Arsenal 2 – 0 Everton, 24 October 1992
Are Arsenal title contenders? It was hard to know after this most ordinary of afternoons in North London.
Everton were so abject that the figures painted on the Highbury mural, in situ whilst the ground underwent re-development, would surely have offered greater opposition than the eleven men in blue.
For his part, Gunners’ boss George Graham was very satisfied with his side’s work. They were starting to re-discover the mean streak that had made them champions of England two years earlier.
Last year they’d been the most entertaining side in the country as Alan Smith, Ian Wright, Kevin Campbell and Paul Merson scored goals by the hatful. However, that free-scoring football had come at a cost. Arsenal’s capacity to grind out clean sheets had withered and Graham made big changes over the summer to bring more grit to the Gunners’ midfield.
The man to make way was Highbury hero David Rocastle, shipped off to Leeds for £2m. Arsenal fans’ shock at losing one of their own was partly waylaid by the arrival of European football’s most unlikely overnight sensation. Midfielder John Jensen signed from Brondby with weighty expectations after his ripsnorter from long range helped Denmark beat Germany in the European Championship Final.
In the days before the worldwide web, getting accurate background information on players was a near-impossible task. You couldn’t plug p302 into Ceefax and get John Jensen’s career history. You had to rely on what you saw. And what Arsenal fans saw was a dynamic midfielder with a cannon of a right foot. Little did they know that right foot was about as reliable as a salmon putting on a pair of socks.
Jensen played alongside David Hillier in a spit-and-sawdust midfield pairing that dominated their meek Merseyside visitors. The wheels had already come off Everton’s season. They were riding high in August, unbeaten in five games and celebrating a 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Blessed with a first eleven that boasted Neville Southall, Martin Keown, Dave Watson, Peter Beardsley and Tony Cottee, hopes were high that Howard Kendall’s men could rediscover the glory days of the 1980s.
Unfortunately, that spine wasn’t supported by a reliably strong squad. Barry Horne huffed and puffed plenty in midfield, but he couldn’t do it alone. Widemen with the work ethic of Peter Beagrie and Robert Warzycha left the flanks more exposed than France in World War II. Five defeats in six during a stinker of a September, had seen the Toffees tumble down the table. And they were at their worst at Highbury.
Paul Merson’s corner was initially cleared, only for the Arsenal man to curl in a cross at the second attempt. Howard Kendall must have been furious at what happened next. A side containing Watson, Keown and Ablett made the collective decision to leave Ian Wright unmarked and he nodded past Southall to put the home side ahead.
The second goal was a thing of beauty. Substitute Anders Limpar, gliding across the turf like he was playing Sensible Soccer, ended a mazy dribble with a 20-yard fizzer to secure the points. Arsenal were up to 4th and chasing the tails of pacesetters Norwich and Blackburn.
QPR 2 -1 Leeds Utd, 24 October 1992
Les Ferdinand was back in business, ably assisted by the customary Leeds United away performance. The champions, about as good on the road as a gypsy with motion sickness, were back to their worst after an impressive showing last week at home to Sheffield United.
In fairness, many of the squad may have been depleted by the midweek efforts in the Champions League encounter with Glasgow Rangers, dubbed the “Battle of Britain” by the media. Howard Wilkinson’s men had come away from Ibrox with a chastening 2-1 defeat, courtesy of Ally McCoist’s winner, and they faded badly in the latter stages at Loftus Road.
Fatigue may have been a convenient excuse, but defensive frailties were becoming the norm for Leeds. The marking for David Bardsley’s equaliser was curious to say the least. Gordon Strachan hadn’t won a header since primary school and would have struggled to out-leap Bardsley with a stepladder.
Then with five minutes to go, Leeds committed suicide. Fairclough and Whyte hesitated over the most routine of headed clearances, allowing Ferdinand a free route on goal for the winner.
Gerry Francis’s side had lost only once in their last eight games, but the month ahead – with trips to Blackburn and Aston Villa – would be a test of their credentials.
Coventry City 1 -2 Chelsea, 24 October 1992
There was a battle of two big men at Highfield Road as Bob Rosario and Mick Harford led the charge for their respective teams.
Harford’s early-season form had been a high point in an otherwise ordinary campaign for Chelsea.
Having been a loyal servant for Luton Town, 33-year-old Harford was meant to be enjoying a swansong at Stamford Bridge where he was expected to play second fiddle to record signing Robert Fleck.
Chelsea fans serenaded Fleck with “We all live in a Robert Fleck world” after their summer-long chase finally ended up with his signature. However, it didn’t take long for Fleck’s world to become a bleak and gloomy place. After missing a hatful of chances on his debut, the Scot’s confidence crumbled. And by October he was no longer a certain starter.
Harford’s six goals had taken some of the pressure off Chelsea’s front line. And his contribution was crucial here.
His header put the Blues in front, only for Coventry’s own resident target man to strike back. Robert Rosario was a big, cumbersome striker who team-mates loved and fans loathed. His knockdowns created plenty of chances for his fellow forwards, though his own finishing left a lot to be desired. Against Chelsea, Sky Blues fans were treated not only to the rare sight of Rosario troubling the scorers, but doing so in the most cackhanded way possible.
A cross from the right found the big man unmarked three yards from goal on his favoured left foot. Somehow Bob contrived to scuff the ball onto the post. In stretching for the ball, he’d overextended himself and duly rolled through a 360-degree range of motion on the turf, only for the ball to rebound off the woodwork, onto his sizeable backside and into the net. Bob celebrated like it was the last goal he would ever score – which was not beyond the realms of probability – and was mobbed by incredulous City fans.
Sadly, Coventry couldn’t mark this auspicious occasion with all three points. Classic centre-forward play from Harford set up the waspish Graeme Stuart to slide home the winner. In the battle of the big men, the old stager had come out victorious.
Chelsea moved into the top half, whilst Coventry were Coventry, hanging around without anyone really noticing.