Games That Changed The Title Race.

Eric Cantona scores against Newcastle in the 95/96 season.

Eric Cantona scores against Newcastle in the 95/96 season.

Soon the January transfer window will be closed and the title race will enter its final stage. Currently Manchester United’s lead over Manchester City is four points which is hardly insurmountable. Last season the Red Devils look certain to win the title but the momentum of the title race went to Man City when Everton came back from 4-2 down at Old Trafford to draw the match. There will be many more twists and turns before this season is over. It isn’t the first time a result has seen the pendulum swing the other way it terms of the title race. Here is a look back on some of the key matches in seasons past.

22/04/2012- Manchester United 4 Everton 4

United were sitting pretty at the top of the table in March and with a win over Everton the screen would have been set for United to win the title in the back yard of Manchester City. However, Everton did not follow the script as they struck first through Nikica Jelavic. United responded by scoring three goals before Marouane Fellaini added a second for the Toffies. Wayne Rooney scored United’s forth and it seemed all three points were in the bag. But David Moyes’s men rallied and in the 83rd min Jelavic scored again, all of a sudden United looked nervous. Two minutes later Steven Pienaar drifted into the box unchecked to bury the ball in the net to equalize. The result shocked Man United and suddenly the title, that looked certain to stay at Old Trafford, was back within City’s sights. The following week  in the Manchester derby United, obviously still smarting from the defensive frailties against Everton, played defensively but also played the worst they had all season. City won the match 1-0 through a Vincent Kompany header and from there all they had to do was hold their nerve. On a final day that even Hollywood could make up Sergio Aguero won the title for City with the last kick of the season. United fans will look back to that match against Everton as the moment the title was lost.

23/02/2008- Birmingham 2 Arsenal 2

Arsenal were playing some of their best football ever under Arsene Wenger in the 07/08 season. The Gunners were pushing Man United and Chelsea for the title when they went to St Andrews in February. After only three minutes Arsenal’s striker Eduardo had his leg broken in two places after a shocking tackle by Martin Taylor. The injury seemed to shock the Arsenal players and they never seem to get their minds back into the game. James McFadden put Birmingham ahead in the first half but Theo Walcott scored two goals in the second half to give the Gunners the lead. A debatable penalty was awarded to Birmingham in the 95th min and James McFadden stepped up to equalize. The enduring image of the match (along with the Eduardo injury) was of Arsenal captain William Gallas sitting in the middle of the pitch after the final whistle for about 5 mins giving the impression that he could not believe what had just transpired. Follow that result Arsenal would draw their next three matches before losing, only their second match of the season, to Chelsea 2-1. Two matches later they were out of the title race as they lost to Man United 2-1 at Old Trafford. Arsenal were never able to regain their title-winning form after that day at St Andrews.

26/04/2003- Bolton 2 Arsenal 2

Arsenal had looked set to retain the title they won last season in the 2002/03 season as Manchester United had lost five matches by December and looked out of the race. But Sir Alex’s side turned their form around in the new year going the rest of the season undefeated. That run of form saw them slowly close the gap on Arsenal. Arsenal traveled to Bolton who were managed, at the time, by Sam Allardyce- under big Sam Bolton played a rather physical game that upset Arsenal’s fluid style. But you wouldn’t have known that as the Gunners went 2-0 up in second half thanks to goals from Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires. Bolton were in the relegation zone at the time so a come back looked unlikely. The turning point in the match appeared to be in the 68th min when defender Pascal Cygan limped off injured to be replaced by 37 year-old Martin Keown. On 74 mins Bolton’s French World Cup winning midfielder Youri Djorkaeff pulled a goal back pouncing on a loose ball as the Arsenal defense were all at sea. Bolton were then level on 84 mins when Keown jumped up to clear a free kick from Djorkaeff only to see the ball go into his own goal. The result was a serious blow to Wenger’s men as they tried to regain top spot. A loss to Leeds United in their next match would end their title bid and see the Red Devils win their 8th title in eleven season.

24/03/1998- Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1

Manchester United had an 11 point lead at the top of the table in March which lead many to think the title race over. One bookie was so sure it was over he payed out bets early that United would win the title. There was still seven matches to go and he hadn’t taken the form of Arsenal into calculation. It was Arsene Wenger’s first full season in charge of the Gunners and his new methods took time to set in. By the time they went to Old Trafford in March the game was being billed as a title decider. The Gunners had not won at the Theatre of Dreams since 1990 but they dominated the match from start to finish. Only poor finishing from Arsenal kept United in the game. Then with 11 mins left to play Marc Overmars ran on to a flick on from Nicolas Anelka, he nodded the ball into his path, raced towards United’s goal and slotted the ball between Peter Schmeichel’s legs. That victory was part a 10 match winning streak, a record at the time, that slowly ate away at United’s lead.  United would drop points at home to Liverpool and Newcastle to all but hand the title to Arsenal. Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the Premier League and they went on to win the double that season, beating Newcastle United in the FA Cup.

4/03/1996- Newcastle united 0 Manchester United 1

The season that Alan Hansen famously said “you’ll never win anything with kids”. Newcastle under Kevin Keegan were playing some fantastic,attacking football and at one point held a 12 point lead at the top the table. But Sir Alex Ferguson’s side turned on the pressure in the new year as their form improved, the return of Eric Cantona from suspension also had an impact. Going into the game Newcastle had dropped points, losing at West Ham and drawing 3-3 away at Man City, while United had won their last five matches. Newcastle had managed to win all their home games up to that point but that record would end that night. In the first half Newcastle dominated the game and Sir Alex was happy to get to half-time with the score still 0-0. After the break it only took six minutes for Cantona to make his mark. Running onto a Phil Nevile cross the Frenchmen hit the ball into the ground as it bounced past Pavel Srnicek in the Newcastle goal, it was the only goal of the match as United managed to hold on. The result seemed to deeply effect the Newcastle players self-belief as they saw their lead slowly erode away. Two games later Newcastle would play Liverpool at Anfield in what is described as one the best games in Premier league history. Newcastle lost that match 4-3 and the image of Keegan slumped down behind the advertising board summed up the attitude in the Magpies camp. They were never able to regain their momentum and ended up losing the title to Man United by four points.

William Glass sits on the pitch after drawing 2-2 against Birmingham.

William Glass sits on the pitch after drawing 2-2 against Birmingham.

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