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Fan Engagement, Media & Tech

Midweek Sports Special

Everybody loves a midweek sports special. Despite this being the most congested season in English football history, a midweek set of top-flight games remains an occasional treat.

By: Duncan Alexander

Faded memories of carefully curated highlights on Sportsnight or getting ready for school having just found out Crystal Palace had lost 9-0 (seriously?) has convinced multiple generations that midweek games produce more goals. In the Premier League era that is not the case, with Wednesday (2.58) and Tuesday (2.60) the lowest scoring days of the week on average. Even so, it’s the perfect opportunity to look back at some of the division’s greatest midweek matches. The selection criteria here was fairly simple: any Premier League match played on a Tuesday or Wednesday (sorry, Mondays and Thursdays are not canon) in a normal week (ie not Christmas week when a midweek day can suddenly do a very good impression of a Saturday). These are mine, but others are available.


 

The Game With No Fans (For Real) – Wimbledon 1-3 Everton Jan 26 1993
London, Tuesday January 26 1993: the Bank of England has just lowered the interest rates to 6%. You’re feeling flush and you want to go out. A gig? Well, Alice in Chains, Julian Cope and Chris Rea are all performing live in the capital this evening but… that doesn’t feel too enticing. Stay in and watch The Cook Report? Don’t think so. What about some football? You enjoyed the adverts for the new FA Premier League last summer. John Wark. Andy Ritchie. David Hirst. You scan the fixtures for a local game. Just one top-flight in London tonight, Wimbledon v Everton at Selhurst Park. Bit of a trek. And it’s cold outside. Roger Cook can be pretty tenacious to be fair. You give it a pass. You’re not the only one. Here in present-day December 2020, we are rightfully grateful for any match that can welcome 2,000 fans into the ground but in 1993 there is no pandemic, just a whole lot of social distancing at some football matches. Just 3,039 spectators turn up to watch Everton beat Vinnie Jones, Lawrie Sanchez and John Fashanu 3-1. The two clubs had already played twice that month in the FA Cup which may have put some off but even so, 3,000 fans for a top-flight game is not ideal. Then again, if there had been a few more no-one would really remember this game, so you made the right decision not to go. You created history.


 

Early Bath (For You) – Crystal Palace 1-1 Man Utd January 25 1995
Selhurst Park again, but this time it’s the landlords in action. Crystal Palace against reigning champions Manchester United. Three days earlier a late Eric Cantona goal had given United a 1-0 win over league leaders Blackburn Rovers to close the gap to two points. This was clearly the start of United’s slow suffocation of the Lancashire upstarts. An away game at 17th placed Crystal Palace a mere formality. Instead: the strange madness of a midweek game. The broiling rage of a Norwood crowd. Palace’s Richard Shaw had man-marked and manhandled Cantona to within a millimetre of his aura all evening and midway through the second half the Frenchman had had enough. A third career Premier League red card was bad enough but as Cantona headed to the tunnel, an unhandily long walk to the corner of the pitch at Selhurst Park, a Palace fan, Matthew Simmons had shouted “Off! Off! Off! It’s an early bath for you, Mr Cantona!” which a) was definitely what he said and b) enraged Cantona so much he launched himself into the crowd feet-first at Simmons. 1995 was to become a year in which football would be co-opted by musicians and actors as a shorthand for their own authenticity and here was Cantona creating the sort of headlines and cultural impact most of them never would. Inevitably banned for a long time, Cantona could only watch, or not, as United won only five of their last 10 games, ensuring that Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn would become the second team to win the Premier League. Often forgotten, though, is that United’s famous 9-0 win against Ipswich came only a few weeks after the Cantona/Simmons interface match, a result that was followed a few days by a quiet 1-0 win at Selhurst Park, this time against Wimbledon. What could have been.


 

Little Shop of Horrors – Aston Villa 4-4 Leicester City February 22 1995
Medieval bad uncle Richard III may have had his reputation restored in Leicester but Brian Little must wait a little longer for redemption. Little had brought City up to the Premier League in 1994 but just a few months into the new season he walked out on them to replace Ron Atkinson at Villa Park, having assured the Leicester fans he was going to stay at Filbert Street. His return to the ground with Villa in December was notable for one of the most vicious atmospheres the Premier League had yet seen but it’s the return game at Villa Park in February that interests us. Little’s Villa were leading 4-1 with just over 10 minutes to go, before late goals from Iwan Roberts and a brace from David Lowe saw Leicester secure an unlikely 4-4 draw. In the end it mattered little, with the Foxes finishing second bottom and making an immediate return to the second tier, but, for one evening at least, they had a slither of revenge against the man who had abandoned them. And ultimately, that’s what football is all about.


 

Collymore Closing In – Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle April 3 1996
The problem with this rightfully iconic game is it was so iconic and so pivotal to the greatest title collapse in the competition’s history that the people who choose live TV games chose it again the following season, no doubt hoping that lightning would strike twice, even though it never does. Except Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-3 at Anfield the following season too. Thanks for that. You broke probability. The April 1996 match is an undoubted classic, though. 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3 and then Collymore closing in. Kevin Keegan a broken figure in the stadium in which he made his name. No-one ever remembers that this win sort of put Liverpool themselves back into the title race, five points behind Manchester United with six games left. Then they lost to Coventry in the following game to ensure that the Newcastle match was a pact of mutually assured destruction. Less forgotten is that Faustino Asprilla was now a Newcastle player and would soon be handily vilified as the “signing that cost the Toon their title”. Except no Premier League player assisted more goals than the Colombian between February and May 1996. New information: closing in.


 

Going Viral – Middlesbrough 6-1 Derby March 5 1997
A Premier League team from the north east getting a game postponed due to widespread illness within the squad is not an unfamiliar story. Newcastle’s game at Aston Villa a week or so ago is a case in point. Steve Bruce’s team at least had the weight of a planet-freezing pandemic to back them up. Middlesbrough during Christmas 1996 just had a classic local 90s virus running amok through the squad, causing them to self-postpone their away game at Blackburn, a risky decision that would see them collect a three-point penalty from the FA and send them down. They also reached both domestic cup finals and lost them both. And yet a squad containing such forbidden fruit as Fabrizio Ravenelli, Emerson and Juninho (and Clayton Blackmore) always had the capability to cut loose at any point. They had started the season with a 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool, with Ravenelli’s hat-trick still the only time a Premier League player has scored three goals on his debut. Yet it merely ushered in an autumn and winter of hubris as the Cleveland glamour boys suffered defeat after defeat. By early March the situation was perilous and a home game with Derby was the definition of must-win. And so they did, 6-1. Ravanelli added another hat-trick, along with an assist for Mikel Beck. It kicked off a run of four wins in a row, and just two defeats in the last 12 games of the season. A win on the final day would have kept them up but they could only draw at Leeds. The Boro fans were left [checks notes] as sick as a parrot, but again, this is not a legitimate reason for postponing a Premier League game.


 

Lamps Shining In The Night – Chelsea 3-2 Leeds January 28 2003
Some Premier League games are enjoyable at the time and then even more so in the future when you can observe the era-shifting importance the match contained. It’s late January 2003, space probe Pioneer 10 has just sent its last communication with Earth, from 7.6 billion miles away. In other news, Chelsea and Leeds, those great rivals from the early 1970s (Pioneer 10 fans will recall this was when the probe was launched) are both in a sorry financial state but, thanks to the players they perhaps can’t quite afford, are able to put on an absolute display at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard rightfully gets the headlines with a classically deflected brace but do check out Eidur Gudjohnsen’s overhead kick, which remains the greatest forgotten example of the slightly overrated goal type in Premier League history. The win kept Chelsea in the race for the top four, which they sealed on the final day with a home win against Liverpool. And the rest is Roman history.


 

One Game Unbeaten – Arsenal 6-1 Southampton May 7 2003
As discussed earlier, Newcastle’s abdication in 1995-96 remains the greatest squandering of a Premier League title but Arsenal in 2002-03 comes close. At the start of March Arsenal were eight points clear but defeat to Blackburn and then three draws in the subsequent four games let in Manchester United. Defeat to Leeds in early May ensured the title would be heading to Old Trafford which lent a bleak tone to the midweek home game with Southampton three days later. But freed of the pressure of the title race, aesthetes Arsenal romped to a 6-1 win, with Robert Pires and Jermaine Pennant both scoring hat-tricks. Not only was it Pennant’s first Premier League start, it was, until Leicester’s 9-0 win at Southampton in 2019, the only time two players from the same team had scored three goals in the same match. Even more importantly, it was game one in what would become a record-breaking run of 49 top-flight matches without defeat.


 

Harry’s Game – Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham October 29 2008
No-one knows why, but in the space of little over a year there were three midweek 4-4 draws in the Premier League. Between Chelsea and Tottenham, then between Arsenal and Tottenham and then between Liverpool and Arsenal. It’s the middle of that trio we’re interested in here, and largely because it was Harry Redknapp’s first game in charge of Spurs. He had only won two of his 28 previous encounters with Arsenal going into this one and that evidently became two of 29 after the draw here, but goals from Jermaine Jenas in the 89th minute and Aaron Lennon in injury-time certainly made this one feel like a win for the Tottenham half of north London. There were 34 shots in the game, 14 of which came from outside the box, exactly the same figures as there were in the Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal match a few months later. There’s the blueprint for entertainment.


 

Scourge of the Fens – Liverpool 5-1 Norwich December 4 2013
Norwich City have played nine seasons in the Premier League and yet one man, Luis Suarez, is responsible for 2.1% of the goals they have ever conceded in the competition. Liverpool’s 5-1 bullying of the Norfolk side in December 2013 was one of the first signs Brendan Rodgers’ team might actually be in the title race, but Suarez’s insatiable need to destroy Norwich was already well known. He had already scored two hat-tricks against them but the four in this encounter is a rare example of a player registering multiple goal of the season contenders in a single game. The first is a vicious looping shot from about 35 yards out. The second is a relatively sedate hooked shot with his left foot from a corner. The third is one of the most perfectly struck half-volleys in English top-flight history, while the fourth is a viciously accurate direct free-kick. That took Suarez to 11 goals in five games against Norwich and he would add one more in his final match against them, the nervous 3-2 win at Carrow Road in late April 2014 when the title was very much up for grabs.


 

The Long Goodbye – West Ham 3-2 Man Utd May 10 2016
West Ham’s final game at the Boleyn Ground had everything. A delayed kick-off due to… antics, a post-Ferguson Manchester United blowing a guaranteed path into the Champions League, current Hammers striker Michail Antonio in his former life as a right-back, a comeback win against the club who had defined Premier League comebacks and then the long goodbye to Upton Park which seemed to involve a lot of London taxis driving onto the no-longer hallowed turf, some of them containing Matthew Etherington. Above all it was Dimitri Payet’s West Ham. Two more assists in this game as part of his successful campaign to be the club’s second most creative player of the 2010s despite appearing in only 14% of their games in that decade.


 

Head Music – WBA 3-1 Swansea December 14 2016
Four years ago today Salomon Rondon performed one of the bravest acts in football, he took sole ownership of a Premier League record away from [Big] Duncan Ferguson. The Scot, until December 14 2016, was the only player in the competition’s history to score a hat-trick of headed goals but then Rondon soared like an Eagle against a bank of Swans. He did so for Tony Pulis, which is satisfying, and he did so against Bob Bradley, the first American to manage a Premier League team. That Bradley opted to manage the Premier League team geographically closest to the USA is the sort of neat finish that both Rondon and Pulis would admire.


 

Halfway Done – Everton 4-0 West Ham November 29 2017
Wayne Rooney remains the only Premier League player to reach treble figures for goals, assists and cards. He scored seven hat-tricks, all but one of them for Manchester United. The other came for Everton against West Ham in November 2017, topped off by a 59-yard effort from inside his own half, driven back over Joe Hart’s head after the goalkeeper had rushed out of his box and cleared the ball only as far as Rooney, who took the acclaim of the Everton crowd who had loved him, lost him and then welcomed him home again. It was the essence of Rooney and it was the essence of a midweek fixture. “Did you hear about Rooney?! Scored from his own half apparently. Highlights on are on later. Can’t wait!”

 


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