The Spoiler’s top ten Premiership games of 2008/09
The games that have made this season worth watching
Now that Manchester Utd have pretty much put the final nail in the coffin of the 2008/09 Premier League title race, it’s high time that we start peddling out some end of season lists. Accordingly, here is a top ten of the campaign’s most entertaining matches, which somehow includes a game involving West Brom…
#10: West Brom 3 – 2 West Ham, 13th September
Gianfranco Zola must have been wondering what he’d signed himself up for, watching his first West Ham game from the stands before taking over as manager. A game with a neutral-baiting mix of awful defending and open attacking play, both teams managed to lose their lead twice before an 83rd minute West Brom counter attack saw Chris Brunt sprint free of the Hammers’ defence and clinically place one inside the far post.
#9: Fulham 0 – 0 Sunderland, 18th October
Sunderland’s early visit to Craven Cottage should go down as the best goalless game of the season. Fulham’s goalmouth literally took a battering. Kieron Richardson, taking time off from his usual job of lying on a physio’s table somewhere, had his 25-yard free-kick bounce between the posts twice (before having another free-kick goal disallowed) and Djibril Cisse’s rasping long ranger was saved by the crossbar. However, the Cottagers created their own opportunities in the back-and-forth battle, with Zoltan Gera having a shot cleared off the line from Pascal Chimbonda before spurning his team’s best chance with a Carragher-esque air kick.
#8: Fulham 2 – 0 Manchester Utd, 21st March
It’s testament to how crap United were in the first half of this game that by the time Paul Scholes’ baffling handball earned Fulham a penalty in the 18th minute, the home team had already done more than enough to deserve a lead. United tried to rally in the second half, but the pressure of facing back-to-back losses and Liverpool still breathing down their necks showed. Wayne Rooney’s attempt to ‘return the ball’ to a free-kick spot by launching it over-arm toward the ref’s legs at 300mph earned him a red card a minute from time. A historic win for Fulham, and another strong argument in Roy Hodgson’s claim for Manager of the Year – at the same point last year, Fulham were four points adrift from safety.
#7: Manchester City 2 – 3 Liverpool, 5th October
At the risk of flogging a well-worn footballing cliché into atoms, this genuinely was a game of two halves. After a fairly rubbish start to the season – three wins and three losses – City looked like they were about prove they could crash the top 4 love-in. Within 45 minutes of champagne football worthy of their champagne price tags, they’d put two past Liverpool, with Javier Garrido swinging one of the best free-kicks of the season inside Pep Reina’s near post for City’s second. But Liverpool turned the tables in the second half, slicing through the Blues’ defence at will, with irrepressible carthorse Dirk Kuyt smashing home the winner in the 92nd minute. Managing to retain their unbeaten record in all competitions, it was one of the first indicators Liverpool might have enough resilience to sustain a worthwhile title bid.
Interesting fact: Xabi Alonso’s extremely hackable legs claimed their thirrd victim of the season in this game (six in total), with Pablo Zabaleta’s sending off in the 67th minute.
#6: Manchester Utd 1 – 4 Liverpool, 14th March
Although United were still four points in front once the final whistle had blown, it was a defeat that could’ve severely tripped up their title sprint. Liverpool could gain confidence from a myriad of factors: Rafa had secured his first win at Old Trafford, they’d stopped United breaking their own record of 11 successive league victories, Vidic was made to look like something out of a U9s reserve team and Wayne Rooney was made to look like a bit of a knob, days after previously expressing his hate for the Scousers. All of this wrapped up in an impressive, emphatic comeback package.
#5: Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester Utd, 8th November
A result that must now keep Wenger up at night. Where did it all go wrong, Professor? In the first meeting of the season between the two title rivals, an under-strength Arsenal managed to keep an excellent game of football at a frenetic pace (the stats worked out as a shot on goal nearly every 3 minutes). Even with Nicklas Bendtner leading the line, Arsenal survived a pummelling during the second half, showing a strength of mind that was all too lacking by the end of the season.
#4: Everton 2 – 3 Aston Villa, 7th December
This was the scene of one of the most hilarious moments of the season: Young Frankenstein-a-like Joleon Lescott stropping off the pitch the second the whistle was blown, just a minute after raucously celebrating what looked like a priceless point in the battle to break the top four. Around 30 seconds earlier, Ashley Young had stolen in from an Agbonglahor pass, turned Lescott like a door handle and slotted one past Tim Howard. Ironically, it was the sort of late defensive crumbling that eventually became Villa’s calling card as the second half of the season progressed.
#3: Manchester City 6 – 0 Portsmouth, 21st September
Once the transfer window shut last summer, it was hard not to be curious as to what impact the league’s newly minted club would have on the season. In the end, the answer was ‘little to none’, discounting a festive period spent knocking around the relegation zone. But at the start of the season, the 6-0 win at Eastlands looked like a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition game, offering a hint of the entertainment City’s Saudi-Brazilian revolution could serve up. Choosing to rely on his perpetually useless 3-5-2 formation, Harry Redknapp saw his team taken apart by Robinho, Wright-Phillips, Ireland and the rest of the rampant Blues’ attack, with six different players helping themselves to a goal.
#2: Arsenal 4 – 4 Tottenham, 30th October
One of the most exciting London derbies in recent memory, with ‘Arry managing to galvanise his reputation as a managerial magician by leading a revitalised Spurs team to a point at the Emirates. A typical derby, it was defined by fluffed chances and suicidal defending, Aaron Lennon sealing the equaliser seconds before the final whistle. The match was also the scene of David Bentley’s sole contribution to the 2008/09 season, a genius 40-yard lob which remains a contender for goal of the season. The result had a telling impact on the two teams: Spurs going on to win 2-1 against Liverpool, while Arsenal succumbed to Rory Delap FC in their next game.
#1: Liverpool 4 – 4 Arsenal, 21st April
Our game of the season and one that should go down as an all-time classic: Liverpool 4, Arshavin 4. Essentially with nothing to play for in the league, most fans expected Arsenal to accept being dispatched by a goal or two as they let Liverpool get on with the business of chasing their title dream. Andrei Arshavin though, had different ideas. Scoring from every one of his – and Arsenal’s – shots on target, he was the catalyst for the lead changing hands four times in the course of 90 minutes. Crap keeping, anonymous defenders – it was playground football at its finest.
Words and research: Richard Gilzene