Man United Win 11th English Crown
Manchester United’s early dominance of the Premier League continued in the 1996-97 season, as the Red Devils won the championship with 75 points to their name. For the second season running, Man United beat Newcastle United to the title. Unknown entity Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal in September, guiding the Gunners to third place and a spot in the UEFA Cup. Seven clubs qualified for Europe this season while the race for the runners-up spot went to the wire with Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool all ending the campaign on 68 points from their 38 games.
Middlesbrough had a remarkable campaign – they spent a serious amount of cash on several high-profile players and reached both the League Cup and FA Cup finals. However, Bryan Robson’s men were relegated to the First Division after a 1-1 draw with Leeds United on the final day. Nottingham Forest and Sunderland also dropped into the second tier, while Coventry City and Southampton both survived by just one point.
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Red Devils Do Enough
The likes of Man United, Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool were all involved in the title race this term. The Red Devils came out on top in the end, winning their fourth Premier League crown since the beginning of the competition in 1992. Their points tally of 75 was the lowest for a title winner in Premier League history. United sealed the championship on the penultimate weekend after Liverpool lost at Wimbledon and the Magpies drew 0-0 at Old Trafford.
Man United drew 12 times over the course of the season but were hard to beat, losing just five games along the way, three fewer than the three sides immediately below them. Alex Ferguson’s men went on to pick up 21 wins, which was the most in the division (two more than Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool). Newcastle finished runners-up for a second season on the spin, while Arsenal – under new boss Wenger – took third spot ahead of Liverpool on goal difference. As mentioned, Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool all finished on 68 points, each having won 19, drawn 11 and lost eight of their matches.
Wenger Arrives at Arsenal
Wenger arrived at Highbury in September 1996. The Frenchman had previously managed Nancy and Monaco in the French Ligue 1 and Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, but the switch to Arsenal was without doubt his biggest job to date. Arsene would go on to have a stunning career in north London, but his appointment was greeted with mixed emotions among the Arsenal fans at the time.
Wenger went unbeaten early on, with his first defeat as Gunners manager coming at Old Trafford in mid-November. They went on to suffer defeats to Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, Man United, Wimbledon, Liverpool and Newcastle in the league, but you could feel something brewing in the red half of north London. The London outfit went on to finish third, missing out on UEFA Champions League football on goal difference behind Newcastle.
Two Famous Stadiums Close Their Doors
Sunderland and Derby County both left their stadiums at the end of the 1996-97 season to move into new homes. The Black Cats left Roker Park for the Stadium of Light, which is on the banks of the River Wear. Derby left the Baseball Ground to move into Pride Park. Sunderland started life in their new ground in the First Division after suffering relegation, while the Rams finished in 12th and secured top-flight football for the opening of Pride Park.
Crazy Campaign for Boro
Under Bryan Robson, Middlesbrough went on a spending spree in the summer of ’96, bringing in the likes of Emerson, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Festa. It served them well in the cup competitions, but Boro suffered a shock relegation at the end of the campaign. They were docked three points for postponing a fixture with Blackburn Rovers in December, which cost them dearly in the end. Boro finished in 19th on 39 points, two points adrift of safety.
Despite suffering relegation, Middlesbrough reached the finals of both domestic cup competitions this season. In the League Cup, Robson’s boys were beaten at Hillsborough in a replay by Leicester City. A month later, Boro lost 2-0 to Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, with Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton getting the goals.
Shearer Wins Golden Boot
In his first season at St James’ Park, Alan Shearer scored 25 Premier League goals to take the Golden Boot.
Although Newcastle missed out on the title to Man United again, it was a great personal season for Shearer, who more than paid back his record-breaking fee. The Newcastle striker finished two goals ahead of Arsenal’s Ian Wright.
Robbie Fowler and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finished on 18 apiece to share the bronze medal. Ravanelli made a big impact at Middlesbrough, scoring 16 Premier League goals. Out of the 13 players who finished in the top 10, eight of them were English.
Relegations & European Qualifications
Coventry and Southampton survived relegation by just one point, while Sunderland finished in 18th to drop down to the second tier. Middlesbrough’s three-point deduction cost them dearly, as Robson’s men finished two points away from safety in 19th position in the table. Nottingham Forest propped up the final 1996-97 Premier League table although they managed six wins and 16 draws across the course the season, which wasn’t disastrously bad.
Two teams qualified for the Champions League via the league route this season. Champions Man United were joined by runners-up Newcastle in Europe’s elite club competition. Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Leicester all qualified for the UEFA Cup. Chelsea entered the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup first round.
Which Teams Were Relegated?
Nottingham Forest were the first team to be relegated from the Premier League this season. As said, the Reds picked up just six league wins and suffered 16 losses, which is not as bad as many side that finish at the foot of the Premier League table. After Frank Clark was sacked, Stuart Pearce took over the manager’s job on an interim basis for a few months. Dave Bassett ended the season in the dugout at the City Ground but could not keep Forest up.
The 1996-97 season was certainly a memorable one for the Middlesbrough fans. They saw their team spend millions on several exciting signings, reach two cup finals, have a points deduction and suffer relegation all in the space of nine months. Boro won 10, drew 12 and lost 16 of their matches and went down to the second tier having mustered a total of 39 points.
Sunderland reached the mythical figure of 40 points but were still relegated after losing at Wimbledon on the final day. As a result, the Black Cats would start life in the Stadium of Light in the second tier. Peter Reid’s men had a real go, picking up 10 wins, but 18 defeats proved to be their downfall.
Which Teams Qualified For Europe?
Seven clubs qualified for Europe this year, with Man United and Newcastle entering Europe’s elite club competition.
Arsenal and Liverpool both missed out on the Champions League on goal difference.
The Gunners and Reds were joined by Aston Villa and Leicester in the UEFA Cup.
The Foxes got their European place by winning the League Cup.
After beating Middlesbrough in the FA Cup final, Chelsea were awarded a place in the Cup Winners’ Cup.