‘You owe these people’.
The start, middle and end of Kevin Keegan’s team talk prior to Newcastle facing Manchester United in October 1996.
Just five months previous, the success-starved Geordie faithful watched on in agony as United were crowned Premier League champions - despite Newcastle having held a 12-point lead earlier in the season.
Perhaps even fresher in the memory, the 550-mile round trip to Wembley to endure Man Utd’s 4-0 drumming of the Magpies in the Charity Shield.
This was Newcastle’s chance; they sat top of the tree, 52,000 roaring Geordies awaited them, they knew a win would take them five points clear of Sir Alex Ferguson’s party crashers and slowly dominating force in English football.
If the atmosphere was hot before the game then it was electric by the time Darren Peacock prodded home from close range after just 12 minutes. Newcastle sensed blood and they doubled their lead before the break thanks to an absolutely sublime solo strike from David Ginola.
Man Utd hadn’t been crowned champions four out of the past five years without showing character, but they were helpless to the barrage of attack awaiting them in the second half.
Goals from Les Ferdinand and United’s summer target Alan Shearer had the Toon Army in dreamland.
Then, just when the Newcastle fans thought it couldn’t get any more magical, cultured centre-back Philippe Albert added the cherry by lobbing Peter Schmeichel from 25 yards to cap off a truly memorable night at St James’ Park.
The party didn't last but, for one night at least, Newcastle had their revenge and everything had gone perfectly.
Key Talking Point
As bizarre as it may sound, this was arguably the worst result of Newcastle United’s season.
The Magpies’ rivalry with United wasn’t just about football anymore, it had become personal.
From Keegan’s public implosion on Sky Sports the season before to the summer-long battle for star striker Alan Shearer, what had begun as the two best teams in England vying for top spot had manifested itself into genuine animosity between Keegan and Fergie.
And that filtered down to the players, Man Utd had four players booked in a single minute of their 5-0 humiliation on Tyneside.
Newcastle didn’t just beat Manchester United, they annihilated them. To this day Newcastle’s win remains United’s biggest Premier League defeat - with only the 6-1 humbling at home to Manchester City matching it.
This match was Newcastle’s season. It was catharsis. But it had also been blown out of proportion. Newcastle celebrated like a team who believed they had already completed their principal goal.
After this fixture they fell apart. One win from their following nine league games saw their title aspirations vanish but, for all the folly and disappointment that followed, the memories and legends of that night continue to live longer than just about any other in modern Newcastle history.
And maybe for some, it was all worth it...
Newcastle Player Ratings
Starting XI: Srníček (6); Peacock (7), Albert (8), Beresford (7); Ginola (9*), Batty (7), Lee (6), Watson (6); Ferdinand (8), Beardsley (7), Shearer (8)
Substitutes: Barton (6), Clark (6)
David Ginola spent seven seasons in England, and if you consider that the only piece of silverware he lifted in that time was a League Cup at Spurs, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a bit of a disappointment.
But you'd be wrong.
This man was an absolute magician.
The Frenchman ran rings around Gary Neville at St James’ Park, and don’t be fooled into thinking this was an inexperienced Neville - the 21-year-old had not long before been representing his country with distinction at Euro ’96 - he was no stranger to the pressure of a big occasion.
The strength shown before turning and lashing the ball into the far corner tells you everything about Ginola as a player. He wasn’t your everyday tricky wide man who would go down at the slightest touch, he was a powerhouse with the ability to put any defender on his back.
Key Talking Point
How on earth did this Manchester United defence win the league?
In the summer of 1996, defensive stalwart Steve Bruce was shipped off to Birmingham City. Understandable given he was due to turn 36 before the end of the year.
Ronny Johnsen was brought in as Bruce’s replacement, while David May was also handed a regular place in the starting XI, as United reverted to a back five.
But it was something of a shambles.
As good as Newcastle were going forward, United were hapless in defence. Gary Pallister and May were both easily beaten in the air in the lead up to Newcastle goals, while the latter of two looked like a drunk looking on the floor for his kebab for Alan Shearer’s goal.
Dennis Irwin made Shearer look like an electric-paced winger before the England man crossed for Ferdinand, and Neville was made to look like a schoolboy by Ginola at times.
En route to the title, United conceded nine goals more than they had the previous campaign, no small figure in the Premier League. To put this into context, Fergie’s men conceded more goals than any team in the top six and even conceded more than 13th placed Blackburn.
Had Keegan focussed a little more on his own defence, who knows what might've happened...
Manchester United Player Ratings
Starting XI: Schmeichel (5); Irwin (5), May (4), Johnsen (6), Pallister (5), Neville (5); Beckham (6), Butt (6), Poborsky (5); Cantona (6), Solskjaer (6)
Substitutes: Scholes (5), Cruyff (6), McClair (6)
The former England man had an absolute shocker.
When playing alongside Bruce, the pair rarely looked flustered. They weren’t the most classy centre-backs in the world, but they were strong, physical, commanding and a fantastic partnership.
The departure of Bruce seemed to spell the end of Pallister’s career as a top defender. He looked lost and was bullied by two very aggressive forwards.
Alongside the younger Johnsen and May, Pallister should have been the leader that Bruce had been to him previously, but he failed to step up to the plate.
Things That Aged the Worst
Keegan’s tenure. After arguably his greatest night as Newcastle boss, the boyhood Geordie departed less than three months later, citing his belief he had taken the club as far as he could as his reason for leaving. Kenny Dalglish would take over following his departure.
Also, Sir John Hall’s bold claim to the media in the post-match press conference. ‘Gentlemen, you’ve just seen the next champions of England’ the Newcastle owner claimed. He was right. It wasn’t Newcastle though.
Things That Aged the Best
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Nothing to do with his footballing ability, he’s just aged well.
What Happened Next?
Judging by their next nine results the Newcastle side went on a two-month bender. Keegan’s side would yet again suffer the bitter taste of second place, though they were consoled by pipping Arsenal and Liverpool to the final Champions League spot on goal difference.
United’s season looked like it was about to unravel after their Tyneside hammering. Fergie’s men would lose their next two league games, but a run of 16 without defeat would see them back at the top of the table where they remained.
Is that Man Utd defence the worst to win a Premier League title?
Had Roy Keane, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs played would they have made enough of a difference to prevent a Newcastle win?
Does any part of Shearer regret choosing Newcastle over Man Utd?
Source : 90min