We’ve all heard about seven-goal thrillers and experienced utter joy when our side steals the plaudits on the right side of a ten-goal thriller. But not all high-scoring games can be classed as thrillers. So what constitutes a thriller? Patrick O’Kane delves into the debate in the wake of Aston Villa’s 5-5 draw with Nottingham Forest earlier this week.
You may recall Blackburn Rovers’ 7-2 victory against Sheffield Wednesday in 1996 and Manchester United’s 8-2 domination against Arsenal from 2011, but are they thrillers? Not on your nelly. There are certain ingredients needed to serve up a thriller.
At Villa Park, fans were well-fed. The first goal came in the third minute, there were six by half-time. A red card, and two late disallowed goals. Throw into the mix a hat-trick hero and an attacking midfielder nabbing four assists and a goal of his own, this was a feast for the 32,000 fans in attendance to really tuck into.
The writing was on the wall for Dean Smith’s Villa as they found themselves 2-0 down with six minutes, Forest storming out of the blocks. 3-3 at half-time, it looked like Forest had regained control when Joe Lolley fired in a thunderbolt from 30 yards. 4-3.
But Toby Figueiredo’s red card turned the game again. Tammy Abraham completed his first senior hat-trick moments later and Villa were 5-4 up with 15 minutes to go. Forest looked finished. Step up Lewis Grabban. 5-5 from nowhere.
And then, an offside call and a disallowed, Maradona-style punch into the net, saw the hosts denied victory, both ‘goals’ coming after the 90-minute mark. The epitome of thriller and probably, on the whole, a deserved point apiece. More importantly, a great advert for Championship football and two former Premiership heavyweights.
With both teams aiming for a return to the top flight, we decided to take a look at some of the best Premier League thrillers. Post-Millennium encounters include Portsmouth and Tottenham victories against Reading, 7-4 and 6-4, but we’re heading back to the 1990s for some retro action including some of our favourite cult heroes.
Norwich 4 Southampton 5 (9 April 1994)
Relegation-threatened Southampton travelled to Carrow Road in need of what can only be described as a miracle. Sitting second-bottom and four points from safety, Alan Ball’s side were in the mire.
A quiet first half burst into life in the 37th minute when Mark Robins fired home from 20 yards for the hosts. But the Saints were back on level terms at the break, thanks to Canaries defender Rob Ullathorne deflecting a Neil Maddison effort into his own net.
A frantic 15 minutes at the start of the second half saw Jeremy Goss and Chris Sutton score as Norwich took a 3-1 lead. Matt Le Tissier notched a quick-fire brace, levelling from the spot in the 63rd minute.
Sutton, who would go on to win the Premiership with Blackburn Rovers, scored from the restart as the hosts took a 4-3 lead… still on 63 minutes.
The feisty Saints team refused to lie down and it was Le Tissier who pulled the game level again as he completed a perfect hat-trick. One with his left foot, one with the right and one with his head. 4-4. 72 minutes on the clock.
The game was set up for a hero. And Ken Monkou delivered in the 90th minute, the Surinamese defender heading home a corner to make it 5-4 for the Saints. A vital three points and a first league victory in eight games.
A final-day point at West Ham United was enough to see the Saints survive relegation.
Southampton 6 Manchester United 3 (26 October 1996)
Just a year earlier, Sir Alex Ferguson blamed his sides ghastly grey shirts for a 3-1 defeat at The Dell. Six months later though, as United sought revenge for a humiliation, another thriller was served up.
Eyal Berkovic fired the Saints into a sixth-minute lead as he drove home an Egil Ostenstad rebound. And the home support were in their element as Roy Keane was sent off with just 21 minutes played, a second yellow card issued for a reckless challenge on Le Tissier.
The home hero doubled the lead on 35 minutes with a deft chip over Peter Schmeichel from the edge of the box. No Sir Alex side has ever been known for lying down and they had a route back into the match when David Beckham slotted home one of his trademark free-kicks with 41 minutes played.
Norwegian Ostenstad had other ideas though and restored the Saints’ two-goal advantage by dancing through the defence and slotting under Schmeichel for 3-1 just before the break.
David May reduced arrears with a back-post header from a Beckham free-kick but there was real drama to come in the dying stages as United buckled to the hosts’ superior play.
United had lost 5-0 away at Newcastle United just a week earlier and the title challenge seemed to be unwinding as Berkovic, on 83 minutes and then Ostenstad, on 85 minutes, extended the lead to 5-2.
When Paul Scholes grabbed a third goal for United’s men in the 89th minute, there was a moment of panic in the stands but it wasn’t to be for United as a Gary Neville own goal made it 6-3 to the hosts. A match that not only stunned United but fans across the country too.
It didn’t prove the greatest game of all time, but a United side who were favourites to win the league conceding six goals at The Dell certainly put it top of the highlights list on Match Of The Day.
Liverpool 4 Newcastle United 3 (3 April 1996/10 March 1997)
Going into the match, Newcastle United had lost a 12 point lead and a 1-0 home victory had seen Manchester United go two points clear at the top. A win at Anfield though would put Kevin Keegan’s men back at the summit.
With Liverpool in third spot, a difficult evening was on the cards for the Toon and that became clear in the third minute when Robbie Fowler headed home a Stan Collymore cross at the back post.
Ten minutes later though it was advantage Newcastle. First Les Ferdinand latched onto a low cross to level the match before French wizard David Ginola ran 15 yards with the ball and struck beyond David James.
Fowler drew Liverpool level in the 57th minute but Keegan’s men were not giving up the title without a fight and when Faustino Asprilla put the visitors ahead at 3-2, you would have thought they would leave Anfield with at least a point.
Step up Stan Collymore. Game changer. First, he drew Liverpool level by poking home from two yards out in the 63rd minute and he broke Newcastle hearts in stoppage time when he fired beyond Pavel Srnicek from six yards, Keegan left with his head in his hands. 4-3 Liverpool.
A year later, the sides played out another classic battle at Anfield. The hosts stormed into a 3-0 half-time lead, Steve McManaman, Patrik Berger and Fowler getting the goals.
But after Keith Gillespie pulled a goal back in the 71st minute it looked like the visitors had stolen a point when Asprilla lobbed James in the 87th minute and Warren Barton slotted home to complete the comeback. 3-3.
Disbelief was transformed to euphoria in the Kop though when Fowler reacted quickest to head home a Stig Inge Bjornebye cross and give Liverpool all three points in stoppage time.
Blackburn Rovers 3 Leeds United 4 (4 September 1997)
Leeds United secured just their second league win of the campaign in a seven-goal battle at Ewood Park. This thriller was pretty much done and dusted in the first half but late red card action gave the hosts hope of a last-ditch point.
George Graham’s United made an aggressive start and had a 2-0 lead in the sixth minute. Rod Wallace was on hand to poke home a parried effort and Robert Molenaar volleyed home a corner to double the lead.
Kevin Gallacher halved the deficit in the eighth minute when he unleashed a 25-yard effort that nestled into Nigel Martyn’s bottom corner. 2-1. And the sides were level in the 16th minute when Chris Sutton slotted home a penalty after Molenaar had upended Martin Dahlin.
Parity was restored momentarily though as a young Harry Kewell danced through the middle of the park. He played a through ball to Wallace on the edge of the box, and after picking off four more defenders, he curled the ball into the top corner. 17 minutes played, 3-2 to the visitors.
3-2 became 4-2 in a frenetic first half when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink ran 45 yards up the pitch in the 23rd minute. He played a fine cross into the box which found David Hopkin in space and the midfielder struck first time, leaving Tim Flowers scrambling to pick the ball out the back of the net.
Before half-time though, Roy Hodgson’s Rovers had a lifeline when Swede Dahlin got past the defence and fired home off the far post. 4-3.
The goals were done for the day but the players certainly weren’t. No fewer than nine yellow cards were shown, including a second for Kewell in the 78th minute for pushing the ball away after conceding an innocuous free kick. Rovers couldn’t capitalize though and United went back to Yorkshire with all three points.
Aston Villa 3 Charlton 4 (8 May 1999)
There wasn’t much to play for as the 1998/99 season entered the final weeks but try telling these two sides that. An already-relegated Charlton only had pride to play for as they arrived at Villa Park and they hadn’t read the script, taking an early lead through a Gareth Barry own goal.
Barry made amends just four minutes later as he levelled from a poor Richard Rufus clearance. Clive Mendonca restored the visitors lead in the 56th minute but within 10 minutes Julian Joachim ran through the defence and lifted the ball over Addicks’ keeper Andy Petterson for 2-2.
A spirit that had eluded Charlton throughout the season came to the fore in the shape of John Robinson, who put the visitors into the lead for a third time just two minutes later.
The goal would be subject to goal-line technology in the modern era, but he reacted fastest to a Mendonca rebound and referee Mike Riley pointed to the centre circle. 3-2 Charlton.
Joachim grabbed his second of the game after a goalmouth melee and, as if that wasn’t enough drama, the last ten minutes served up a nerve-wracking finish. Joachim looked set to put Villa 4-3 up as he advanced on goal, only for Petterson to take him out and see red.
Defender Steve Brown took up position in goal and made a fine save from the ensuing Steve Stone free-kick to keep it level. The game looked set to play out at 3-3 but a point wasn’t enough for Charlton.
In a final twist, Villa’s Steve Watson was given his marching orders after pulling back Martin Pringle as he made his way into the box. Mark Kinsella teed up Danny Mills for an 18-yard strike that thundered into the back of the net. 4-3 Charlton. 89 minutes… and breathe.