Turkey, stuffing, mince pies, and festive football. Christmas is a time when offices close for two weeks and take a break from the nitty-gritty. But for football fans it’s the period that can make or break a season.
Boxing Day is one of the most exciting days in the football calendar and over the years there have been many thrills and spills. Footballers indulging in too much turkey or having one too many Christmas drinks have been caught unawares the next day, meaning anything can happen.
The talk of managers only getting three points when they are stopped by the police do the rounds annually and players names are swapped for those with a festive ring – King-Sleigh (Kinsley) Coleman and Santa (Santi) Cazorla just a couple that spring to mind.
A run of up to five games in just 15 days puts the pressure on some players, while others just want to make the Christmas headlines and grab some much-needed glory. It can be the catalyst to a run for Premier League survival but a bad day at the office could also send your club spiralling into the doldrums.
Manchester United and Arsenal historically win their Boxing Day fixtures in the Premier League with just two defeats each since the league’s inception back in 1992. Here, we take a look back at some of the 1990’s best Boxing Day clashes.
1992 – Sheffield Wednesday 3 Manchester United 3 – McClair and Cantona spare United blushes
High-flying Manchester United looked like they had the stuffing knocked out of them when they found themselves 2-0 down with just six minutes on the clock. Wednesday had rejected a £3m bid for David Hirst from United boss Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer and he repaid them by striking beyond Peter Schmeichel from 18 yards.
Just four minutes later the Owls had doubled their lead when Mark Bright poked home a Hirst header across goal after latching onto a Chris Waddle cross. Over the years we have seen that a 2-0 lead against a Sir Alex side so early in the game usually only ends one way: a humbling 4-2 or 5-2 defeat. But Wednesday were more than a match for their visitors.
With efforts from Ryan Giggs, Brian McClair and Eric Cantona failing to hit the mark, it was Wednesday who looked set for all three points when they extended their lead in the 62nd minute. Goalscorer Hirst turned provider with a header into space for John Sheridan to run onto. The Republic of Ireland international knocked the ball beyond the defence and struck past Schmeichel for 3-0.
The goals that United had threatened in the first half eventually came though. Just five minutes later, the fightback was on when McClair headed home a Lee Sharpe cross from the byline.
Ferguson subbed Giggs off for Russian Andrei Kanchelskis. United went on the rampage and with 10 minutes to go, they were back in the match. Sharpe had switched to the left side of the pitch when he crossed for McClair, but the result was the same. McClair got to the ball first to head past Wednesday keeper Chris Woods. 3-2. A nervy last ten minutes for the hosts.
When Wednesday rejected United’s approach for Hirst, Sir Alex signed Eric Cantona instead and he was to prove United’s savior at Hillsborough.
Another Sharpe ball into the box was met by the Frenchman who miskicked his effort. Woods couldn’t get down quick enough to the ball and it was left for King Eric to pounce for a second time to stab the ball over the line. 3-3. Parity for United and blushes spared.
1994 – Manchester City 1 Blackburn Rovers 3 – Shearer and Le Saux fire Rovers to league summit
Alan Shearer had already lit up the scoring charts with 16 goals when Rovers arrived at Maine Road for this Boxing Day clash. In what young fans could not envisage today, Blackburn were pushing for the title, while City sat in mid-table, the fortunes of the two clubs somewhat different 24 years ago.
It took Shearer just nine minutes to get on the scoresheet for Kenny Dalglish’s side when he poked home a Chris Sutton effort that had rebounded off the crossbar. On 16 minutes the visitors doubled their lead. When a corner eluded everyone in the box, defender Mark Atkins made it three goals in four games with a deflected effort that nestled into Andy Dibble’s goal.
City were back in the match with just 21 minutes played and it was main man Niall Quinn who reduced the arrears to 2-1. Irishman Quinn was famed for getting into the right positions and he rose highest to meet Garry Flitcroft’s free-kick and head past a stranded Tim Flowers.
The game ebbed and flowed as City went in search of an equaliser, but Blackburn were the more likely as the game entered the second half. And when Graeme Le Saux stepped up to a free-kick and lifted it over the wall and past Dibble, the points were secured.
Blackburn won six of their next 10 games and went on to claim the Premier League title by a solitary point, despite losing to Liverpool on the last day of the season. Manchester City stumbled to 17th but avoided relegation by four points despite losing their final two matches.
1996 – Middlesbrough 4 Everton 2 – Juninho fires Boro to unlikely double
Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough were in turmoil at the bottom of the Premier League. They went into the game on the back of a 12-match winless streak. September 14th had marked their last victory – a 2-1 away win at, yes, Everton.
That gave the Boro faithful slim hopes that a Boxing Day victory could be in the offing but Everton had lost just one of their 12 matches since that Goodison Park defeat.
Craig Hignett opened the scoring at the Riverside Stadium when he slotted home Emerson’s through ball in the 22nd minute. The Toffees were level eight minutes later when David Unsworth scored from the penalty spot after Derek Whyte handled a Gary Speed cross.
An end-to-end first half saw first Clayton Blackmore restore the lead for the hosts on 37 minutes, curling beyond Neville Southall to the bottom corner from 20 yards. However, it was 2-2 at the break as Duncan Ferguson headed home a Nick Barmby cross at the front post.
The half-time team talk worked wonders for Robson’s Boro and the dazzling footwork of £4.75m Brazilian signing Juninho Paulista proved to be the difference on the day. Collecting the ball on the right wing from compatriot Emerson, the diminutive midfielder danced into the box struck at goal. The ball was parried by Southall but he followed up to make it 3-2 to Boro.
And with just 15 minutes to go Juninho took the game beyond Everton’s grasp when he made it 4-2. Homing in on the Everton goal he played a one-two with Fabrizio Ravanelli and Southall was given no chance from eight yards as the Riverside fans revelled in a certain victory. It had been a long three months.
1998 – Blackburn 2 Aston Villa 1 – Villa surrender top spot
John Gregory’s Aston Villa found themselves top of the league on Christmas Day after victories against Arsenal and Charlton Athletic. Their side containing current England manager Gareth Southgate, Ian Taylor, and Dion Dublin were lighting up the Premier League while Blackburn Rovers were suffering at the bottom of the league.
A tight first half saw little between the sides as the midfield battle provided few opportunities. The deadlock was broken though a minute before the break when Kevin Gallacher reacted first to a Tim Sherwood header off the bar to give the hosts the lead.
Rovers had only won three matches all season with all three coming at Ewood Park. Number four looked to be on the cards when Villa goalkeeper Michael Oakes was controversially sent off in the 56th minute.
With Christian Dailly playing a long ball over the Villa backline, Oakes rushed out to collect. Having deemed that Oakes had handled outside the area though, referee Dermot Gallagher gave him his marching orders.
Villa looked to have salvaged a point when Riccardo Scimeca fired past John Filan in the 81st minute. However, they were to be denied a point as Sherwood struck an 88th-minute winner to bring Christmas cheer to the Ewood faithful.
This was not a classic but it was to be an important day in the league as Villa surrendered top spot to Chelsea. Seven defeats from eight matches between February and March ultimately put paid to Villa’s title hopes as they finished the season in sixth place, while Blackburn couldn’t muster the results to prevent relegation to the Championship.
1999 – Coventry City 3 Arsenal 2: Hadji conjures up spell to thwart Wenger’s Gunners
It’s been a long time since Coventry City graced the Premier League but back in the day, they were known to spring the odd surprise. An Arsenal side brimming with the young talents of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, and Freddie Ljungberg arrived at Highfield Road with three points expected for Arsene Wenger’s men.
But it was Coventry’s Moroccan pairing of Youssef Chippo and Mustapha Hadji who stole the show for Gordon Strachan’s men.
The Sky Blues took a sixth-minute lead when Gary McAllister fired home from 30 yards. Having picked the ball up in the middle of the park, the Scot took aim and struck towards goal. A wild deflection off Tony Adams left David Seaman helpless as the ball landed in the middle of his net.
Just before the break, McAllister set up Hadji for a 2-0 lead as the Moroccan collected the ball on the edge of the box, turned, and lofted the ball to the top corner. A Christmas miracle for Coventry was on the cards.
Arsenal pressed their hosts and were duly rewarded with a lifeline in the 67th minute. Ljungberg was the sharpest to react in a goalmouth scramble and at the third attempt managed to steer the ball into the net and beyond a hapless Magnus Hedman.
Coventry’s best form of defence was to attack and four minutes later they looked to have settled the three points when 19-year-old Robbie Keane made it 3-1 and set off for his famous cartwheeling celebrations.
Carlton Palmer and then Cedric Roussel headed the ball forward for Keane and it was left for the £6m signing from Wolverhampton Wanderers to hook the ball past Seaman from seven yards.
Substitute Davor Suker gave Arsenal hope of a late point when he ghosted past two City defenders and slotted the ball to the bottom right corner. But when Gary Breen cleared a parried Lee Dixon effort in the dying seconds of the match, the points were sealed and Coventry had pulled off a major upset.