Most of us associate Boxing Day with certain things – all of the strewn wrapping paper from the day before, the war film, a bit of Premier League football... you get the idea.
Well, about that whole ‘Premier League football’ thing. While the debate continues about the wisdom of a winter break being introduced to bring English football in line with other top leagues across the continent, the fact remains that in 2016, the tradition of Boxing Day football in this country continues.
Nor is it necessarily a given that the matches – set to include encounters between the likes of Arsenal and West Brom, Manchester United and Sunderland and Leicester City and Everton – will be sluggish affairs due to the players having overdone it on the Christmas sherries.
If you don’t believe us, just take a look at this list of some of the finest goals to have graced the Premier League on Boxing Days both long and recently gone.
Javier Hernandez, Manchester United 4-3 Newcastle, 2012
The Red Devils were as irresistibly thrilling as ever in 2012-13, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at the helm, and no match typified it better than this one, which saw Javier Hernandez slide in to convert a final-minute cross.
The then Alan Pardew-managed Magpies had sensed the potential for an upset against a Manchester United team lacking injured attackers Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young, and indeed were leading 3-2 prior to Robin van Persie’s 70th-minute equaliser. So near, yet so far...
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea City 1-0 Aston Villa, 2014
Then managed by Garry Monk, Swansea dominated the first half and were rewarded by the Icelandic midfielder’s fine dipping free kick.
Although the Villans were more dominant after the break, they could not find a breakthrough, meaning that Sigurdsson’s set-piece mastery was enough to seal Swansea’s first Boxing Day win since 2007 – lifting them to the then-heady heights of seventh in the Premier League.
Eric Cantona, Sheffield Wednesday 3-3 Manchester United, 1992
While this late strike by the Frenchman who practically invented the word ‘mercurial’ (in our minds, anyway) is more comical than spectacular due to the Wednesday players’ hilariously bad defending, it is significant as an early example of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides’ ‘never say die’ spirit.
It could have all been so different, as the Hillsborough side had made the most of home advantage to race into a three-goal lead after the hour mark. But almost inevitably in hindsight, a Brian McClair brace set up the Red Devils nicely for Cantona’s timely equaliser.
Thierry Henry, Arsenal 6-1 Leicester City, 2000
There’s a lot to choose from for the Gunners’ goals in this match. So, why don’t we go with the opener, which saw Thierry Henry – then only just getting started as an Arsenal goal-scoring legend – fire through a throng of Leicester players, converting a cross swung to the edge of the area by fellow Frenchman Robert Pires?
As recalled by the BBC’s online match report on the day, Leicester had conceded only five away goals in the Premier League that season prior to Henry’s first strike of the game.
Michael Ballack, Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa, 2007
When does a wonderful 87th-minute free kick fail to win a Premier League game? Easy: when it’s in this especially topsy-turvy fixture.
Then managed by Avram Grant following the shock departure of Jose Mourinho earlier that season, the Blues were for so long rampant in this game, with Andriy Shevchenko having earlier scored a brace to bring the Stamford Bridge outfit level from two goals down.
Chelsea went ahead for the first time in the match through Alex, only for Martin Laursen to equalise. Sadly for Blues fans, Ballack’s dramatic intervention wasn’t the winning goal that it surely deserved to be, as an even later Gareth Barry penalty ensured Villa a share of the spoils.
Raheem Sterling, Burnley 0-1 Liverpool, 2014
By December 2014, Brendan Rodgers’ team’s heroics on the way to a second place finish in the 2013-14 season were already starting to feel like a lifetime ago, with even the Reds’ victories during this period – such as this one against the struggling Clarets – so often dour affairs.
However, winger Raheem Sterling was able to provide some brightness beyond his team’s yellow away kits in this fixture, rounding the keeper to score after the ball had been lofted into his path by Philippe Coutinho.
Mustapha Hadji, Coventry City 3-2 Arsenal, 1999
Arsenal may have given the Foxes a walloping on the first Boxing Day of the new millennium, but a year later, they were the subject of their own unfortunate reverse, although it proved a somewhat tighter match.
At one point, it looked like Gordon Strachan’s side would win by a more convincing margin, with Moroccan star Hadji providing a delightful second for the Sky Blues after a spectacularly deflected Gary McAllister opener.
2-0 was the way it remained into the break, but with Fredrik Ljungberg giving the Gunners a way back into the game, a very young Robbie Keane needed to contribute a third to rest the nerves of the Highfield Road faithful. It left Davor Suker netting a mere consolation for Arsene Wenger’s men.
Abou Diaby, Aston Villa 2-2 Arsenal, 2008
What is it about Gareth Barry penalties on Boxing Day? This 2008 clash brought another one, which pulled a goal back for the Villans after the Gunners had gone into a 2-0 lead.
While it was Denilson who would provide Arsenal’s opener, the goal that we are spotlighting for the purposes of this article is Abou Diaby’s superb breakaway strike. It came after he broke from inside his own half and laid the ball off to Emmanuel Eboue, before continuing his run and collecting the return pass to smash the ball home.
Alas, the goal was not enough to give Arsenal all three points, as William Gallas upended Gabriel Agbonlahor to give Villa a way back into the match from the spot, before defender Zat Knight rifled in from a Stiliyan Petrov cross.
There you have it – no fewer of eight examples of why Boxing Day Premier League football rocks. Bet on this year’s round of matches in a way that is guaranteed to bring you winnings, by signing up for one of our great-value matched betting plans here at Profit Accumulator now. It could be the best (late) Christmas present you ever give yourself...