December 26, 1896
The visit of the League champions to Anfield yesterday aroused a considerable amount of interest, and there were fully 15,000 persons present at the commencement of hostilities. The teams faced each other as follows: –
Liverpool: Harry Storer, Archie Goldie, Tom Wilkie, John McCartney, Robert Neill, Thomas Cleghorn, Malcolm McVean, William Michael, George Allan, Frank Becton, Harry Bradshaw.
Aston Villa (2-3-5): Jimmy Whitehouse, Howard Spencer, Jimmy Crabtree, Jack Reynolds, Jimmy Cowan, Bob Chatt, Charles Athersmith, Jack Devey, John Campbell, Fred Wheldon, Steve Smith.
Allan started, and immediately Becton put in a beautiful shot, which Crabtree intercepted with his cranium. The game became fast from the commencement, both ends being visited, and after Reynolds had shot over the bar, the home forwards hot well away, and McVean receiving from Becton beat Whitehouse with a grand shot in the first five minutes.
This reverse roused the Villa, and for a time they held the advantage, but Liverpool quickly retaliated and playing in fine style held their opponents. The home halves and forwards were going splendidly, and a clever bit of play by Neill gave Allan another fine chance of scoring. The Villa were rarely dangerous, and a grand run by Bradshaw enabled the left wingers to the place the ball right under the bar, and McVean rushing in placed it over, missing an almost certain goal, as the least touch only was required to put it into the net.
Athersmith then initiated a strong attack on the home goal, but the Liverpudlians were quickly busy again, and McVean getting possession from McCartney centred, and Allan beat the Villa custodian for the second time.
A change now followed, as Athersmith, racing down, centred, and after the ball had been returned several times, Cowan scored for the Villa, the ball travelling into the net, Goldie evidently expecting Storer to clear.
Clever runs by Bradshaw were conspicuous features of the home attack, and although centring well they were not fully utilised. The Villa now exhibited some grand play, an after Athersmith had raced down the ball was sent to Devey, who scored with a beautiful shot which Storer could not reach.
Still attacking vigorously the Villa poured n a perfect fusillade of shots on the home goal, but the backs and Storer saved splendidly. Eventually the siege was raised, and a dashing run and centre by McVean received the hopes of the home team. Campbell then almost worked through, Neill clearing beautifully, and then the same player put in a grand shot, which Whitehouse just tipped over the bar. The ensuing corner was easily cleared, and half-time arrived with the score standing at two goals each.
The attendance had considerably increased when the interval arrived and excitement was rampant as Campbell restarted. Immediately Michael received from Bradshaw, and with no one in front ought easily to have beaten Whitehouse, but his shot simply crawled along and a glorious chance was missed. Liverpool continued to hold the upper hand, and McVean made a grand run down, his shot just whizzing outside the upright.
Relying on the right wing the Villa made a strong attack, and an unsuccessful corner resulted in a clearance. Then McVean and Michael git down, and the latter forced a corner. The kick taken by Michael was beautifully placed, and Allan headed in. A certain goal would have resulted, but one of the Villa men tipped the ball over the bar. After consultation with the linesman the referee awarded a penalty and Becton placed the home team ahead.
The visitors played up strenuously now, and the home defence was severely taxed. It resisted cleverly, though both sides were now feeling the strain of the hard going. Athersmith crossed several pretty maneuverers, and then Michael, Allan, and McVean raced away, and Allan sending across to Becton, the latter got in a fast shot, which Whitehouse beautifully saved at the expense of a corner. The kick was well taken, and McCartney placed in a second one, this also being saved at the expense of a fruitless corner, though Michael was injured in his attempt to score.
With ten men the home team were handicapped, and Devey putting in a grand shot, Storer dropped it, and how the Villa missed scoring is a mystery. Bradshaw then beat all the backs, and sent right across the goalmouth, but no one was up in time to utilise it.
Then the Villa made a last spurt, and Smith centring, Storer mulled the ball, and in the melee it was rushed through. McCartney and Wilkie were hurt, and the Villa nearly scored again through Smith.
A prolonged bombardment of the home goal followed, until Bradshaw broke away and relieved. The Villa had, however, the best of matters, and a corner was forced by Smith. Nothing resulted, and time was called, the score being – Liverpool 3 goals; Aston Villa 3.
The game was a magnificently contested one, both sides showing grand football, but the first goal obtained by the Villa ought easily to have been cleared, and it was evident that it was entirely a misunderstanding that the score was obtained. The forwards on the home side were in great form, and with the Villa at their best, sterling work was exhibited. Exciting movements followed in rapid succession, and, with Liverpool two goals ahead, victory seemed to loom in sight.
The visitors, however, showing beautiful combination, drew level, and the fine sprints of Athersmith were fully equalled by the dashing efforts of Bradshaw. The halves and backs were really grand, and to single out any one as being pre-eminent would be invidious.
It was one of the finest and hardest fought games on the Anfield enclosure, and both teams fully deserved the points they obtained. The Villa went strongly at the finished, when Liverpool appeared fagged, but the home team stuck to their guns splendidly, and they deserve every credit for brilliant display; whilst the Villa are entitled equal commendation. As a game full of beautiful and intricate movements, dashing runs, and magnificent exchanges, the match will rank foremost for some time to come.
(Liverpool Mercury: December 26, 1896)