Now a frantic finale to the season has passed, we return to our series charting City’s rise from Division Three to three times Premier League champions. Here we look at the 200/01 season and a quick return to the second tier.
After sealing promotion on the final day of the season at Blackburn, City set about making their mark in their first premier League season since 1995/96. In order to survive, manager Joe Royle invested heavily in the squad, bringing in Alf-Inge Haland from Leeds for £2.5m, Steve Howey from Newcastle for £2m and Paolo Wanchope for £3.6m from West Ham. The blues also signed Paul Ritchie from Rangers and George Weah from AC Milan on a free transfer, while Robert Taylor, Jamie Pollock and Lee Peacock all left the club during the summer.
The blues started at Charlton, where they had won 1-0 the previous season, and were looking to get straight into their stride. Sadly for City, it didn’t quite turn out perfect as The Addicks crushed the blues 4-0. City made amends four days later as the beat Sunderland 4-2 at Maine Road, but defensive frailties already began to surface as City lost 2-1 at home to Coventry. Three points from the first three games saw the blues in 16th place, and the fans hoped it wouldn’t be a season of struggle.
And it looked like it would get better as the blues started September with a 2-1 win at Leeds, followed by an annual, but fighting loss at Anfield as Liverpool won 3-2. A 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough was followed by another home draw with Gillingham in the League Cup.
A credible 0-0 draw at Spurs was followed by a 4-2 win on the return League Cup Second Leg at Gillingham, but September ended with another defeat, this time at the hands of Newcastle as an Alan Shearer goal gave the Toon army third place in the league, but condemned the blues to their fourth defeat of the season. Despite this, City sat in 14th place, but just one point above the relegation zone that featured bottom club Derby, second bottom Bradford and third bottom Chelsea.
And it was the second bottom team that City faced next at Maine Road, and the blues kept their first clean sheet at home as the beat the Bantams 2-0. That result was followed by a 2-0 win at Southampton. Six points clear of the relegation zone, the blues were now looking at the top half of the table rather than over their shoulders.
City’s next outing was an away game at Arsenal, where the blues were thumped 5-0 by the title-chasing Gunners, but a 1-0 win at Aston Villa on 1st November in the League Cup kept City on track, and gave the fans hope of finally lifting some silverware. But other than the League Cup, November would not be kind to City. A 1-0 home defeat to Leicester, was followed by a 4-1 hammering at West Ham. Manchester United beat the blues at Maine Road with a first minute David Beckham goal, before promoted Ipswich arrived and dispatched the blues 3-2. Those defeats dragged City back into the relegation battle and only a 2-1 home win against Wimbledon in the League Cup saved the month from being a complete tragedy.
December started with a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea had seemed to overcome their early season difficulties and had now climbed the table. City then hammered Everton 5-0 at Maine Road, but were held to a 2-2 draw at Villa Park. Ipswich ended City’s League Cup hopes with a 2-1 win at Maine Road and Sunderland beat the blues 1-0 at the Stadium of Light in the last game before Christmas, sending City into the festive period fourth from bottom and just two points ahead of their relegation rivals. A goalless draw at home to Derby on Boxing Day was quickly followed by another hammering by Charlton. The 4-1 home defeat left City second from bottom going into the New Year.
City travelled to Coventry on New Year’s Day and came away with a point following a 1-1 draw. The FA Cup 3rd round saw the blues drawn at home to Birmingham and City squeezed through courtesy of a 3-2 win. City’s struggles at home in the league continued as Leeds thrashed the blues 4-0. City were still second from bottom and the teams above them were beginning to edge away. A visit to Derby, who were three points ahead of City, saw the blues come away with a 1-1 draw, but City progressed again in the FA Cup, beating Coventry 1-0 at Maine Road, to set up a fifth round match at Liverpool.
The two had a dress rehearsal for the match on 31st January and the spoils were shared with a 1-1 draw. The blues had moved up a place in the league, but were still two points from safety. A 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough didn’t help the blues cause, neither did the ensuing 1-0 home defeat to Spurs. Any chance of City reaching the FA Cup Final were ended when Liverpool beat the blues 4-2 at Anfield, but February ended with a 1-0 victory at Newcastle. The blues had not won in the league since December, but Shaun Goater’s 63rd minute goal gave the blues a vital win. The result closed the gap on Middlesbrough, who were now only one point ahead of City.
But in usual City style, they would blow it as the lost four of the following five matches. A 1-0 home defeat to Southampton was followed by a 2-2 draw at relegation rivals Bradford City. Worse was to come. City lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa, before being defeats at Everton by the same scoreline. Second placed Arsenal, who were trying in vain to catch runaway leader Manchester United, dished out another 4-0 home defeat to the blues which left City five points away from safety.
City won 2-1 at Leicester, but United to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. It was an eventful match which saw United awarded two penalties, Paul Scholes missing the first before Teddy Sheringham scored the second. Steve Howey bundled home City’s equaliser seven minutes from time to rescue a point, but the match will be remembered for Roy Keane’s infamous tackle on Inge-Haland which effectively ended the Norwegian’s career.
On 28th April, City recorded their first home win of the year, beating West Ham 1-0, but the blues were almost down. Four points behind Derby, City had to win at Ipswich and beat Chelsea at home, all the while hoping Middlesbrough drop points. And for a while it looked good for the blues as Shaun Goater gave the blues the lead on 75 minutes. City had just 15 minutes to hold the lead against the Europe chasing Tractor Boys, but they could hold it for two. Matt Holland quickly equalised, then Martijn Reuser scored the winner for Ipswich seven minutes from time. As the full time whistle went, Middlesbrough fans celebrated City’s relegation with their own safety confirmed.
A final home game saw Chelsea claim a 2-1 win at Maine Road, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the blues had won. City finished eight points from safety and would spend the next season in the second tier of English football again. As a result of City’s relegation, manager Joe Royle’s reign came to an end and a new era would begin at Maine Road with a flamboyant new character taking the helm.