Newcastle United 6 Everton 2 29th March 2002

Coming into this on a poor run (in the context of that season) following three defeats in our last 4 in all competitions, there was some concern that the season was about to collapse. A 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal was followed by a 3-0 mauling at Anfield and a 2-2 home draw with Ipswich in the league. Though this game saw us come back from 2 down and Shearer miss a late penalty, the feel good factor of that was blown away by Robert Pires in 9 mins at Highbury.

What came next was an Everton side on a solid run: they’d drawn at Anfield and home to Leeds, then beaten Fulham and Derby in a 4-3 thriller. Moyes seemed to have Everton on the up.

Good Friday brought with it sunshine and the TV cameras to SJP, as well as returning old boys in captain Duncan Ferguson and Alessandro Pistone. There is nothing better than a Bank Holiday game on Tyneside. Earlier starts and the sunshine meant that this was a day to be enjoyed.

Things did not start well. Big Dunc took advantage of some slapstick defending (and goalkeeping) to hit a half-hearted lob which Shay Given could only palm over his own head and into the net. Even he could barely believe it had gone in. Five mins gone and 1-0 down. Invariably this might have led to us retreating into our shells and not responding in any proactive fashion.

However, our number 9 kept himself free and, seeing us get a throw-in, took advantage by running beyond a switched-off defence. Robert took it quickly, defenders couldn’t catch Shearer, and the ball was in the bottom right of the Gallowgate. The noise level noticeably lifted. As he would against Bolton later in his career, Shearer used his knowledge of the rules and quick thinking to get it on target. Game on!

Two mins later and Newcastle had the lead. Robert was having one of those games, got down the line and angled a hip height cross into the area. Shearer was well covered, but, having a mini-revival (short lived) was Carl Cort, and he put it expertly into the bottom corner. 15 mins gone and 2-1 up, plain sailing!

For the next 20 mins Newcastle swept forward in wave after wave of attack, Kieron Dyer particularly unlucky not to finish off a glorious sweeping move. If you wanted an example of Bobby’s team at its attacking best, this was probably it.

Cue more horrendous defending! Distin and Dabizas allowed a Scott Gemill header to travel to the six-yard box, Given stayed at home and Niclas Alexandersson muscled between the pair to equalise. It was probably slightly unfair on Newcastle and, at half-time, with the score at 2-2, you could be forgiven for thinking that the opportunity had been missed. The next 45 mins were magical.

A Robert corner into the box was met by a stooping Carl Cort and fell at the feet of Andy O’Brien who prodded the ball into the Leazes net under Steve Simonsen. The relief and euphoria was palpable, but this was just the beginning.

Dyer exchanged passes with Shearer in front of the East Stand, burning past Pistone on the outside, looking like Overmars in the Cup final in 98. Simonsen went walkabout to the near post with David Weir. This left JJ, Solano and Cort in the 18-yard box. Dyer rolled it across to Nobby and it was a simple enough finish.

A surging midfield run from Jenas was then followed by an exquisite through ball that split the defence wide open. Solano took one touch to settle the ball and then rolled it under the keeper, and poor Steve Watso,n who had come on for Tony Hibbert, could only watch it trickle away from him.

The icing on the cake was all too easy. Lua Lua had replaced Robert and was bursting away down the left hand side. He went round Watson, drew the cover of Weir, and Olivier Bernard and was able to place his shot into the Leazes. An amazing turnaround and a 6-2 win.

This was a game which saw the best potential of what a young side could be. Replacing Cort with Bellamy would have made this Bobby’s young attacking front 6. The midfield had bags of pace (even Gary Speed wasn’t slow) and the movement going forward was frightening for a large amount of the league. This launched an unbeaten run that carried on until the final day, when a 3-1 defeat to Southampton was not enough to stop us finishing 4th, six points adrift of Manchester United but five ahead of Leeds, ultimately bringing about their financial crash the following season.

The future of this team looked great and, given this performance kickstarted the return to form, I always see this as the Sir Bobby team. They would go on to give us great memories and crushing disappointments but their original look and potential has not been seen in a Newcastle side since. Next time someone tells you Newcastle fans have expectations that are too high, remind them that, no, we just want a team that can excite us on its day and give us hope for the future. This team delivered that this day, though ultimately no trophy to remember them by.

STEPHEN ORD – @smord84

Premier League – highlights footageclick here