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1996/97 Season Review

24 May 2018

Manchester United lifted the Premier League trophy for the fourth time in five seasons despite amassing the lowest points total of any champion in the Premier League era.

The nation was gripped by the euphoria of England's run to the UEFA Euro 1996 semi-finals on home soil, which followed on from a nail-biting title race between Manchester United and Newcastle United the previous Premier League campaign. The two sides were the main protagonists again in 1996/97, with Sir Alex Ferguson's side winning their fourth PL crown in just five seasons.

Newcastle, who had let a 12-point lead slip to Man Utd in 1995/96, made a statement of their intent clear with the world-record signing of England’s Alan Shearer, who arrived at his hometown club from Blackburn Rovers for £15million in July.

But it was another English star, who had not featured in Euro 96, that made his mark on the opening day of the season. Man United academy starlet David Beckham scored from inside his own half as the Red Devils beat Wimbledon 3-0 at Selhurst Park.

Fabrizio Ravanelli, who joined Middlesbrough after scoring in Juventus' UEFA Champions League final victory over Ajax the previous campaign, marked his league debut with a hat-trick in Boro's 3-3 draw with Liverpool in August. Other notable recruits included his former Juve team-mate Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea, for whom Ruud Gullit was made player-manager after an impressive debut season.

Patrick Vieira arrived at Arsenal while Patrik Berger moved to Liverpool, who saw legendary striker Ian Rush depart for Leeds United.

Cantona galvanises stuttering United

After two defeats from their opening three matches, Newcastle won six in a row before they welcomed Man Utd to St James' Park in October. The Premier League leaders thrashed the champions 5-0, with Philippe Albert's sublime chip rounding off a memorable victory. A shock 6-3 loss to Southampton and a 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea followed for Man Utd.

But United then embarked on a 16-match unbeaten run, starting with a 1-0 win against Arsenal, who had appointed Arsene Wenger as manager from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight the previous month. It was the first defeat of Wenger's long and successful reign at Arsenal, and it allowed Man Utd to wrestle the momentum back in the 1996/97 title race.

United's form was inspired by Eric Cantona, who scored a sublime chip in a 5-0 win against Sunderland. That was one of 11 strikes in 1996/97 for the Frenchman, who netted over 10 goals for the fourth successive Premier League campaign before announcing his shock retirement in May at the age of 30.

He would finish his Old Trafford career by playing a key role as Man Utd surpassed Liverpool, who led the table at Christmas after just three defeats in the first half of the campaign. A New Year's Day loss at Chelsea and a goalless home draw with West Ham United enabled Man Utd to overtake Roy Evans' side in January.

Eric Cantona v Sunderland 96.jpg
Newcastle blow title chances again

A seven-match winless run resulted in Newcastle slipping to sixth and, despite a 7-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the following match, Kevin Keegan announced his shock departure, with former Blackburn Rovers manager Kenny Dalglish replacing him at St James' Park.

Newcastle's form picked up as a result and they moved back into the title reckoning. But, in March, for the second season running, they suffered a thrilling 4-3 loss at Liverpool. Having rallied from 3-0 down the Magpies were sunk by Robbie Fowler's late winner, which dealt a blow to their hopes of a maiden Premier League crown.

A defeat at promoted Sunderland and a 3-2 loss to Derby County, who benefited from a dazzling first goal from Costa Rican striker Paulo Wanchope, were the only occasions Man Utd were beaten in the second half of the campaign.

The title was sealed with two matches to spare as Newcastle drew at West Ham, Arsenal went on a three-match winless run and Liverpool fell to a 2-1 defeat at Wimbledon, despite a consolation goal from 17-year-old debutant Michael Owen.

Coventry survive as Middlesbrough go down

While the title race was decided, with Man Utd finishing seven points above Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool, attentions turned to the relegation battle on the final day. Nottingham Forest were consigned to the drop, while Southampton went from being five points adrift of safety to being all but assured of survival after a run of four wins and three draws in seven matches.

That left Middlesbrough, who reached the League Cup and FA Cup finals only to lose both, and Coventry City looking to overtake 17th-placed Sunderland and secure safety. Boro had been deducted three points for failing to fulfil a fixture earlier in the campaign and a 1-1 draw at Leeds United confirmed their relegation, despite the best efforts of Ravanelli, who netted 16 league goals, and Juninho, who won the Player of the Season award.

Sunderland's 1-0 loss at Wimbledon allowed Coventry City to preserve their Premier League status by just one point, after Dion Dublin and Paul Williams struck in a 2-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur for Gordon Strachan's team.

Coventry 1997.jpg

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