Continuing to chart our progress from the depths of Division Three, we take a look at the 2004/05 season which saw Kevin Keegan’s reign end, Stuart Pearce ‘s start and some very unusual tactics to try and win a match.
After a dismal season and finishing 16th in the league, City embarked on a new campaign, eager to make their new stadium a fortress and give the big boys a run for their money. But, City being City, it never quite works out like that.
The season started with what was now a regular feature at the City of Manchester Stadium – a home match against one of the best teams in Europe. Last season, Barcelona had been beaten 2-1 and this year, Italian giants Lazio arrived. The visitors had barely a moment to take in the surroundings when they found themselves a goal down, Nicola Anelka scoring in the first minute. City has to wait until the 68th minute to get the second through Jon Macken, before two penalties within a minute of each other finished the scoring, Lazio pulled a goal back and Antoine Sibierski made it three and secured a second consecutive win for the blues over European opposition.
Once again, the blues were buoyant and Robbie Fowler gave City the lead at home to Fulham on 28 minutes. But City’s defensive frailties started already as they conceded an equaliser on 56 minutes and the game fizzled out to a draw.
Anfield next and the annual defeat to Liverpool looked in doubt when Nicolas Anelka gave City the lead on the stroke of half time. But it lasted for three minutes into the second half when Liverpool equalised, then scored the inevitable winner on 75 minutes through Steven Gerrard. The blues then conceded a goal after just eight minutes at Birmingham as Brum beat City 1-0. One point from three games left City one place above bottom club Crystal Palace on goal difference only, and they desperately needed a win so the faithful could keep the faith. It came in the last game in August, as City thumped Charlton 4-0 with two goals from Nicolas Anelka, and one each from Trevor Sinclair and Shaun Wright-Phillips. The result was met with relief from the City fans, who saw the team leap from 19th to 10th on the back of just one win.
It was short-lived joy as Everton visited and beat the blues 1-0, Tim Cahill scoring in the 60th minute before being sent off a minute later. City then travelled to Palace, who were still bottom and winless. The blues emerged 2-1 winners, with Anelka grabbing both goals in the second half.
The blues then thumped Barnsley 7-1 in the League Cup, with Joey Barton, Jon Macken (2), Willo Flood and SWP giving City a 5-0 lead at half-time. Further goals from Antoine Sibierski completed the rout, but it was soon back to league action and a visit from Arsenal. The Gunners won 1-0, and the result left City in mid-table but just three points off the relegation zone.
City started October with a goalless draw at Southampton, before becoming the first team to beat Jose Mourinho in the Premier League. Anelka scored an 11th minute penalty which was enough to win the match and condemn Chelsea to their only defeat of the season. That should have been the catalyst for City getting a few wins under their belts, but lost 4-3 at Newcastle, where City came from behind three times before falling to an 89th minute Craig Bellamy goal. Arsenal again arrived At COMS for a League Cup tie, and there was belief that City, playing an understrength Arsenal side, would progress. No such luck as the Gunners won 2-1. This defeat was followed by three consecutive draws. A 1-1 home draw with Norwich was followed by a goalless draw at Old Trafford, while Blackburn also held the blues 1-1 at COMS.
Two goals in the first eight minutes at Fratton Park threatened to extend the run of draws, but two goals in the last eleven minutes gave City a 3-1 win at Portsmouth. A week later, City won again, 2-0 at home to Aston Villa. November’s unbeaten run saw City sitting in 9th position in the league, having won, drawn and lost five of each, with a goal difference of…5!
But just as the fans started to get vertigo being so high up the league, the blues crashed them back down to earth. A 3-2 defeat at Middlesbrough was followed by a 1-0 home loss to Spurs. City’s last match before Christmas was at the Reebok stadium, where the blues won 1-0 thanks to a Joey Barton winner.
Goodison Park was the venue for our Boxing day visit and City lost 2-1, before the final game of the year at home to West Brom saw Richard Dunne cancelling out Nicolas Anelka’s first half goal as the Baggies rescued a point. Despite dropping a few places, City were not in danger of relegation, however with only half the season gone and the blues at their unpredictable best, anything could happen.
2005 started with a 2-1 home win over Southampton, before the blues travelled to Highbury to meet Arsenal for the third time in one season. A surprise looked on when SWP gave City a first half lead, but the Gunners saved a point with an equaliser just fifteen minutes from time. City’s defence had stopped a shock from happening. Four days later, it would allow a shock to happen.
City had a good record at Boundary Park, so when the blues were drawn at Oldham in the FA Cup, they were odds on to make it to the fourth round. But Oldham had different ideas and a 14th minute goal was enough to dump the blues out of the cup.
Humiliation at the hands of lower league opponents seemed to ignite City, and they dispatched Crystal Palace 3-1 at Maine Road. But City couldn’t keep any momentum and went another four games without a win. A 2-0 loss at West Brom was followed by 1-1 home draw with Newcastle, Robbie Fowler equalising from the penalty spot. A credible 0-0 draw at Chelsea meant two consecutive clean sheets against the champions elect as Mourinho again failed to beat the blues.
The Richard Dunne own goal bandwagon was in full steam and he bagged another as Manchester United recorded their first win at COMS, Wayne Rooney scoring the opener in a 2-0 win. The blues travelled to Carrow Road to face Norwich in the last game of February, which saw City come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and the country witnessed a rather bizarre request from Delia Smith. Norwich were 2-0 up after 16 minutes, but goals from Sibierski and Fowler levelled the scores by half time. Cue Ms Smith who was absolutely, 100%, hands down and in no way shape or form, drunk as she took a microphone to the pitch and asked for a 12th man, before asking “where are you? Where are you? Let’s be having you.” City responded to her request when Robbie Fowler scored a last minute winner after a huge period of sustained City pressure. Just to reiterate, Delia was not drunk. Honest!
The first match in March saw City lose at home to Bolton, a match that finally signified the end of Keegan’s reign as the manager resigned four days later. Stuart Pearce took over and his first match in charge was a trip to White Hart Lane. Claudio Reyna equalised Defoe’s opener, but the old nemesis Robbie Keane popped up with four minutes remaining to score the winner. But it was City’s last defeat of the season, as a 2-2 draw at Charlton was followed by a 1-0 home win over Liverpool as Kiki Musampa scored a last minute winner. Reyna scored again at Fulham as the blues recorded a 1-1 draw, then beat Birmingham 3-0 at COMS.
A goalless draw at Blackburn was followed by a 2-0 win over Portsmouth and a 2-1 win at Aston Villa to put the blues within touching distance of the UEFA Cup. The last game of the season saw City at home to Middlesbrough, where the blues had to win to secure a European place, while a draw would see Boro qualify.
The visitors took the lead in the first half, but Musampa levelled a minute after the break. Manager Pearce then confused the world by making one of the weirdest changes in football history. He took Claudio Reyna off and replaced him with substitute keeper Nicky Weaver. City’s Wembley hero of 1999 then went in goal and David James played up front. And it very nearly worked. The strange tactic confused Boro and they conceded a penalty in the last minute. Robbie Fowler had the responsibility of taking the spot kick that would take the blues into Europe at Boro’s expense. As the crowd held its breath, Fowler’s kick was saved by Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer and they went into Europe at City’s expense.
The win would have seen City finish 7th, but had to settle for 8th. The future however looked bright. Pearce had taken a team struggling in the league to the brink of Europe. What could he do with a full season in charge?