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Final day drama

By Andrew McKenzie and Jonathan Stevenson

Michael Thomas breaks Liverpool's hearts and hands Arsenal the title in 1989
Michael Thomas breaks Liverpool's hearts and hands Arsenal the title in 1989

On Sunday, before a global television audience of hundreds of millions, the Premier League could - for the first time since its inception in 1993 - be decided by goal difference.

Leaders Manchester United travel to Wigan on the same points as Chelsea, who entertain Bolton, but Sir Alex Ferguson's side are 17 goals better off than their rivals.


Only four times in the past 20 years has the top flight been decided on the final day of the season.

John Barnes and Gary Pallister, who were involved in last-day drama in 1989 and 1995, talk BBC Sport through the triumphs and traumas as the destiny of the title goes right down to the wire.


Barnes on Liverpool losing 2-0 to Arsenal in 1989 and surrendering the title:

This game was very much a new dimension for all of us - a game against your rivals in a winner-takes-all scenario.

The pressure we felt that day was that we were able to lose 1-0 and still win the league, that made it a strange game.

Arsenal's players celebrate their sensational 1989 title triumph
It's up for grabs now... Arsenal celebrate their title success

Had we needed to win it would have been a much better game and I have no doubts that we would have won.

But we still went into the game fully expecting to win because of the type of team we were, we were very attacking and we would score plenty of goals while we were winning games.

Perhaps the fact that we could lose the game and win the title made it go that way, but we never even contemplated going 1-0 down or even spoke about it beforehand.

Subconsciously we maybe played more negatively than we usually did, but even when we went 1-0 down we thought there was no way we were going to lose 2-0.

If you are playing at a club and things are going well and you are playing with confidence, you can run quicker and tackle harder but when things aren't going your way, you look like you're not trying or you don't care.

Date: 26 May, 1989
Game: Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal
What happened? Arsenal needed a 2-0 win to pip Liverpool to the title and after Alan Smith scored, Michael Thomas bagged an injury-time winner

But the fans at Anfield that day didn't expect Arsenal to score a second either because we were the best team in the country at the time in terms of the way we played and our attacking style.

In the frantic last stages when Michael Thomas scored and we had 30 seconds to get a goal back, that is when it really hit us that we had lost the league.

But I don't look back in despair at that day. At Liverpool, the big thing was to not take victories or defeats too seriously and we went on and won the league the next year.


Pallister on Manchester United drawing with West Ham in 1995 when a win - coupled with Blackburn's defeat at Liverpool - would have given them the title:

There are certainly shades of what happened in 1995 this weekend when United travel to Wigan, for sure.

When we lost the title at West Ham, we looked across at Blackburn playing at Liverpool and we thought 'well Liverpool aren't going to want to do Manchester United any favours are they?'

Date: 14 May, 1995
Games: Liverpool 2-1 Blackburn
West Ham 1-1 Manchester United
What happened? Blackburn were two points ahead of Man Utd but with an inferior goal difference. Luckily for them, United found Hammers keeper Ludek Miklosko in stunning form

We thought they wouldn't be desperate to win the game, but they went out and did a job and beat Blackburn.

I think that speaks so highly of the professionalism of footballers and that is exactly what you're going to get from Wigan on Sunday.

As for us, once West Ham had gone ahead that day we absolutely laid siege to their goal but we missed chances and their goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko was in unbelievable form.

To have everything fall apart on the last day of the season, a whole season's work go up in smoke like that, a little bit of luck going against you in the last half hour of the match - it was just soul-destroying.

What made it worse was knowing that Liverpool had done their job for us and we had the title in our grasp.

Barnes on Liverpool playing Blackburn that day:

We couldn't win the title but as professionals we certainly wanted to win the game and of course we did just that.

Blackburn's Alan Shearer (left) and Manchester United's Steve Bruce
The triumph and the tragedy - Alan Shearer and Steve Bruce

However, we did not want Manchester United to win the league, so fortunately West Ham did Blackburn a favour by drawing with United.

But as for us, there was no way we could ever have felt we weren't going to try and win the game.

Coming to Anfield, we should have beaten Blackburn. They were up there in the league but they weren't coming as favourites or expecting to win as Anfield was a difficult place to come and play. I'm sure Blackburn were just hoping West Ham could do them a favour.


Pallister, who won the title on the last day with United in 1996, on the destiny of this season's Premier League:

If you asked Steve Bruce who he'd like to win the Premier League he'd say Manchester United, that's obvious - the club is in his blood, it's just human nature.

He captained United and won trophies and it was Sir Alex Ferguson who gave him the chance to do all that.

Date: 5 May, 1996
Games: Midd'bro 0-3 Man Utd
Newcastle 1-1 Tottenham
What happened? United led by two points and cantered to victory at Boro, with goals from David May, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs

But Steve is now the manager of Wigan, he's not at United anymore and he will want his players to prove they are a good side.

He's not out there on the pitch on Sunday, his players are and they will all be desperate to perform. Wigan is a difficult place to go, the pitch won't make it easy and they are not going to just roll over and die.

If they go into the game and don't approach it in the right way they could get embarrassed by United and they won't want that to happen on their own ground in front of their own fans.

However, I still think United will finish the job off. They have got match-winners in their team, they have all been there before and I feel now they've got this far, they won't let it slip.

Barnes on the destiny of this season's Premier League:

Wigan will play as we did for Liverpool in 1995. Even if Steve Bruce has an affiliation with United and a like for Sir Alex Ferguson, he will try and win the game and the players will as well.

The difference is probably that United are going to Wigan expecting to win - like I said, I don't think Blackburn were 13 years ago.

Date: 15 May, 1999
Games: Man Utd 2-1 Spurs
Arsenal 1-0 Aston Villa
What happened? United led Arsenal by a point and they fell behind to Spurs while Arsenal went ahead against Villa. But United scored twice to win the title

I think it's going to be a very tight game and it really would not surprise me if Wigan managed to get a draw.

They are not going to get relegated so they can play relaxed football, they have professional pride to play for and they have got good players, match-winners like Antonio Valencia and Emile Heskey.

Having said that, I still think United will probably manage to win, though not easily.

Chelsea have the easier game at home to Bolton so I expect them to win comfortably, but obviously if United do win that still wouldn't be enough.

Gary Pallister was talking to BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Radio Four.

Barclays Premier League Table
01 February 2010 22:00
    P GD PTS
1 Chelsea 23 38 54
2 Man Utd 24 36 53
3 Arsenal 24 32 49
4 Tottenham 24 20 42

5 Liverpool 24 16 41

6 Man City 22 14 41
7 Aston Villa 23 13 40
8 Birmingham 23 -1 34
9 Everton 23 -1 32
10 Blackburn 24 -15 28
11 Fulham 23 -2 27
12 Stoke 22 -7 26
13 Sunderland 23 -10 24
14 Wigan 22 -23 22
15 West Ham 23 -9 21
16 Bolton 22 -15 21
17 Wolverhampton 23 -21 21

18 Burnley 23 -23 20
19 Hull 23 -26 20
20 Portsmouth 22 -16 15

see also
Lawro's predictions
08 May 08 |  Football
Robbo column
09 May 08 |  Middlesbrough
Alan Hansen's column
06 May 08 |  Premier League
Bruce vows Wigan will give 100%
08 May 08 |  Premier League
Chelsea v Bolton
08 May 08 |  Premier League
Wigan v Man Utd
08 May 08 |  Premier League


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