The 2017/18 season celebrates 25 years of the Premier League. To mark the occasion we’ll be taking a look at some of the more off-kilter moments from each season. During a fairly humdrum season that had only briefly been lit up by the presence of Blackpool in the Premier League, the 2010/11 season threw up an unremarkable looking set of fixtures taking place on 5th February, and from nowhere a completely fabricated Premier League record was broken.
The 2010/11 season looked to be following a familiar pattern as Premier League sides began to approach the business end of the season. Manchester United were, unsurprisingly, top of the table, having reached the beginning of February unbeaten and opening up a five point gap ahead of their closest challengers Arsenal. Manchester City’s slow creep up the table following on from Sheikh Mansour’s takeover continued, while Chelsea and Tottenham were also in the frame for a top four finish. The biggest surprise of the first half of the season had been Sunderland, who, under the guidance of Steve Bruce, had hit a rich vein of form despite a 5-1 defeat in the Tyne-Wear derby against newly-promoted Newcastle. The Black Cats were sat in sixth place at the end of the January transfer window, ahead of a Liverpool side that had not only been busy on deadline day, but had also seen major changes in the dugout during the first six months of the season. Following Rafa Benitez’s exit from Anfield, the Liverpool board turned to Roy Hodgson as the man to restore them among the Premier League elite. The veteran coach arrived at Anfield off the back of two impressive seasons with Fulham – having saved them from relegation, Hodgson then took them to a top seven finish before an incredible run in the Europa League saw them beaten by Atletico Madrid. Some Reds fans were not wholly convinced of Hodgson’s ability to manage at the highest level, particularly when their summer recruits included the unfashionable central midfield pairing of Christian Poulsen and Raul Meireles and left-back Paul Konchesky. The Anfield faithful’s misgivings proved to have solid foundation, as Hodgson floundered in the Liverpool hot-seat, being sacked after a 3-1 defeat at struggling Blackburn, their ninth defeat in nineteen games. That paved the way for the sensational return of Kenny Dalglish, who’d been working with the club’s academy during Benitez’s tenure. With the Anfield hotseat still warm from Roy the boy’s buttocks, Dalglish was quick to convince the board to splash out almost £50m on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll – one out of two ain’t bad. Leaving Merseyside on deadline day was Fernando Torres – Chelsea stumping up £50m to capture one of the deadliest strikers in the Premier League. Unfortunately they ended up with an extremely attractive clotheshorse.
Managerial changes and multi-million pound transfers asides, there wasn’t a great deal to get the pulses racing on the pitch during the season. Another typical year of watching Manchester United steamroller sides week upon week, while the rest of the league assembled themselves between the haves and have-nots. Even so, with a goals-per-game ratio of 2.7, the season was on course to rank as one of the highest scoring in Premier League history. The avalanche of goals was thanks in no small part to four 6-0 howkings dished out in August, the first, on the opening day of the season, as Chelsea put West Bromwich Albion to the sword on the opening day, and then incredibly repeated the feat a week later at Wigan Athletic. That same day Arsenal gave Blackpool a reality check by hitting them for six at the Emirates, and Newcastle announced their return to the Premier League the following day, with Andy Carroll’s hat-trick putting them on course for a six goal victory against Aston Villa. Manchester United, never ones to shirk an opportunity to embarrass an opponent, hit Blackburn for seven in November, with the languid Dimitar Berbatov scoring five. But it was another goals record that would be smashed on Saturday 5th February 2011.
The eight fixtures scheduled were little to shout about – the two televised games pitted the long throw artillery of Stoke City against Sunderland and a straightforward looking bottom versus top clash as Manchester United travelled to Wolves. A relegation six-pointer between Wigan and Blackburn offered the most potential in the 3pm kick-offs, while Arsenal hoped to maintain their pressure on the league leaders as they travelled to down-trodden Newcastle United who, having sold Andy Carroll on deadline day lost Shola Ameobi to injury at Fulham a night later. It took just two minutes for the first goal of the afternoon to go in at the Britannia, as Kieran Richardson pounced to give Sunderland the lead at Stoke. A surprisingly entertaining game saw Stoke equalise in the 32nd minute after Rory Delap’s long throw fell to John Carew to tap in and, whilst it wasn’t pretty, Sky viewers certainly had a game on their hands. The visitors repeated their quick start in the second half – Asamoah Gyan restoring Sunderland’s lead within sixty seconds of the restart and, with the game heading into the final five minutes, it looked as though Steve Bruce’s side had earned themselves another excellent win on the road. Robert Huth had other ideas, latching on to Carew’s flick-on from Pennant’s free-kick and poking past Craig Gordon to bring Stoke level again. Into the closing stages, and with Tony Pulis’ side piling on the pressure, Sunderland conceded another free-kick in a dangerous area, Pennant whipped it in, and Huth was on hand to volley home the winner. Late drama, five goals, and not a bad start to the afternoon.
Twenty minutes later the 3pm games kicked off, and blissfully unaware minute-by-minute writers settled themselves in for another regular day at work. It soon became apparent that they’d be busier than usual. With less than two minutes gone, the first goal flash of the afternoon arrived. Andrey Arshavin’s flick had sent Theo Walcott clear, and the England winger slid the ball between Steve Harper’s legs to give Arsenal the lead at Newcastle. Two minutes later, another goal in the north-east. Johan Djourou’s header from Arshavin’s free-kick had doubled the Gunners lead. In the same minute, Tottenham were awarded a penalty at home to Bolton following Kevin Davies’ handball. Rafael Van Der Vaart converted to give Spurs the lead. Three minutes later, another penalty for Tottenham, this time for a foul on Aaron Lennon by Sam Ricketts. Van Der Vaart sticks the ball in the same corner, but a re-take is ordered for encroachment. This time the Dutchman fires wide. In the ninth minute at St James Park, Arsenal score a third. Walcott scampers to the byline, pulls the ball back and Robin Van Persie slams the ball in, Newcastle seemingly falling apart. Next its over to Birmingham, where John Panstil has headed past his own ‘keeper to give Aston Villa the lead against Fulham, then to Manchester, where City have been awarded a penalty against West Brom after Steven Reid is adjudged to have bundled Aleksander Kolarov over. Carlos Tevez steps up, sends the keeper the wrong way, and before he’s finished celebrating Everton have taken the lead over Blackpool, Louis Saha converting Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s pull-back. The clock ticks over twenty minutes and two goals go in simultaneously – Tevez gets his second of the afternoon for City, while Jason Roberts gives Blackburn the lead at Wigan. A five minute spell of respite is ended by Van Persie’s second of the afternoon, heading in Bacary Sagna’s cross to give the Gunners an unassailable lead over Newcastle, and fears of a record-breaking score filtering around St James Park – if only they knew. After half an hour there had been ten goals in the 3pm kick-offs – almost unprecedented – and there were more to come before half-time. Wigan equalised through James McCarthy just past the half-hour mark, Alex Baptiste brought Blackpool level in the 38th minute, and Tevez completed his birthday hat-trick with a second penalty five minutes before half-time. Mercifully half-time arrived offering journalists an opportunity to refuel with a cup of tea and a Mars bar, and tend to their blistered fingertips before the action recommenced.
Anyone expecting the flurry of goals to die down in the second-half was sadly mistaken. Just two minutes had elapsed when Saha grabbed his second of the afternoon to restore Everton’s lead against Blackpool. Four minutes later, another double goalflash as Hugo Rodallega gives Wigan the lead in their six-pointer, and Andrew Johnson heads in an equaliser for Fulham at Villa Park. A seven minute lull without a goal followed, but fortunately there was still incident to talk about as Abou Diaby received his marching orders at Newcastle for raising his hands round Joey Barton’s throat. Then Bolton levelled the scores at White Hart Lane through Daniel Sturridge, and James McCarthy gave Wigan a two-goal cushion against Blackburn, reduced to one two minutes later by Chris Samba. At Goodison Park the game turned on its head in a six minute spell as goals from Jason Puncheon and Charlie Adam put Blackpool 3-2 ahead. Another penalty – this time at the JJB Stadium – gave Wigan more breathing room, with Ben Watson converting. A sixth penalty of the afternoon duly follows at St James Park, as Laurent Koscielney brings down Leon Best, and Barton steps up to bring a semblance of respectability to the scoreline. In the same minute Kyle Walker, on loan from Tottenham, puts Aston Villa back in front against Fulham with a blistering strike from distance. Then the goals begin to fly in at will – Saha completes his hat-trick to bring Everton level against Blackpool, Clint Dempsey levels the game up for Fulham, Leon Best stabs home a second for Newcastle (they couldn’t, could they?) and before you know it Jermaine Beckford has put Everton in front. A minute later it’s back to Wigan where Blackburn have been awarded a penalty – David Dunn smashes home to bring it back to 4-3, Saha bags a fourth as Everton finally give themselves a cushion against Blackpool leading 5-3, ANOTHER penalty, and another for Newcastle, and Barton has scored it, and somehow, having looked destined to be hit for seven or eight, they’re within a goal of taking a point against Arsenal. Four minutes pass as games begin to peter out, Newcastle get a free-kick on the right hand side, Barton swings it in, headed away, it falls towards Cheik Tiote on the edge of the box, the Ivorian volleys it and it’s in. It’s in. They’ve done it. From 4-0 down. The comeback to end all comebacks. The first side in the Premier League era to claw their way back into a game from a four goal deficit. There’s still time for Van Persie to have a goal ruled out for offside and Kevin Nolan to slide a shot just past the post. And there’s still time for Niko Kranjar to score a winner for Tottenham against Bolton. An absolutely breathless afternoon ends with 38 goals, eight penalties, and an absolute headache for the Match of the Day production staff.
And there was still one game to go. In keeping with the mood of the day, it took Manchester United just three minutes to take the lead at Molineux, as Nani drove in a shot at the near post to put Sir Alex Ferguson’s side ahead. Remarkably, seven minutes later the Premier League’s bottom side were level. George Elokobi rose highest to meet Matt Jarvis’ cross to score his first goal in English football. Mick McCarthy’s team then began to boss the game and took an incredible lead in at the half-time break. Another high ball into the box, another scramble, and Kevin Doyle emerged celebrating Wolves’ second. The West-Midlanders managed to cling on in the second half to inflict Manchester United’s first defeat of the season and cap off an unbelievable day of football. The 41 goals scored on 5th February remains the highest tally of goals on a single matchday since 1995/96, when the Premier League first reverted to 20 teams. While it fell short of the 47 goals scored on 8 May 1993, it did go some way to ensuring the 2010/11 season became the highest scoring for goals/game ratio, though that record lasted only a season as it was blitzed in 2011/12.
Manchester United ended up winning the league at a canter, losing just three more games in the remainder of the season and finishing nine points ahead of Chelsea in second. Wigan and Wolves, spurred on by their wins on that February afternoon, managed to escape the drop as West Ham, Birmingham and the ever-entertaining Blackpool were relegated. Despite the psychological hit at St James Park, Arsenal were still able to qualify for the Champions League, but their title challenge collapsed after Cheick Tiote’s late equaliser. The Ivorian would stay at Newcastle for another six years, but despite attempting it during every home game, he never added to his goal tally.