from Rush and Scales. Stanley Collymore’s name is pinging off the rafters of the Kop. Caught up in the moment, Collymore tries to make it five soon after the restart but, latching onto a Fowler pass rolled wide left, he takes a comical fresh-air swipe! How Newcastle wish he did that 60 seconds ago. Watson launches a hail Mary. Asprilla chases after it, but he’s adjudged to have bundled Ruddock to the ground from behind, and that’s surely that.
90 min +2 still: As Collymore arcs off on a delirious sprint, Keegan slumps behind, and partially over, the advertising hoardings, head hung low, almost scraping the ground. Total devastation for Newcastle’s manager, though Carlsberg are getting good bang for their buck, because that’s going to be an image for the ages, especially if the Toon don’t win the title. Keegan eventually lifts his head up and flashes a rueful glance at his right-hand man Terry McDermott, who shakes his head sadly. The two Liverpool legends have had plenty to celebrate at Anfield over the years. Not tonight. This is going to hurt.
GOAL!!! Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United (Collymore 90+2)
Barnes flicks left to Rush, who flicks back to Barnes. Then another one-two, as the pair reach the edge of the area. Rush has four men around him as he completes the second exchange. Rush runs across Barnes and offers himself on the right. But Barnes – now surrounded by five Newcastle players – sorts his feet out, takes a crucial split second to think, opens his body and rolls an unexpected pass to the left, where Collymore is closing in! Collymore takes one touch with his right, then lashes into the bottom left from ten yards, Srnicek with no chance whatsoever!
90 min +2: Ruddock finds Barnes to his left. Barnes sends the ball to Scales, out on the right. Scales drops a shoulder to leave Ferdinand behind and strides into space down the inside-right channel. He rolls forward and inside to Rush, who has his back to goal with Peacock behind him. Rush knocks a first-time lay off back to Barnes, who exchanges a crisp one-two with Scales to his right. Some momentum gathering. Suddenly Barnes and Rush are racing down the middle together, towards the Newcastle box!
90 min +1 again: Watson bashes long, Asprilla gives chase. Redknapp nips in to powerfully head back to James. Hearts in Liverpool mouths there, because anything other than a firm connection would have sent Asprilla away, one on one. James rolls the ball out to Ruddock, deep on the right. And then …
90 min +1: McManaman dances down the right and wins a corner off Batty. Redknapp takes. Albert clears. McAteer bustles back down the right and nearly shins the ball out for a goal kick, but somehow manages to hook it into the mixer, just in time. Srnicek can’t catch, but does well to shovel the ball away from Fowler, rushing in at the near post.
90 min: But Liverpool come straight back at Newcastle again, Barnes dictating play from deep, slipping a ball down the middle for Ruddock, who clips towards Redknapp, coming in from the left. Redknapp takes a touch to make space just outside the box, and for a split second he can see the white of Srnicek’s eyes. It’s a great chance, just to the left of the D, but he whistles his shot straight at the keeper, who parries. A foot either side, and that could have been it!
89 min: Collymore backs himself in a footrace with Beardsley and wins a corner on the left. Redknapp takes. Ferdinand hooks clear.
88 min: Asprilla taps the free kick right for Ferdinand, who creams a rising shot towards the top right. It would have beaten James all ends up had it been on target, but the ball nicked off Fowler, closing down, and flew high and wide. Newcastle don’t get the corner they’re owed.
87 min again: This match has long been locked into a basketball rhythm, but now things are getting truly ridiculous. Newcastle go straight up the other end, Beresford rolling down the inside-left channel for Asprilla, who looks to spin into the box but is unceremoniously scythed by Ruddock, inches outside the area. A free kick in a very dangerous position, just to the left of the goal.
87 min: Ginola’s delivery isn’t up to standard. It’s hit deep, and Harkness heads clear. Rush flicks to McManaman, who swans away on the counter at great speed! He slips wide to McAteer, but the resulting cross is too close to Srnicek, who gathers. There were five red shirts to aim for there. Just about anywhere else, and Liverpool were snatching a late winner!
86 min again: Scales barges into the back of Asprilla, out on the Newcastle left. A free kick and a chance for the visitors to load the box.
86 min: Jones makes way for Rush. Collymore will move to the left wing, Liverpool’s all-time record goalscorer taking his rightful place in the centre.
85 min: Ruddock’s back on. Anfield’s been a wild scene all evening, but everyone’s just that little bit quieter right now. And a lot more nervous. All four corners, both sets of fans, everyone on the benches, every last player. No exceptions. So much on the line. The tension is palpable.
84 min: A brief pause – the first of the night, pretty much – as Ruddock goes over his ankle upon challenging Ferdinand for a high ball.
83 min: Collymore romps down the inside right, nearly getting the better of Albert. He enters the box and manages to fire a shot across goal from an exceptionally ambitious angle, Albert recovering well by driving him as far wide as he could.
82 min: Fowler dribbles down the inside left, reaches the box, and shoots. His effort pings off a backpedalling Howey. Before the set piece can be taken, Howey is replaced by Peacock, one centre back for another. Howey has tweaked his hamstring. Peacock is immediately in the thick of the action, barging Ruddock as the corner comes in. Only the Kop claim anything sinister has occurred.
81 min: McManaman and Redknapp combine well down the right, the latter crossing in the hope of finding Fowler. But the ball flies behind the striker and Newcastle can clear.
80 min: Barnes channels his 1987 QPR-baiting self by suddenly turning on the jets and gliding down the inside-right channel, dragging the ball past Lee and into the area. He lashes a shot towards the top left, but Srnicek sticks out a strong arm. Another fine save!
79 min: What a missed opportunity this is! Albert launches long. It’s Ferdinand versus Harkness! Yes, as easy as that. Ferdinand spins the substitute defender with the greatest of ease on the edge of the box, takes a couple of touches to the left to take the defender out of the equation, and he’s one on one with James! With the match there for the taking, Ferdinand shoots straight at James, who made himself big, closed the angle, and sprawled bravely at his feet … but despite all that should never have been allowed to make the save. That could be a huge miss in the context of the title race!
78 min: McManaman probes down the right. He’s surrounded, and going nowhere, and plays a not particularly good ball down the channel, straight at Albert. But instead of intercepting and clearing, Albert allows the ball to clank off his boot, sending it towards a gap into which McManaman is only too happy to sprint. He’s clear in the box, albeit coming in at a tight angle. He could try to curl one past the out-rushing Srnicek, but decides to pull back for Fowler instead. Watson slices in to clear.
77 min: The corner is a complete non-event. Newcastle break upfield, Ginola looking for Albert, of all people, down the left. James comes out quickly to intercept and send play back up the other end. Fowler teases Beresford down the right and wins another corner for Liverpool, their ninth of the evening. This one’s a waste of time as well … and from it, Asprilla diddles Harkness out on the Newcastle right touchline with some astonishing ball-glued-to-boot intricacy, tiptoeing along on the tightrope as Harkness was sent off home for his tea. Asprilla is beyond livid as, scooting upfield into plenty of space, Liverpool are awarded a throw. That one didn’t go out either. The linesmen have been a bit flag-happy tonight. Newcastle are quite right to feel aggrieved.
76 min: McManaman spins down the inside-right channel, away from Beresford in a flash. He whips infield for Fowler, who is waiting to slam home from six yards. Howey manages to slide in and deflect the ball away from the striker. He very nearly shanks it into the top-left corner of his own net, but he deserves the luck as it shaves the outside of the post and goes out for a corner. It was a last-ditch challenge he simply had no option but to make. Fine defending.
75 min: Newcastle sportingly give the ball back to Liverpool from the throw, and Barnes is up and about again.
74 min: Barnes goes down after a tussle with Lee, perhaps jarring a joint when stretching for a ball he was unlikely to reach. Play continues … until an irritated Ruddock, in a highly energised manner, batters the ball high into the stand so Barnes can get some treatment.
73 min: McAteer clips Ginola’s ankles. The Frenchman isn’t happy, springing up and going nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball, with the Liverpool man. The clash calms down quickly enough.
72 min again: Newcastle break, Ginola caressing a pass down the left for Asprilla, who floats inside for Lee. Bursting towards the box, he chests down, with only Redknapp in attendance. If the ball flies straight forward, Lee will be clear on goal. But it squirts left, allowing Redknapp to step across and usher the ball back to James. Lee wants a free kick, but he’s never getting one.
72 min: Ferdinand barges an in-flight Mcmanaman to the ground from behind. A garden-variety free kick, but Ferdinand’s frustration betrays him, and he flings the ball down with great passion and force. A no-brainer of a yellow card, in more ways than one. The resulting free kick goes nowhere.
71 min: McAteer sends in another of those dangerous low curling crosses. Howey hacks clear under great pressure from Collymore, who it turns out was offside anyway.
70 min: Redknapp scoops down the inside right with a view to releasing Fowler. Albert, the last man covering, does extremely well to hook away from danger.
69 min again: McManaman outmuscles Beresford down the right and scampers free into the box. Continuing to dribble when he should be crossing, he nearly carelessly runs the ball out of play for a goal kick. He flicks it back infield just in time, but the linesman sticks his flag up, insisting the whole ball had gone out. It’s a dreadful decision, doubly so given that Beresford then slides in recklessly and takes both of McManaman’s feet away! That should have been a penalty, and the Kop certainly want one, though to be fair McManaman doesn’t make a song and dance about it.
69 min: On the bench, Keegan has zipped his puffa-puffa jacket right up over his mouth. The look places emphasis on his pained eyes, peeking out over the top, dashing this way and that as he slumps back in his seat.
GOAL! Liverpool 3-3 Newcastle United (Collymore 68)
Lee passes up the middle for Asprilla, but Ruddock intercepts and lays off to Redknapp. The ball’s shuttled wide right, via Mcmanaman, to McAteer. The wing back crosses early, curling a low outswinging ball around Beresford and along the corridor of uncertainty. A laboratory full of Nasa mathematicians couldn’t plot the path any better. The ball evades Albert, then Howey’s lunge, then finally Srnicek. Collymore, arriving at the far post, can’t miss. He flicks home, and takes receipt of Fowler, who leaps into his arms as the pair cavort in front of the Kop. Six goals, and all of them, in their own way, have been crackers!
67 min: But Newcastle come again, and Beresford, who hasn’t scored all season, nearly notches after a mazy dribble down the left channel. His eventual shot from the edge of the area is screwed across James and out for a goal kick.
66 min: What a chance for Newcastle to go two clear! (Part XXXVIII in an ongoing series.) Asprilla, seemingly dribbling nowhere in midfield, facing his own goal, draws Ruddock and Scales, then flicks a ball between them, up the left flank for Ginola. Suddenly Newcastle are two on one, with only Harkness in the middle, and Ferdinand in yards of space. It’s a simple pass inside to set Ferdinand free, but Ginola overcooks it, sending the striker wide right. Danger over. Oh my.
65 min: Ruddock sprays a Beckenbauerian ball down the left for Jones, who crosses for Fowler. The striker slips, and Newcastle clear. Barnes recycles, and Jones has more space down the left. This time his cross is met by Collymore, who heads harmlessly into Srnicek’s arms, pace and direction both lacking form a promising position.
64 min: The Sky camera pans across the away end, settling on a cloth-capped gentleman who has become one of the icons of Newcastle’s bid for the title. Stevie Charlton, known to all simply as Old Stevie, has been following Newcastle home and away since 1927 … coincidentally the year the Toon last won the league. He saw his first game as a five-year-old lad perched on his uncle’s shoulders in the Leazes End at St James’ Park. Newcastle, closing in on the title, beat Spurs 3-2. It’ll be some narrative arc, stretching 69 years, if this game ends with the same 3-2 scoreline and Newcastle go on to win title number five. Though if the worst should happen, at least he’s got to witness a Toon title win in his lifetime. Most of the rest of the fanbase can’t say the same.
63 min: Fowler, to the right of the centre circle but facing the wrong way, plays a cute ball round the corner, sending McManaman tearing off down the inside right. He reaches the edge of the box but drags a lame shot towards the bottom left. Easy pickings for Srnicek.
62 min: Ferdinand swans in from the left and finds Lee, who opens up his body with a view to curling towards the top right. He’s swarmed by red shirts. Liverpool go up the other end, Collymore driving down the left and nearly steaming past Watson, but the Newcastle man slides in to steal the ball just in time.
60 min: McManaman and McAteer bustle down the right wing with great determination. McManaman tries to replicate Liverpool’s second by rolling the ball across the face of goal, but this time Fowler, to the right of the D, can only blast straight at Srnicek.
59 min: But this isn’t so pretty: just after the restart, Batty loses his cool in a tussle with McAteer and swings an arm in the Liverpool man’s direction. Both players flap at each other, whereupon the red mist really comes down, Batty swivelling and swinging a right arm that would have taken McAteer’s head off had he made proper contact. That’s either a second yellow or a straight red. But McAteer doesn’t make a big deal of it, indeed he’s smiling as the referee has a quiet word with them both. All friends again. It’s probably the wrong decision … and McAteer should have been booked as well … but in the context of this gloriously unfolding match, artistically it’s the correct one. Let’s not do anything that’d spoil such a beautiful creation. Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?
58 min: Such a delicious, elastic finish by Asprilla, who is some player. He bounds off towards the Toon Army, executing a spring-legged somersault nearly as aesthetically pleasing as his goal. The scores are in from the judges: 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0.
GOAL! Liverpool 2-3 Newcastle United (Asprilla 57)
Jones throws to Fowler, who is on the back foot and is immediately stripped of possession by Beardsley. The former Liverpool man dances in from the right. Barnes and Redknapp both think he’s going to pass back to his defenders, but as they charge up the pitch in anticipation, Beardsley plays a cute dinked reverse ball past them and towards Lee, running into the centre circle Liverpool have now totally vacated. Lee rolls a through ball between Ruddock and Harkness down the inside right. Asprilla is in acres, having been played onside by Scales in the middle! James comes racing out of his box to do … well, what exactly? Asprilla, his mind made up for him, curl-whips a right-footed shot to the left of the flailing keeper, who desperately tries to deflect it away with a diving header. No chance! The ball bounces smoothly towards the empty net, Newcastle’s fans and their bench celebrating long before it completes its inevitable journey and crosses the line. Another peach of a goal!
57 min: Redknapp has his eye in at the moment. Now he quarterbacks McManaman clear down the left. McManaman is through on goal, but Srnicek has read the danger brilliantly and races out of his box to head into touch before the Liverpool winger can take up possession, from which he’d surely have scored. Anfield is roaring. It’s surely only a matter of time before they score agai … hold on! Scrub that! Because …
56 min: One throw, two passes, goal. Simple as that. Say what you will about Newcastle’s defence, and their bang-average away record, but there was nothing they could do to stop that. Liverpool simply sliced them open with panache. And they nearly do it again, straight from the restart, as Redknapp spots Collymore in space down the left and sends him off on the charge. He can’t quite dismiss Howey, who sticks to him like glue, and Srnicek is able to come out and smother.
GOAL! Liverpool 2-2 Newcastle United (Fowler 55)
James bowls straight out to McAteer on the right touchline. He swishes a fine pass up the flank for McManaman, who dribbles hard at a frantically backtracking Albert. He reaches the corner of the box and rolls across the face of the area for Fowler, who barely breaks stride before viciously pinball-flippering an unstoppable left-foot shot into the bottom left! What a glorious pitch-length move, and a simple one at that. Fowler, caught in the moment as the Kop erupts and the night air crackles, dives into the net and joyously heads the snagged ball. The sheer fun and exhilaration of that celebration! This team clearly enjoy their football, enjoy being young, enjoy life. They’re not half bad to watch, either.
55 min: Fowler nearly sends Collymore away down the left with a pass from deep, but the flag goes up for offside. Watson was within range in any case. Newcastle, having weathered a little storm, breeze up the other end through Ginola, who gets past McAteer and Harkness down the inside left – too easily, one might argue – and shoots for the top right. Scales sticks out a leg and sends the ball gently looping into the arms of James. And then …
54 min: McManaman swings it in. Scales is free, eight yards out, and bashes a header goalwards. It’s not clear whether Srnicek will react, but it doesn’t really matter because Fowler, standing just in front of the keeper, tries to deflect the ball away from him with a gentle eyebrow. Had he judged it right, Srnicek had no chance, and the ball would be nestling in the top left. But he gets far too much on it, and effectively clears it off the line and out for a goal kick. Plenty of folk wearing red with hands on their heads.
53 min: Fowler crosses from the right. Watson mishits his clearance. Redknapp sends it back with interest. Howey blocks the shot. This is mean pinball. Liverpool come back again, Barnes caressing one in from the left. Fowler traps the dropping ball and swishes past Watson in one move, but just as he’s about to pull the trigger, Albert sweeps it off his toe and out for a corner.
52 min: Fowler beats Albert to a high ball and spins off down the right. But he’s flagged for accidentally slapping the Newcastle defender in the mushki mid-challenge. The crowd don’t like it … but they’ll have to go along with it. The atmosphere inside Anfield is febrile.
51 min: McManaman dribbles down the inside-left channel. He’s got such an elegant, deceptively languid style. He draws Batty towards him, then dismisses him with regal arrogance. He sashays past. It all happens at great speed, yet somehow he appears to be performing in slow motion. No wonder he’s so difficult to play against. He rolls a pass across the face of the box towards Collymore, who tees it up for himself before slicing wildly right of the target.
50 min: Newcastle half-clear Redknapp’s corner. McManaman, to the left of the D, chests down and strokes a fine out-to-in curler towards the bottom left. Srnicek saves, spills and smothers. He did enough.
49 min: Collymore slips McManaman clear down the inside left. He enters the box. There’s nobody in the middle bar Fowler. He whips a cross towards the near post. Or is it a shot?! Either way, it’s heading in. Srnicek is forced to turn the ball around the post for a corner.