Danny Welbeck’s last-minute winner for Arsenal against Leicester has been labelled as a pivotal point in the title race, even with 12 games remaining. We look at other Premier League title-winning goals (that didn’t win the title).
10. Martin Keown
Most Premier League seasons can be immediately associated with one decisive individual. Eden Hazard set Chelsea apart last campaign. Yaya Toure inspired Manchester City two years ago. Sir Alex Fergusons’ final season at Manchester United became a prolonged masterclass from Robin van Persie. For 2002/03, read Pascal Cygan.
With 34 games of the season played, Arsenal were in second. Manchester United sat atop the summit, three points ahead, but having played a game more than the Gunners. Were Arsenal to win that fixture, which pitted them against 16th-placed Bolton, they would go top on goal difference with just three games remaining. Arsene Wenger, then closing in on eight years at Highbury, would pit his wits against Sam Allardyce for only the fourth time.
It was all going so well. When Robert Pires put the visitors 2-0 up after 55 minutes, Arsenal were headed to the top of the league. Their three remaining games were against relegation-embattled Leeds, mid-table Southampton, and Sunderland, who were in the midst of securing a Premier League record low points total. This was Arsenal’s title to lose, and they were winning it comfortably. Then disaster struck; Pascal Cygan got injured.
The French defender had signed for the Gunners in the summer, and he made 18 appearances in his first campaign. Against Bolton, he was impervious, with central defensive partner Sol Campbell helping silence Henrik Pedersen and company. But a calf injury suffered by Cygan in the 67th minute acted as the most unlikely catalyst for a Bolton recovery, as well as a title momentum shift. The former Lille centre-half was replaced by Martin Keown. Within nine minutes, Youri Djorkaeff pulled one back for the Trotters. With seven minutes remaining, Keown, Cygan’s replacement, scored an own goal. Bolton were level, Arsenal were stunned, and United were celebrating. The Gunners could not find a dramatic winner, and lost their next fixture to Leeds. Their chances of regaining the Premier League title had slipped from their grasp. And Pascal Cygan was the catalyst.
9. Drogba v Man United (1-2) 2009/10
If ever a game was crafted for the officiating skills of Mike Dean, the top-of-the-table clash between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford in 2009 was just that. With six games to play, Alex Ferguson’s United were top on 72 points. Chelsea were one behind. Wayne Rooney was enjoying perhaps his finest season as a professional, scoring 34 goals in all competitions as United endured their first season without Cristiano Ronaldo, but the striker was ruled out through injury. Didier Drogba was the only man to outscore the Englishman, but Carlo Ancelotti named him only on the substitute’s bench.
Nursing an ankle injury, Rooney was forced to watch as Chelsea took a one-goal lead through Joe Cole on 20 minutes. Drogba was introduced with 20 minutes to play, and his role was as predictably controversial as it was typically influential. Within ten minutes, the Ivory Coast striker had doubled Chelsea’s lead, but he was clearly offside when Salomon Kalou released him. It wasn’t even close; Drogba was at least two yards behind the last defender. But he finished emphatically, and Chelsea led 2-0 at Old Trafford. More importantly, they were going top. They would stay there.
Federico Macheda – more on him later – scored within two minutes to half the deficit, but United could not force an equaliser. Dean enjoyed a stellar showing, with Drogba’s offside goal, Macheda benefiting from a clear handball to score his, and both sides having contentious penalty appeals rejected. Just imagine his contemptuous attitude towards the mere mortals protesting on either side.
8. Marc Overmars
After guiding Arsenal to third place in the Premier League during his first foray into English management, Arsene Wenger enjoyed quite the impressive first full season at Highbury. The club completed only their second domestic double, beating Newcastle in the FA Cup final, and edging a Premier League title race with Manchester United. The Gunners won it by a solitary point over their rivals, but the decisive blow was dealt in March.
After a difficult winter period, losing four of their six league games from November to mid-December, Arsenal had at one stage fallen 12 points behind Ferguson’s United. When the two sides met at Old Trafford in March, that gap was nine points, but Arsenal had three games in hand. Still, the hosts had the initiative. Until Marc Overmars’ 79th-minute winner. That victory represented the second of ten consecutive wins, inspiring Arsenal to their first top-flight title since 1991.
7. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
The year was 1999. The month was May. Seeking their first back-to-back league titles since 1935, Arsenal visited a Leeds side who could only finish fourth. No higher, no lower. Heading into the penultimate match day, Manchester United led the Premier League table by goal difference only from the Gunners, who would play on the Tuesday. United faced Blackburn a day later, giving Wenger and his side an opportunity to apply the pressure. They failed miserably, with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring the winner for the hosts four minutes from time.
“Manchester United are favourites now,” admitted Wenger post-match. “I am an optimist so we shall wait and see.” United proceeded to draw 0-0 on the Wednesday, then beat Tottenham 2-1 to reclaim their league crown.
6. James McFadden
Much is understandably made of Arsenal’s Premier League title collapse in 2008. The enduring image of captain William Gallas refusing to leave the St Andrew’s pitch long after the final whistle shapes much of the narrative surrounding that season. A sickening leg-break suffered by Eduardo in the third minute visibly affected the Arsenal players – the striker would not play for another year – but it is often forgotten that they were actually beating Birmingham in stoppage time.
The hosts took the lead through a James McFadden free-kick against a clearly shell-shocked Arsenal in the first half. The visitors could have fallen further behind, but the score remained 1-0 at half-time. Theo Walcott scored his first ever Premier League goal to equalise on 50 minutes, before Arsenal took the lead through his second just five minutes later. Arsenal were five points clear of Manchester United before the game, and looked certain of extending that lead to eight points with 11 games to go. But a foul by Gael Clichy on Stuart Parnaby deep into stoppage time handed McFadden the opportunity to draw the scores level from the penalty spot. He duly obliged, and Arsenal had squandered their chance. This precipitated a five-game winless streak for the Gunners, and United won nine of their last 12 games to edge them out by two points.
5. Steve Bruce
The 1999 Champions League final. Wayne Rooney vs Manchester City. Ryan Giggs vs Juventus. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer vs Liverpool. Manchester United’s recent history is littered with dramatic winning goals. These strikes generate a shift in momentum, handing United both a mental and a physical advantage over their rivals. The first instance of a truly influential ‘Fergie Time’ goal came in 1993.
In the throes of the inaugural Premier League season, United were locked in a title battle with Aston Villa and Norwich. Weird. With table-topping Villa being held at home to Coventry, United sensed their opportunity. They faced seventh-placed Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford. After an hour of struggling to break down their opponents, matters worsened with John Sheridan’s penalty. Wednesday were 1-0 up, and United’s title dream was in jeopardy. Steve Bruce equalised with four minutes remaining, but United remained second in the table. Six minutes into stoppage time, a second Bruce header completed the comeback. Ferguson joined Brian Kidd in celebrations on the pitch, United returned to the top of the Premier League and stayed there, winning their last five games. History was made.
4. Steven Pienaar
The single most dramatic Premier League season. The 2011/12 campaign saw an inter-city rivalry between Manchesters City and United. In the blue corner, the former were seeking their first top-flight title since 1968. In the red corner, the latter were defending champions attempting to win a record 20th league title. We all know the ‘AGUEROOOOOOO’ themed ending. But this was United’s title to lose at one point.
A 12-game unbeaten run from January to early April had seen United take an eight-point lead at the summit, with just six games remaining. They would still have to visit the Etihad Stadium, but the title was in their hands. The first sign of trouble came against Wigan, with Shaun Maloney condemning them to defeat. An eight-point lead became a four-point lead. No matter. Less than a fortnight later, something weird happened. Marouane Fellaini was unplayable. At Old Trafford.
Everton were the visitors, and although David Moyes, whose ‘natural successor to Ferguson’ reputation was alive and thriving, and his side took a 1-0 lead through Nikica Jelavic, United responded. In style, too; by the hour-mark they led 3-1. Fellaini halved the deficit minutes later, but Wayne Rooney’s second put the result beyond doubt. With three games remaining, United were closing in on the ultimate prize of hushing their noisy neighbours in the most emphatic way possible. Then Jelavic scored his second. 4-3. Panic. A subdued panic – United still led – but a panic nonetheless. Then, with five minutes still to play, Steven Pienaar scored a dramatic equaliser. 4-4. United endeavoured to score a decisive fifth, but to no avail. Their lead had been cut to three points, and a visit to Manchester City was next. You know the story from there.
3. Federico Macheda
Liverpool were top of the Premier League at the start of 2009. Fact. Three draws in January saw Manchester United overtake them. Fact. Ferguson’s side won 14 consecutive games from Boxing Day until March. Fact. Liverpool closed to within four points of their opponents when they won 4-1 at Old Trafford. Fact. Then the fun began.
Rafael Benitez’s infamous rant is often credited as the turning point in the 2008/09 title race, but it was the debut of an unheard of 17-year-old Italian that proved far more pivotal. After that 4-1 victory for Liverpool in March, the Reds had assumed the momentum. ‘We are top of the league’ reverberated around the away end at Craven Cottage after a last-minute Yossi Benayoun winner against Fulham helped them above United in the table. Liverpool were two points ahead, but United had two games in hand.
The first would come the following Sunday. Aston Villa, beaten 5-0 by Liverpool a fortnight previous, visited Old Trafford. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring early on, but James Milner and Gabby Agbonlahor put Villa ahead after an hour. Macheda was introduced for his debut, but it was Ronaldo who equalised with ten minutes remaining. Still, United could not find a winner. Liverpool would remain top.
With seconds remaining, the ball fell to Macheda. The teenager’s touch from a Ryan Giggs pass was exquisite. His curled finish beyond Brad Friedel was spectacular, and sparked scenes of pandemonium from the hosts. They would return to the top of the league and would not surrender their lead from there.
2. Stan Collymore
For ‘Liverpool’, read ‘Newcastle’. For ‘fact’, read ‘love it’. For ‘Benitez’, read ‘Keegan’. The parallels between the 2008/09 title race and the 1995/96 edition are difficult to overlook. In both seasons, a challenger to the United throne emerged. Both Liverpool and Newcastle proved worthy adversaries, leading the Premier League table for periods. In Newcastle’s case, they had a 12-point lead in January. And even then, United were in third due to Liverpool’s form.
Such a huge gap meant that Newcastle could afford a collapse. And collapse they did, losing three and winning one in five from late February to early April. Yet they held the initiative. Manchester United, inspired by Eric Cantona, had obliterated the deficit, and topped the table after Newcastle lost to Arsenal in March. But Newcastle were level on points and had a game in hand. That fixture came a fortnight later, and Liverpool were the opponents.
It has since been dubbed as perhaps the finest game in Premier League history, and rightfully so. Robbie Fowler opened the scoring at Anfield within two minutes. 1-0. Within little over ten minutes, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola provided the perfect riposte. 1-2. Fowler scored his second soon after half-time. 2-2. But Faustino Asprilla restored Newcastle’s lead two minutes later. 2-3. Even after Stan Collymore equalised – 3-3 – on 68 minutes, the Magpies were content. They would return to the top of the table, but ‘The Entertainers’ continued to push for a crucial winner. To their detriment, it proved. Two minutes into stoppage time, John Barnes played in Collymore. 4-3. Liverpool players and fans joined in ecstatic unison. Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan slumped over the advertising board. He insisted there was “a long way to go” in the title race post-match, but Keegan knew. Keegan knew Newcastle had thrown it away. His infamous ‘love it’ rant at the end of April provided the lasting image of a broken title challenge, and he resigned within a year.
Manchester United would win seven of their last nine games, and another challenger was silenced. Barely.
1. Demba Ba
As far as tearing up the script goes, there does not exist a more emphatic, more devastating example. Liverpool’s welcome to Anfield resembled more a coronation. A remarkable run of form from New Year’s Day, when they were fifth in the table, behind Everton, to late April had seen them on the verge of their first Premier League title. Brendan Rodgers’ Reds won 14 of 16 games in that sequence, scoring 52 goals and conceding 21. A dramatic late 3-2 victory over Manchester City handed them a decisive lead in the title race, and a 3-2 win over Norwich in the next game secured Champions League football for the first time in four years. But Liverpool wanted more.
Chelsea were second in the Premier League when they visited Anfield in late April. Liverpool held a five-point lead over Jose Mourinho’s Blues, with just three games remaining. Manchester City were one place and one point further behind, but had a game in hand on both their rivals. Victory for Liverpool would all but assure a first title since 1990. Even a draw would have sufficed. After 45 minutes, that looked inevitable. Chelsea showed little attacking intent in the first half, while Luis Suarez and Liverpool sought to break the deadlock. In first-half stoppage time, the breakthrough came. It was Steven Gerrard. Of course it was. The influential Liverpool captain, with the club since he was a boy, was the decisive individual. But not as he dreamt it. The skipper lost his footing controlling a simple pass from Mamadou Sakho. The ball slipped away, as did Gerrard. Demba Ba stole possession, finished past Simon Mignolet, and Mourinho revelled in his role as chief tormentor.
Despite boasting 73% of the possession, 26 shots and 14 corners – including the greatest of all time from Iago Aspas – Liverpool could not break through the Chelsea bus. The ultimate insult was delivered four minutes into second half stoppage time, as Fernando Torres broke clear. The former Liverpool forward spared the Reds somewhat, squaring for Willian to score, but the damage had been done with Gerrard’s loss of footing. City beat Everton 3-2 in their game in hand, re-assuming the lead in the title race. The death knell to an incredible Liverpool season came against Crystal Palace, were they took a 3-0 lead and subsequently sought to overcome City’s +8 goal difference. Then Dwight Gayle happened.