10 of English football's craziest Christmas matches: starring four-some Berbatov and mad Man United
Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle, Dec 2012
The oft-repeated cliché about unusually high scores around Christmas is that defenders are still half asleep having over-indulged during the previous days. Yet this match was full of fantastic finishing and some memorable attacking play that would have troubled the sharpest of defences.
At half-time the score was just 1-1, with a deflected Demba Ba free-kick cancelling out Theo Walcott’s distinctly Thierry Henry-like opener.
The second half was, frankly, bonkers. Twice more Arsenal took the lead, only to be pegged back both times by an obdurate Magpies side. Eventually the Gunners cranked through the gears, however, scoring four times in the final 17 minutes. Walcott – with two assists to his name too – completed his hat-trick, aided by the game’s biggest piece of traditional festive generosity.
Tottenham 6-4 Reading, Dec 2007
Unfortunately for Reading, who dominated the majority of this match, their striker Dave Kitson finished like a man fixated on pigs in blankets for the first hour.
Spurs had Dimitar Berbatov leading the line, whose tastes are altogether more cerebral. The Bulgarian scored four goals in one of his finest-ever performances, helping Spurs leapfrog Reading into 12th place. The north Londoners finished the season in a distinctly average 11th, while a horrendous run of form led to Reading being relegated on goal difference and wondering what might have been.
Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa, Dec 2007
A true festive gem. This had everything from the sublime to ridiculous: eight goals, three red cards, one Petr Cech howler and, in what can only be called a true Christmas miracle (at Stamford Bridge at least), two goals from Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukrainian's second was an absolute beauty, too.
Say what you like about Avram Grant – and many Chelsea supporters would rarely pass up an opportunity to do just that – but you rarely got this kind of unpredictable entertainment under Jose Mourinho. Admittedly his side probably would have won the game, but this was great fun.
Chelsea 2-4 Southampton, Jan 2002
Claudio Ranieri’s Blues had been inconsistent in the first half of the season, but weren't out of the title race five points and six places behind leaders Arsenal. Gordon Strachan’s Southampton were outside the relegation zone on goal difference. A home banker, surely?
Er, not exactly. Chelsea led 2-1 at the break, but in the second half Southampton scored three without reply – including a classy sidefoot volley from James Beattie.
It was a warning of things to come for the west Londoners, who went on to finish sixth. Southampton, meanwhile, recovered to end in the dizzy heights of 11th.
Newcastle 7-1 Tottenham, Dec 1996
Showing few signs of post-festive rustiness, Newcastle produced a mesmerising display of attacking football to sweep aside a truly woeful Spurs. Going forward, they looked like a typical Kevin Keegan side; goals of the highest quality from Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Rob Lee and even Philippe Albert made their London adversaries look as hapless as Ian Walker’s curtains.
At the back, and even in such an emphatic display, they looked like a typical Kevin Keegan side; John Beresford’s dallying on the ball during a rare Spurs foray into Newcastle territory allowed Allan Nielsen to grab a consolation.
Just over a week later, Keegan shocked Tyneside by resigning as manager, bringing an end to a trophyless but hugely enjoyable period of the club’s history.
Oldham 3-6 Man United, Dec 1991
Oldham 2-5 Man United, Dec 1993
To ruin someone’s Christmas is poor form. To do it twice in three seasons, particularly in a team's own backyard, really isn’t on.
In 1991, Manchester United’s title-chasing side (they would end the season as runners-up to Leeds) ripped poor Oldham apart with a succession of lightning-fast breaks involving Andrei Kanchelskis and a fresh-faced Ryan Giggs. Another memorable moment was the sight of Denis Irwin scoring against his former club and being rather happy about it. Muted celebrations? Pah.
Two years later United were the current league champions, and sought victory at Boundary Park to extend their lead to an imperious 14 points. It was achieved with ease as Oldham again crumbled against the attacking talents of Giggs and Kanchelskis – only this time they had to contend with Eric Cantona too. One can only assume Christmas was cancelled in 1994.
Man United 3-5 West Brom, Dec 1978
This game is included for two reasons: to appease any disgruntled Oldham fans who might be feeling victimised, and because goal for goal, it is one of the best matches ever played in England's top flight.
Ron Atkinson’s exciting West Brom side tore apart a United team still reeling from a dismal Boxing Day loss to Liverpool. Although United briefly led through a fierce Brian Greenhoff volley, the match was really all about West Brom’s exceptional attacking players. Time and time again, Laurie Cunningham ghosted past defenders with ease (if you want to see the footballing equivalent of a post-Christmas dinner slump then just watch Stewart Houston, red faced and puffing, trying in vain to chase a player simply too quick in body and mind). The finishes from Len Cantello and Cyrille Regis were equally impressive.
West Brom finished third in a memorable season in which this was the standout performance.
Tottenham 5-2 Chelsea, Dec 1961
Spurs have had a famously poor record against Chelsea in recent times (particularly at Stamford Bridge, where they finally won in 2018 for the first time since 1990), but things were once very different.
Spurs were reigning league champions, and just four days after beating Chelsea 2-0 away, the two sides met again at White Hart Lane. This time victory was even more emphatic, as a Cliff Jones hat-trick demolished a Chelsea side that were later relegated.
Almost all of the matches, Dec 1963
No list of classic festive matches would be complete without mentioning Boxing Day 1963, when a ridiculous 66 goals were scored across 10 First Division matches. Fulham beat Ipswich – league champions in 1962 – 10-1. West Ham were mauled 8-2 at home by league leaders Blackburn. Eventual champions Liverpool thrashed Stoke 6-0. Spurs and West Brom drew 4-4.
Imagine, then, being a fan of Leicester or Everton, whose sides let everyone down by playing out routine 2-0 home victories. Scrooges.
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