Three players involved in that nail-biting title race showdown in 1994-95 joined Sky Sports News reporter Ben Ransom for a reunion, a quarter of a century on…
Twenty five years ago, two North West rivals were embroiled in one of the most dramatic title races the Premier League has ever seen.
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Blackburn Rovers were the heirs to the crown, trying to overthrow the might of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
In a little over three seasons, Kenny Dalglish had used Jack Walker’s wealth to transform Rovers from a mid-table side in the old Division Two, to Premier League title contenders.
The record-breaking partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton had fired them to within striking distance of the ultimate prize, but as they turned into the home straight, Rovers began to falter.
A 10-match unbeaten run between February and April had Rovers six points clear at the top with just five games left to play, but that’s when the players began to feel the pressure, according to former midfielder Mark Atkins.
“We met Man City on a Monday night where it was torrential rain, the pitch was awful and that game could’ve gone either way,” he said.
“We could’ve won that one, but we didn’t. The run-in was always going to be difficult because nobody had ever been there before.”
Striker Kevin Gallacher was back in training after a broken leg, and he recalls seeing some of his team-mates were beginning to struggle with the weight of expectation.
“One or two of the lads were tiring a little bit because it was a tight-knit squad and a tight team that were generally playing,” Gallacher said.
“When we got everybody on song other ones seemed to drop out at the wrong time. Mark said it, we hadn’t been there before and nervous energy was getting used up in games.”
Gallacher did get back on the pitch to score the crucial goal as Blackburn beat Crystal Palace 2-1, before a dreadful performance 10 days later against West Ham saw them lose at Upton Park.
Colin Hendry had been a virtual ever-present at the heart of the Rovers defence all season. He remembers that was when tempers began to flare in the dressing room.
“It was the game at West Ham when we got beat 2-0, that was the game for me when I thought that we were going to have a bigger fight on our hands,” Hendry said.
“We were very disappointed. I think two or three of us got on to each other if I remember correctly after the game, we did have a pop at each other.
“The pressure is on. We had some big characters and it was Alan (Shearer) in there, you had (Chris) Sutton, Tim Sherwood, Tim Flowers.
“These boys weren’t going to shift and they weren’t going to pull back from saying something. There were one or two things in that game that really narked me, and I had a pop but you get onto the next game.”
Blackburn’s final five matches from 1994-95 season
Monday, April 17 – Blackburn 2-3 Man City
Thursday, April 20 – Blackburn 2-1 Crystal Palace
Sunday, April 30 – West Ham 2-0 Blackburn
Monday, May 8 – Blackburn 1-0 Newcastle
Sunday, May 14 – Liverpool 2-1 Blackburn
In the meantime, Manchester United had won three games in a row and cut Blackburn’s lead at the top to just two points.
To add to the pressure pot, Fergie was up to his old mind games and Hendry says that was where Dalglish used all of his experience as a previous title winner with Liverpool to provide a calming influence.
“We had to beat Newcastle at home which was the infamous game when Tim Flowers came out after and went on about having bottle,” Hendry said.
“It was round about that time as well Fergie had thrown the ‘Devon Loch’ quote out about us, putting pressure on us sort of thing.
“But to counteract that we had Kenny Dalglish as a manager who had been through all of that before, and didn’t say a lot but said enough to the players to the group to reassure each other that ‘listen, don’t concern yourselves with that just go and play your football.
“And the Newcastle game obviously we got right – Tim Flowers that night was absolutely on fire.”
Flowers made a string of saves to preserve Blackburn’s lead on the night, and also their advantage in the title race.
It meant they went into the final match of the season away at Liverpool with the title in their own hands. For Atkins the importance of those small moments cannot be underestimated.
“To be fair the Newcastle game they battered us, Tim Flowers was outstanding on the day made great saves for us to win 1-0 it was a massive three points,” Atkins added.
“Without Kev’s goal in the Palace game, without him [Flowers] pulling them saves off, I don’t think we’d have even got to Anfield.”
Ultimately, history was on Blackburn’s side and despite stumbling at the final hurdle they just about stayed on their feet.
Manchester United could only draw at West Ham on the final day, so even a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool saw them lift the Premier League trophy and claim a first top-flight title in 81 years.
For these former team-mates, the shared experience of what they went through 25 years ago remains a strong bond
Atkins says it created something special: “Our team spirit, the team ethic, the work ethic and everything like that was the best that I’ve ever known that season.”
Those thoughts are echoed by Gallacher: “We couldn’t have asked for a better squad of lads to get on together, to go and work and get that title – and that’s what we were there to do.”
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