In February 2004, Kevin Keegan took his struggling blues to White Hart Lane for their FA Cup fourth round replay. The first leg had ended 1-1, with City striker Jon Macken missing a glorious chance to win it for the blues near the end of the match. The prize for victory was a fifth round match at Old Trafford to face Manchester United, and the blues were desperate to make sure it was them who made the journey.
City had failed to win all but one of their matches since November, with their solitary win coming 3-1 at Leicester in the last round of the Cup, and had already lost 3-1 at White Hart Lane in the League Cup in December. The odds were stacked heavily against the blues, but you should never write of an unpredictable team, particularly when that team is Manchester City at their unpredictable best.
And, as expected, it didn’t start too well for the blues. After just two minutes, Spurs were in front. Ledley King curled a shot from just inside the area which flew into the top corner. It got worse for City as Robbie Keane, so often in the past the scourge of the blues defence, collected a long ball over the top of the City defenders and coolly chipped the ball left-footed over Arason in the City goal to make it 2-0 after just 19 minutes.
Shortly after, blues fans would have been forgiven if they’d given up any hope when star striker Nicolas Anelka went off injured. On 42 minutes, Joey Barton conceded a free kick and the City midfielder was subsequently booked for the challenge. Barton could really have no complaints as he went in with his studs showing and was rightly carded. Christian Ziege took it and curled a pearl of a kick into the top corner to give Spurs a seemingly unassailable lead. To top it off, as the referee blew the whistle for half-time, Barton again decided it was a good time to question the ref’s decision to award the free-kick. Despite being told to go away several times, Barton continued and promptly received his marching orders. 3-0 down, a man down, it would be a case of damage limitation in the second half for the blues.
As it turned out, City had no intention of limiting the damage.
Three minutes after the break, the blues won a free kick outside the Spurs penalty area. Left back Michael Tarnat stood over it – he had scored from further back at Blackburn earlier in the season, and was expected to try it again. Spurs prepared for a shot at goal, but Tarnat spotted the run of Sylvain Distin and the French defender calmly headed home from the edge of the six yard box.
Arason then pulled off the save of the match to keep blues hopes of a comeback alive. Tipping Ziege’s free-kick onto the bar, the keeper then somehow raced back across goal to stop Poyet’s goal-bound header from crossing the line. The save seemed to rejuvenate City and they pulled another goal back on 69 minutes. The blues poured forward and a cross from the left was headed away by the Spurs defence. The ball fell to Paul Bosvelt, who hit a shot from the edge of the area, which deflected off a Spurs player to wrong-foot the keeper and make it 3-2.
Spurs were suddenly on the ropes and the fans were getting nervous, while blues supporters in the corner of the ground sensed further City goals. With ten minutes remaining, Shaun Wright-Phillips was judged to be onside and raced clear of the Spurs defence to chip the ball over the onrushing keeper to make it 3-3. In fairness, it looked like SWP was just offside, but he played to the whistle and SWP didn’t hear one. All square and blues fans were in dreamland – Spurs were shell-shocked.
And there was time for more.
The blues felt a winner coming, and instead of holding the ball in the corner on the right, played it out to the left where it eventually fell to Tarnat. His left foot delivery was a perfect cross for any striker and Jon Macken, the man who had missed a chance to win it in the original tie, rose magnificently to head the ball across goal and blues fans went wild as the ball nestled into the far corner.
Spurs tried to hit back in search of an equaliser, but the blues cleared their lines effectively and held firm until the final whistle. As City fans celebrated, the home support held their heads in their hands, unable to believe what they had just seen. 3-0 up, a man up yet somehow they had thrown it away and lost the tie. Since 1981, there had always been a mention of Ricky Villa’s winning goal in the FA Cup Final replay.
Now the blues had their response.