Welcome back to another Premier League Years where, this week, we travel back to the season of my birth 1994/95. With the Premier League heading into just its third season, the pecking order of English football was changing.
Manchester United had begun to establish themselves as the dominant force in the Premier League while the influx of TV money meant that upstarts Blackburn and Newcastle were slowly spending their way into the upper echelons. Meanwhile, big winners of the ’80s like Arsenal, Everton and our focus today, Liverpool, were feeling the effects of signing a bunch of crap players (here’s looking at you, Istvan Kozma).
Crystal Palace 1-6 Liverpool (20 August 1994)
We travel to an opening day away trip for Liverpool to Crystal Palace who seemingly forgot to finish their stadium during the summer break. Palace were newly promoted and featured two future international managers in Coleman and Southgate; two questionable pundits in Wilkins and Solako and a journalist’s favourite on the bench in Jimmy Glass. You know, that Carlisle boy that scored a goal once.
Liverpool were entering Roy Evans’ first full season in charge and their lineup was a curious mix of the late ’80s and Spice Boys. Molby, Barnes, and Rush were joined by Fowler, James, and McManaman while Razor Ruddock partnered ESPN’s angry pundit Steve Nicol in defence.
The game burst into life after just ten minutes when a neat Fowler pass set Rob Jones into the box. The greatest full-back the world never saw, thanks to injury (trademark pending), was bundled over by Simon Rodger, a man with the single most English sounding name in the world. The resulting penalty was subsequently dispatched by Jan Molby, as always looking as though he was hardly moving. Big Jan at this point looked like your dad playing for the youth team which doesn’t really do Ray Wilkins and his massive bald spot any help.
If Palace thought the opening minutes were bad then things got a whole lot worse soon after. A Palace attack fell apart in the Liverpool box and Molby sent a young Steve McManaman scampering down the left. Like a coordinated giraffe, Macca drove into the box and bent an effort into the far corner setting Nigel Martyn off into an almighty tantrum. Nobody has been that angry since four-year-old Tom was denied a bag of fun size Mars Bars in Tesco.
Palace were then afforded further blows when summer signing Andy Preece went off injured and was replaced by Bruce Dyer, who Wikipedia reliably informs me was the country’s first ever £1 million teenager. His legacy? Barnsley legend. Money well spent. That was followed up by old man Wilkins going in the book for rolling the ball at the ref. Not only is he a clueless pundit but he may actually have been a clueless man for a while.
Palace did have a chance cleared off the line when striker Chris Armstrong saw his header cleared by Jones. Armstrong had thus far only succeeded in putting balls into the building site behind James’ goal.
Unfortunately for Palace, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot again. There was no danger when the ball got to Pitcher who, aided by the ‘wonderful’ surface at Selhurst Park, managed to scoop the ball straight up in the air. Even worse it was perfectly set up for a predatory Robbie Fowler who took a touch then unleashed a half volley into the bottom corner to bring around half time at 3-0 to Liverpool.
Palace began the second half with much more energy and forward thinking and were rewarded quickly. Dean Gordon (who looked like the only player trying) drove down the left and floated a cross onto the head of Armstrong who, with no building site to aim at, managed to stick his header in the back of the net.
The fightback didn’t last long though as Liverpool displayed their considerable class. The ball was worked out to Barnes on the left who played in the overlapping Bjornebye, whose cross was head home by Rush. Incredibly Rushy was still Liverpool’s number one striker despite looking and running like your middle aged uncle at sports day.
Liverpool weren’t done though as a pre-Thomsons advert Jamie Redknapp got to the byline and pulled the ball back for McManaman to stretch out one of his gangly limbs and prod home for 5-1. By that point, Palace were already out of the game and Rush inflicted even more pain (if that’s possible supporting Palace) when he headed home unmarked at the back post from a corner.
Palace offered little late on with Wilkins’ sand bones eventually giving out and being replaced by Bobby Bowry, who would go on to play for… Gateshead. Solako and Dyer would fire off target for a Palace side that looked like a small child in the deep end of the pool.
Liverpool would start the season well but, in a story familiar to Arsenal fans, would falter and eventually finish fourth while Palace went down as the fourth bottom side when four were getting relegated.