Over the last 20 years, we have been privileged to see so many brilliant players and wonderful goals illuminate the Premier League, leading to a plethora of breathtaking football matches. But which of these games stand-out, leaving an ever-lasting imprint on our memories?
The following is a list of my top 10 games of the Premier League era. As with previous lists, there were a mixture of commodities to determine the rankings, such as how defining the game was in relation to the season, for one or both teams, the shock factor, the dramatic element and, of course, the goal-laden excitement.
10. West Ham 5-4 Bradford City February 12, 2000
A memorable game that saw the talented, but controversial Paolo di Canio play the leading role.
The drama started after just 5 minutes, when the Hammers ‘keeper Shaka Hislop was stretchered off with a broken leg. He was replaced by third choice custodian, Stephen Bywater, who was making his Premier League debut. He went on to have a nightmare afternoon.
Bradford arrived at Upton Park deep in the relegation mire, but their attacking efforts were rewarded after 30 minutes, when Dean Windass headed home from a Peter Beagrie corner, with the young Bywater left rooted to the spot. Trevor Sinclair and John Moncur quickly reversed the scoreline, before the somersaulting Beagrie levelled it up for the Bantams on the stroke of half-time.
In a dramatic second half, the error-strewn Bywater gifted Jamie Lawrence two goals to give Bradford a 4-2 lead, but it was then that Di Canio stole the show. He was denied three penalties (and to be fair to him, he would have won all 3 on any other day) in the space of just a few minutes. After the third had been turned down, the Italian made his way over to the dugout in a petulant demand to be substituted by manager Harry Redknapp. A few minutes later, West Ham were finally awarded a spot-kick, after a foul on sub Paul Kitson. Di Canio, who had now returned to the action, then engaged in a comical tussling match with a young Frank Lampard, who had the ball ready to take the penalty. After a minute or so of jostling, the reluctant Lampard stepped aside and Di Canio converted from the spot.
The promising Joe Cole made it 4-4 on 70 with his first ever Premier League goal, and Di Canio made amends to Lampard in the final minute by setting him up for the winning goal to cap an eventful day’s play!
Despite the defeat, Bradford went on to survive relegation (for one more season at least!) following their last day win over Liverpool.
9. Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City October 23, 2011
City’s title-winning credentials were emphatically displayed as arch-rivals United were crushed in their own back-yard. And, like the previous game on this list, the mood was set by an enigmatic Italian.
City had started the campaign with a more attack minded mindset, and took the game to United. Mario Balotelli started the fireworks (not literally, thankfully, this time!) by opening the scoring on 22 minutes, before famously revealing his ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt.
Jonny Evans was sent off just after half-time for bringing down Balotelli 20 yards from goal, and City took advantage. Super Mario and Sergio Aguero both netted from close range following fine work from the brilliant David Silva, and although Darren Fletcher pulled a goal back for United, sub Edin Dzeko added a 4th, before City notched twice on the break in stoppage time; Silva and Dzeko completing the rout.
It was a significant statement of intent from City, who duly went on to win the title. The defeat was United’s joint worst in Premier League history.
8. Tottenham 3-5 Manchester United September 29, 2001
In one of the best comebacks in Prem history, United stunned Tottenham with 5 second-half goals on a scintillating afternoon at White Hart Lane.
Spurs started strongly, and the late Dean Richards marked his debut in fine style with an early goal, before Les Ferdinand made it 2 with a clinical finish, following a fine through ball from Gus Poyet. Just before half-time, Christian Ziege headed home from close range, after being left unmarked at the far post by everybody’s favourite Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.
United were transformed in the second half, though. Andy Cole reduced the arrears with a header, before Laurent Blanc met a beauty of a David Beckham corner to score his first United goal. The visitors were rampant, and it was no surprise when goal machine Ruud van Nistlerooy made it 3-3, again with a header.
Spurs were stunned, even more so when United completed the turnaround; Juan Sebastian Veron, with probably his finest moment for the club, smashing home from inside the box following good link-up play with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The icing on the cake came with 3 minutes left, as Beckham made it 5 with a stunning strike from 25 yards.
7. Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal 21 April, 2009
Fernando Torres (when he was good) was the catalyst for the home side, netting twice in a game that see-sawed like none other seen in the Premier League.
Andrei Arshavin, who also used to be quite good, outshone him with a 4 goal blast that was still somehow not enough to seal the 3 points for Arsenal. It was the Russian who put the Gunners ahead on 36 minutes, side-footing home a cut-back from Cesc Fabregas, though Torres levelled matters with a fine header just after half-time.
Yossi Benayoun scrambled Liverpool into the lead on 56 minutes, though Arshavin feasted on their defensive ineptitude with a quick-fire double (67,70). With one of his best ever Prem goals, Torres made it 3-3, superbly controlling a cross before twisting to hit a 25 yard strike past Lukasz Fabianksi, but Arsenal retook the lead in stoppage time, Arshavin combining with Theo Walcott on the counter attack to score his 4th. That still wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as Benayoun hit goal number 8 of an eventful night just seconds later.
The draw did put Liverpool momentarily back on top of the table, but any realistic ambitions of winning the title had gone.
6. Man City 2-3 Fulham 26 April, 2008
Fulham were mathematically relegated at half-time of this fixture, but a superb second-half comeback was the catalyst for a remarkable great escape.
City were yet to establish themselves as a force at the top of the table, but still had a bunch of talented players. Stephen Ireland opened the scoring with a fine 25-yard curler, and Benjani (remember him?), doubled their lead following a sumptuous through ball from Elano on 21 minutes.
Half-time scores elsewhere were not looking good, and with a woeful away record, the Cottagers looked doomed. But they continued to attack, and were rewarded when Diomansy Kamara scored from close range, past a fresh-faced Joe Hart on 70 minutes. Fulham were then awarded a penalty nine minutes later, following a shove on sub Erik Nevland, and Danny Murphy stepped up to score at the second attempt after Hart had saved his initial effort.
After Fulham ‘keeper Kasey Keller had miraculously denied Martin Petrov, the visitors came forward looking for a winner. In dramatic fashion, it arrived in the last minute, Murphy playing the perfect through ball to Kamara, whose rifled finish sent the away fans into delirium.
The win gave fresh belief to Fulham, who survived the drop with a last day win at Portsmouth. It was a fine achievement by Roy Hodgson’s men, who built on their escape to qualify for Europe the following season.
5. Wigan Athletic 3-2 West Ham May 15, 2011
Wigan came from 2 goals down to relegate West Ham in this crucial relegation dogfight at the DW Stadium.
Going into the game, the Hammers’ survival prospects looked slim, but not insurmountable. Failure to win would be fatal, but Wigan themselves needed the points to keep their hopes of staying in the division alive.
It was the visitors who made the better start, Demba Ba glancing home a free-kick on 12 minutes. He doubled the lead on 26, notching on the goal-line after Thomas Hitzlberger’s free-kick has been headed towards goal by James Tomkins.
With Birmingham losing, West Ham fans began to believe, but their hopes were dashed after a second half-collapse. Charles N-Zogbia halved the deficit for Wigan with a wonderfully pinpoint free-kick, before substitute Conor Salmon equalized on 68 minutes. With a point no good for either side, the finale was end-to-end, and it was Wigan who nicked the crucial 5th goal on 94 minutes, N-Zogbia cutting inside onto his left foot before firing underneath the body of Robert Green, to the delight of Roberto Martinez and the Wigan fans.
Wigan went on to secure survival on a dramatic final day with a win at Stoke. West Ham, at least, bounced straight back by winning the Championship play-off final the following season.
4. Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham October 29, 2008
Two stoppage time goals gave Harry Redknapp’s Spurs a share of the spoils in this thrilling North London derby at the Emirates Stadium.
It was Redknapp’s first game in charge since leaving Portsmouth, and his new charges were off to a great start when David Bentley opened the scoring with a sensational 40 yard volley. Arsenal were level on 37 minutes, though; Mikael Silvestre heading home a Robin Van Persie corner, with the erratic Heurelho Gomes caught in no man’s land.
Arsenal took the lead a minute after half-time through skipper William Gallas, and Emmanuel Adebayor poked home on 64 minutes to increase the lead. Darren Bent capitalized on a Manuel Almunia error to make it 3-2, but the two goal margin was quickly restored through Van Persie.
The real drama came in stoppage time. With the Spurs fans flocking to the exits, Jermaine Jenas scored what looked so likely to be just a consolation with a fine left footed strike. But, unbelievably, just seconds later, a looping 30 yard volley from Luka Modric cannoned off the post, and Aaron Lennon was first to the rebound to send the home crowd into stunned silence.
3. Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal February 5, 2011
Newcastle became the first side in Premier League history to come back from a 4-0 deficit with a sensational second-half comeback against Arsenal.
The Toon were blitzed in the opening 10 minutes, with goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and Robin Van Persie, and the Dutchman netted his second on 26 minutes to put the Gunners in total control.
But the balance of play changed in an astonishing second period. Abou Diaby was sent off on 48 minutes, following a clash with the lovable Joey Barton, and it was he who scored from the penalty spot to give Newcastle a consolation on 68 minutes. After seeing a close-range strike wrongly ruled out for offside, Leon Best finally got on the score-sheet on 75. The unthinkable became possible when Barton converted his second penalty, following a questionable Laurent Koscielny foul on Mike Williamson, with 7 minutes remaining to make it 4-3, and the unthinkable fight-back was complete with a stunning first time volley from 25 yards by Cheick Tiote with just 3 minutes remaining.
2. Manchester City 3-2 QPR 13 May, 2012
"An amazing, amazing day, the like of which we've never seen!" - so said an understandably excited BBC commentator on the most dramatic afternoon of football in Premier League history.
Both Man City and QPR went into the game at the Etihad with something to play for. QPR needed a draw to cement their place in the Premier League, whilst City needed the three points to cap a remarkable turnaround in fortunes to win the title. In a game of such magnitude, despite it looking, on paper, to be a home banker, no City fan was expecting it to be easy. But surely no-one could have predicted the eventual conclusion would play out as it did!
There was little goal-mouth action to speak of, until ‘keeper Paddy Kenny spilled a Pablo Zabaleta strike into his net 5 minutes before half-time.
To QPR’s credit, they started the second half well, and Djibril Cisse equalized following an error from Joleon Lescott. Despite going down to 10 men, when Joey Barton was sent off for a kick at Sergio Aguero, QPR moved into a shock lead on 66 through Jamie Mackie.
City continued to attack, but Kenny was equal to everything. It seemed destined that the title was going to elude them, as Man United were winning at Sunderland, but a headed goal from sub Edin Dzeko and a calm finish from Aguero, both in stoppage time, won the title and sparked mass hysteria on a truly unforgettable day!
1. Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United 3 April, 1996
This surely has to be the greatest game in Premier League history. Matches the City-QPR game for drama, and the quality of the two sides was of the highest standard.
Both teams went into the game with title aspirations. Newcastle had slipped from the summit after holding a large advantage for the majority of the season, but still had games in hand over Manchester United. Liverpool, meanwhile, were outsiders for the trophy but would increase the pressure on the top two with victory.
Liverpool struck first. Stan Collymore received the ball on the left wing, before crossing superbly for Robbie Fowler to head home at the far post for goal number 27 of his extraordinary season. The lead was short lived, however, as Les Ferdinand equalized on 10 minutes. Faustino Asprilla waltzed into the box and squared the ball to Ferdinand, whose shot on the turn had enough power to beat David James in the Liverpool goal.
The visitors expertly hit Liverpool on the counter attack for their second goal just 4 minutes later. Upon receiving the ball in the middle of the park, Ferdinand sent David Ginola away with a superbly clipped through ball, and the Frenchman outpaced Jason McAteer to clinically convert past James, to the delight of Kevin Keegan in the opposing dugout.
Three goals came in quick succession in the second half. Liverpool equalized through a Fowler rocket after a cross from Steve McManaman, but Newcastle were soon back in front, Asprilla netting with a beautiful chip after James decided to rush 30 yards from goal. Liverpool were undeterred, and Collymore levelled an absorbing contest at 3-3, netting from close quarters following a teasing ball from McAteer.
Both teams chased a winner, and it was Liverpool who got it in the final minute. After a period of interplay between John Barnes and Ian Rush, the ball was laid off to Collymore, who smacked it past Pavel Srnicek to send the Kop into ecstasy, and leave Keegan slumped in despair.
The defeat had huge ramifications at the top of the table. Newcastle’s form suffered and Man United went on to reclaim the Premier League title.
Games that just missed out
There was a long list of games to choose from, meaning that some classic encounters have missed the cut. Man United’s dramatic 4-3 win over rivals City, their goal-filled 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal and their last gasp 4-3 win over Everton in 2004 were close omissions. Staying with United, their back-to-back defeats against Newcastle and Southampton in 1996 were considered, whilst Arsenal’s 9 goal North London thriller with Spurs, their 3-3 draw with Leicester and the Kanu-inspired 3-2 win over Chelsea were not far away. Other close calls included Wolves’ dramatic comeback against Leicester in 2003, the 11 goal bonanza between Portsmouth and Reading, Spurs’ 4-3 win at West Ham in 2007 and the 4-4 between Norwich and Middlesbrough in 2005.