Continuing our series charting the rise from the depths to Premier League champions, we take a look at the 2007/08 season, which finally saw City gain serious investment and a manager who could potentially bring home some silverware. Or so we thought.
The 2007/08 season will forever live in the memory of every City supporter. It was famous as much for what happened off the pitch as much as what happened on it. In December 2006, it was reported that former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was looking to take over control of the club. At the time, it was a dream by blues fans that a takeover by a rich beneficiary would take place. That dream became a reality on 21st June 2007 when City accepted an £81.6m offer for the club.
The first task for the new owner was to appoint a manager to replace the sacked Stuart Pearce. Blues fans wanted someone high profile, a manager with a winning profile who could turn this City team into a team of winners. And the man was Sven Goran-Erikssen.
Erikssen’s first task was to strengthen the squad. In came Italian striker Rolando Bianchi for £8.8m on 13th July, The following day, Gelson Fernandes was brought in from Swiss club Sion for £4.2m. Three days later, Brazilian midfielder Geovanni joined on a free transfer and Martin Petrov signed from Atletico Madrid for £4.7m to finish July’s spending spree. But the blues weren’t finished. On 2nd August, City signed Croation defender Vedran Corluka and midfielder Elano for £8m each and spent £1.5m on Spanish defender Javier Garrido. They were followed the next day by the £5.75m signing of Valeri Bojinov from Fiorentina. It was a spending spree that had never been seen at City before, and the fans could barely wait for the season to start.
On 11th August, City’s new look side arrived at West Ham for the opening game of the season, and it took just 18 minutes for the blues to take the lead. Rolando Bianchi scored on his debut, and Geovanni made it 2-0 with three minutes remaining to give Erikssen a winning start. Newly promoted Derby County were the first visitors to Eastlands, and a Michael Johnson goal gave City a 1-0 win. Two wins out of two became three when Manchester United arrived and lost thanks to a 31st minute goal by Geovanni. But the old City returned as they lost 1-0 at Arsenal, Fabregas with the goal with 10 minutes remaining. Despite this, it gave City fans hope, as the blues sat 2nd in the league, just one point behind Chelsea. August ended with a 2-1 win at Bristol Rovers in the League Cup.
But September didn’t start as well as City lost 1-0 at Blackburn. The home side were reduced to ten men after 54 minutes, but Richard Dunne evened it up by receiving his marching orders on 65 minutes. Johnson was again the match-winner as Aston Villa were beaten 1-0 at Eastlands, before the blues played out an entertaining 3-3 draw at Craven Cottage. Fulham took the lead on 13 minutes, but Petrov levelled on 36 minutes. Fulham again went ahead three minutes after the break, but the blues levelled again two minutes later through Emile Mpenza. Petrov then gave the blues the lead ten minutes later but conceded again with 16 minutes remaining as City’s defensive frailties began to show.
The blues took on Norwich City at Eastlands in the League Cup, but had to wait until the 89th minute for a winner which booked their place in the fourth round. City then played what was widely regarded as their best performance of the season at home to Newcastle as the blues won 3-1. The visitors opened the scoring, but City then played Newcastle off the park. Petrov equalised on 37 minutes, before Mpenza gave the blues the lead two minutes into the second half. Elano then wrapped up the points with City’s third, making it a miserable return to City for Joey Barton, who joined the Toon in the summer for £5.8m. At the end of September, City were 3rd in the league, just three points behind leaders Arsenal.
Two more successive wins, 3-1 against Middlesbrough and 1-0 over Birmingham, both at home consolidated their position and kept the pace with the league leaders. But all good things come to an end and City’s run of good fortune was testament to that. The blues visited Stamford Bridge and found themselves 2-0 down at half time. But worse was to come as City conceded another four after the break to record their heaviest Premier League defeat of the season…for now! A visit to Bolton in the League Cup was the last game in October, which saw City still in third place despite the 6-0 hammering at Chelsea, and the blues progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win at Bolton, thanks to a penalty in the 85th minute from Elano.
November started with a 1-0 home win over Sunderland, followed by a goalless draw at Portsmouth. Stephen Ireland popped up with a 90th minute winner as the blues then beat Reading 2-1 at Eastlands, but City still couldn’t beat their Wigan curse in the following match. Despite Geovanni giving City the lead in the first minute, the match ended 1-1 against the ten man Latics. Rolando Bianchi remembered he was a blue and finally scored in the 2-1 defeat at Spurs, then found the net again as City beat Bolton 4-2 at Eastlands. City were enjoying a good League Cup run and there was hope that Erikssen would guide the blues to Wembley for the first time in a major competition since 1981. It wasn’t to be though, as ten man Spurs won 2-0 at Eastlands to send City crashing out.
Back in league action and Bianchi scored for the third successive game in a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa, before City welcomed Blackburn to Eastlands. The blues had won every home league match so far, but the fans knew that run would end at some point. And the record looked like staying when Darius Vassell opened the scoring on 27 minutes, only for Roque Santa Cruz to level a minute later. Twi minutes later, an own goal from Rovers put City back in the lead until Santa Cruz scored his second goal to level it up. It finished 2-2 and City’s record was gone. The final game of the year saw Liverpool visit and walk away with a point following a 0-0 draw. By the end of 2007, City had dropped to fifth, the 11 points behind leaders Arsenal. The early season promise was disappearing quickly, and City decided new blood would be needed in January to push their chances of silverware and European qualification.
City started the New Year at Newcastle and came away with a 2-0 win. The blues returned to West Ham for an FA Cup third round match, which went to a replay following a 0-0 draw. A trip to Goodson Park ended with a 1-0 defeat before City scraped past the Hammers in the FA Cup, thanks to Elano’s 73rd minute goal. West Ham returned to Eastlands four days later and drew 1-1, both goals coming in the first 16 minutes of the match. After suffering defeat in the League Cup, City fans were looking forward to a good FA Cup run, with a trip to Bramhall Lane being the reward for beating West Ham. But again it wasn’t to be as the blues lost 2-1. The Blades were 2-0 after 24 minutes, with a balloon claiming an assist for one of the goals as Erikssen’s dream of delivering silverware in his first season disappeared.
A trip to struggling Derby ended 1-1 with the blues having to come from behind to rescue a point. On the last day in January, the blues signed Benjani from Portsmouth. Although there was some confusion as to whether the striker had been signed in time, the FA finally confirmed his signature and he was free to make his debut at Old Trafford. The match against United would be held on the traditional memorial day for the ‘Busby Babes,’ killed in the Munich air crash of 1958. There was some concern about the behaviour of City fans, who had mocked the tragedy from the stands in the past, and calls were repeatedly made for blues fans to respect the silence.
They needn’t have worried. City fans showed their class by show their full respect to their neighbours and the memory of those who perished, and were not only applauded by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but also thanked over the tannoy for their impeccable behaviour. And so to the match, which United, as usual were expected to win. On 24 minutes, Vassell gave the blues the lead, which was doubled by debutant Benjani on the stroke of half time. United pulled a goal back in the final minute, but it was City who, after 34 years, 12 defeats and 11 draws, finally won at Old Trafford. It should have been the catalyst for the rest of the season, but the blues spoilt it by losing 2-0 at home to Everton in the next match, to finish February in 8th position.
March started with a 0-0 draw at home to Wigan, followed by a 2-0 loss at Reading. City came from behind to beat Spurs 2-1 at Eastlands, drew 0-0 at Bolton and finished the month with a 3-1 loss at Birmingham, which saw City drop to 9th. April began with Richard Dunne scoring his one-a-season own goal as Chelsea won 2-0 at Eastlands. The blues trip to Sunderland had to wait until the 79th minute for a goal, which came courtesy of an Elano penalty. Sunderland levelled three minutes later, but Vassell scored the winner with three minutes left as City won 2-1. A 3-1 home win over Portsmouth, where Benjani scored against his former club, was City’s last win of the season with three games remaining.
The final home match of the season saw City 2-0 up inside 21 minutes at home to Fulham, before deciding they just simply didn’t want to play anymore. Three second half goals from the visitors gave Fulham a surprise 3-2 win, before City travelled to Anfield for the penultimate game of the season. As usual, it ended in defeat as Fernando Torres scored a second half winner.
The last match of the season came at Middlesbrough. Owner Thaksin Shinawatra had already cast doubt about Erikssen’s continued reign at the club by saying he would evaluate him at the end of the season. It must have had some bearing on the team, who had Richard Dunne sent off after 15 minutes, then went 2-0 down before half time. Any chance of damage limitation went straight out of the window as Boro scored again on 58, 60, 70, 80, 85 and 90 minutes, with Elano scoring a consolation on 88. At 8-1, it was City’s heaviest ever defeat in the Premier League and one the fans did not expect from Erikssen. City finished 9th in the league, but somehow qualified for the UEFA Cup. Erikssen had delivered European football, but wouldn’t be in charge for City’s European return. After weeks of speculation, the Swede was finally sacked on 2nd June, to be replaced by a not as high profile managerial name. Mark Hughes.
For blues fans, it was yet another summer of uncertainty. But that was all about to change again in a way that was well beyond the wildest dreams of any City fan.