On this day 20-years-ago Manchester United suffered their heaviest defeat (at the time) in the Premier League era, a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United, a margin of defeat that the Reds have only been on the wrong side of twice since (Chelsea 5-0, 1999 & Manchester City 6-1, 2011).
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were reigning champions going into this fixture following Newcastle’s incredible collapse during the 1995/96 campaign which saw the Magpies squander a 12-point lead in January to finish second to the Reds by four points. Not only did Manchester United pip Newcastle to the Premier League crown in May ’96 but Ferguson also got one over Keegan once again when the Reds claimed the Charity Shield three months later by beating the Geordie’s 4-0 at Wembley.
United remained the only unbeaten team in the league going into this game at St James Park however four draws from their opening nine games saw them in fourth place, two points behind leaders Newcastle. Eric Cantona scored the only goal of the game in the corresponding fixture during the previous campaign however it was Newcastle’s own Frenchman who ruled supreme on this day two decades ago.
Without claiming the goal or the assist, David Ginola had a big part to play in the opening goal. The Frenchman pinched the ball from David Beckham before dancing his way around Gary Neville, he passed to Les Ferdinand whose shot was deflected behind for a corner. Ginola took the resulting set piece, finding world-record signing Alan Shearer in the box. The former Blackburn Rovers man headed back across goal to defender Darren Peacock whose headed effort was adjudged to have crossed the line despite Denis Irwin’s best efforts on the goal line and a protesting Peter Schmeichel who was carded for his troubles.
If Ginola didn’t get the credit for the first goal, he certainly took all the plaudits when he doubled Newcastle’s lead on the half hour mark. With his back to goal he received a pass from John Beresford, the Frenchman took one touch to get away from Gary Neville before rifling an effort past the helpless Schmeichel and into the top right corner, sending St James Park into euphoria.
Sir Alex Ferguson made his first change 10 minutes into the second half when Jordi Cruyff replaced the ineffective Ole Gunnar Solskjaer however the game was out of reach when Ferdinand added a third three minutes after the hour mark. Shearer – who was subject of interest by Manchester United during the summer transfer window – raced past Irwin down the right flank before producing an inviting cross to his fellow countryman. Ferdinand rose highest to caress his header off the underside of the crossbar and beyond Schmeichel.
With two assists to his name, Shearer decided it was time to get in on the act himself. The £15m man started the attack down the left before switching the ball to the right towards Peter Beardsley. Schmeichel pushed away a thumping effort from Beardsley however Ferdinand looked set to double his tally for the afternoon with a tap in. The Danish keeper did brilliantly to parry Ferdinand’s close-range shot however couldn’t do anything about Shearer who slammed home number four from inside the six-yard box.
If Shearer’s fourth was icing on the cake, then number five was the cherry on the top. Rob Lee and David Batty combined on the left before the former fed Belgian defender Philippe Albert. Who knows what the centre-half was doing in his sides attacking third but a quick turn of pace and a sublime left-footed chip left Schmeichel stranded and put the lid on a day that would go down in Geordie folklore.
The result was a devastating one for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side who would go on to lose their next two league games, 6-3 away to Southampton and 2-1 at home to Chelsea. The trio of league defeats left United sixth, eight points behind Kevin Keegan’s side who topped the table as we entered November. From losing three times in less than two weeks towards the back-end of October, the Reds lost just another two games from then until the end of the season and doing so, pipped Newcastle to the league title, just like they did the season that went before.