Newcastle United legend Rob Lee gives his verdict ahead of Liverpool trip and reflects on how 4-3 defeat impacted title challenge in 1996

Ex-Newcastle United midfielder Rob Lee admits ‘anything is a bonus’ for his former club heading into a tricky trio of festive fixtures – starting at Liverpool on Thursday evening (8pm kick-off).

Thursday, 16th December 2021, 11:58 am

The Magpies currently sit second bottom in the Premier League table, three points from safety and with Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United to come in their next three games.

Liverpool are unbeaten at home this season while Manchester City are currently flying high at the top of the table following a 7-0 win over Leeds United in midweek.

Meanwhile, Newcastle are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 4-0 defeat at Leicester City on Sunday.

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Rob Lee wins the ball off Robbie Fowler in 1994. Mandatory Credit: See Caption/ALLSPORT

The odds are certainly stacked against them and Lee doesn’t fancy his former club’s chances either.

“Liverpool at Anfield, with the players they’ve got, it’s going to be a struggle for Newcastle, it’s going to be tough,” he told BETDAQ.

“It’s a tough place to go even when Liverpool are not playing well, but they’re playing incredibly well at the moment. They’re scoring tons of goals, Mo Salah is probably the best player in the world at the moment, so it’s going to be a very tough game.

"If Newcastle are organised they won’t get blown away but Newcastle need points, they need results.

“Nobody is expecting them to get anything over the next few games so anything is a bonus.

"They’d be happy with a couple of points, or one win. It’s more about the performances. They don’t want to get battered again by somebody and the confidence starts to drain.

“Ideally you want to bring new players in [in January] when the team is playing well. Eddie Howe will be looking at performances – they want a result against Liverpool but don’t want to get battered.”

Lee was on the scoresheet the last time Newcastle beat Liverpool in a Premier League match at Anfield – a 2-0 win back in 1994.

But that’s not the game that sticks out in most people’s memories. Instead, it’s the heartbreaking 4-3 defeat in April 1996 which put a significant dent in Newcastle’s title hopes.

“Twenty-odd years later and people are still saying it’s the best game they’ve ever seen in the Premier League,” Lee revealed.

“It’s very nice for everyone to say it’s the best game the Premier League has ever seen.

“But I’d still have preferred it if it had been a bit more boring and we’d have won it!”

He added: “We fancied ourselves strongly against Liverpool, but you have no idea what sort of game it will be until you’ve finished it. All these years later people are still commenting on it!”

The Magpies led the game 3-2 as goals from Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Tino Asprilla cancelled out Robbie Fowler’s brace. But an equalising goal from Stan Collymore and a 90th minute winner condemned Newcastle to a dramatic defeat.

But Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side weren’t branded ‘The Entertainers’ for parking the bus.

“It was tense going into the final stages,” Lee continued. “I watch football these days and maybe teams would put a defender on when they were winning, but that’s not the way we played.

"Keegan was saying at half-time let’s get the third, let’s get the fourth. That was just the way we played, we attacked.

“But Liverpool had some good attackers of their own – Fowler, Collymore, Jamie Redknapp, John Barnes. I’ve spoken to John a few times about the game.

"We said it was like a football game you used to play as a kid: they attacked, we attacked, they attacked. We were in midfield and were just running up and down really!

“We always attacked, even 2-1 up at Anfield. But unfortunately we found ourselves at 3-3 with a few minutes to go. Even then we’re disappointed at 3-3, disappointed that we’ve only got a draw. And then Stan pops up at the end.”

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Even 25-years on, Martin Tyler’s ‘Collymore closing in...’ commentary is still enough to send shivers down many a Geordie spine. And Keegan’s slumped figure over the Anfield advertising boards following the stoppage-time winner is also synonymous with Newcastle’s 1995-96 title collapse.

The defeat left The Magpies three points behind leaders Manchester United in the title race but still with a game in hand and seven matches still to play.

“Not many teams get three goals at Anfield and lose,” Lee said. “But that was the way it was going at the time, we’d played well in a few games and were still losing or getting a draw.

"We were still scoring and playing attractive football but not winning a game. And that one was a particularly devastating blow for us.

On the impact it had on the title race, the 55-year-old added: “We didn’t feel the Liverpool defeat was the end of our title challenge, not at all.

“Right up until the last game of the season we still believed we could win it.

"There are a few games you could look at for where it went wrong. And yeah, the Liverpool game, if we’d have won that it would have given us even more impetus to push forward.

"But you can analyse every game and say you should have won. If we’d have won all those games we’d definitely have won the league, but it’s all in hindsight.

“Everyone goes on about the Liverpool game every time the fixture comes around. People still remember it all this time later, but I’d much rather have been on the winning team.

"It’s a much easier watch. I don’t mind watching up to 70 minutes, but I don’t like watching the last 20!”

The last 75 meetings between Liverpool and Newcastle have produced just one goalless draw, and that came last season at St James’s Park. Goals are expected on Thursday evening, but hopefully not too many for Newcastle’s sake!

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