Newcastle United 4 Manchester United 3 – My favourite match of last two decades
My favourite Newcastle United game of the last 20 years has got to be our 4-3 victory over Manchester United in 2001.
The game had special significance even before a ball had been kicked.
For starters, it marked Bobby Robson’s 100th game in charge of the club.
It was also the first match after the world changing events of 9/11 and the game began with a tribute to the victims of that terrorist attack and, on a more personal note, I went to the game with my best mate Pete who’d recently been told his cancer was in remission.
When the game kicked off I would have said we were hopeful rather than confident. The Newcastle United team at the time was a mixture of some old favourites such as Alan Shearer, Shay Given, Rob Lee and Nobby Solano, some willing if limited footballers in the likes of Clarence Acuna, Andy O’Brien and Nikos Dabizas and some exciting, new recruits in Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert.
The previous two seasons we’d only finished in mid-table so no one had particularly high expectations going into the new season.
We were up against a powerful Manchester United team with the likes of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Keane near the peak of their powers and supplemented by two World Cup winners in Fabien Barthez and Laurent Blanc, as well as Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Sebastian Veron.
As the game kicked off, one thing that quickly became apparent was the Manchester United backline was worried about the pace of Bellamy and Robert.
We scored early on thanks to a thumping Laurent Robert free kick, only for Manchester United to then start dominating the game, equalising through Van Nistelrooy. The game then went from end to end with Newcastle taking the lead through that old crowd favourite the dodgy keeper, as Barthez let a Rob Lee shot from outside of the area go straight through him.
When half time came with us 2-1 up I turned to Pete and said the only way this could get any better is if Roy Keane gets sent off and Alan Shearer scores and lo and behold it came to pass, well almost anyway.
After we made it 3-1 early in the second half thanks to a Nikos Dabizas goal, Man Utd brought on Paul Scholes for Andy Cole and he began to pull the strings for them as they took control. They made it 3-2 and then soon after that 3-3 and at that point a lot of us were looking at our watches wondering if we could hang on for the draw.
However, this Newcastle team weren’t beaten and following a marauding run by Craig Bellamy, Alan Shearer put the ball in the net via a deflection off future Mackem, Wes Brown. There was still time for Shay Given to thwart Man Utd when they looked like they’d get an equaliser and then what I’d hoped for at half time finally came true.
Alan Shearer had run the ball down into the corner by the Gallowgate end and then made it difficult for them to take the throw in quickly, an irate Roy Keane initially threw the ball at our number 9 before throwing a punch. Although I was at the opposite side of the ground I swear I could see the look of contempt in Alan Shearer’s face as he confronted Roy Keane.
Final score – Newcastle United 4 Manchester United 3
Having watched one of the finest afternoon’s entertainment we’d ever seen at St James Park, me and Pete did tell our young sons that watching Newcastle United might not always be like this.
As we made our way out of the ground, what made the victory even sweeter was seeing the scowls on the faces of the Man United fans who reacted to a defeat with their usual mixture of outrage and anger. This match did mark a new period of optimism at St James Park. Against all expectations we managed to finish the season in 4th place and qualified for The Champions League.
This match has been back in the headlines recently with Alan Shearer talking about the incident with Roy Keane and what might have happened if they’d had a chance to properly square up.
I agree with Alan. If there’d been a set to between him and Roy Keane my money would be on our captain.
Man United at the time were used to bullying other teams and referees and to always having things going their way and the biggest bully of them all was Roy Keane. What they weren’t used to was people standing up to them and I think Big Al would have shown Roy Keane up as a paper tiger.
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