1st April 1990. Villa Park
The 1989/90 season had been a tough one for the blues. Mel Machin’s young side had won promotion but had struggled to make any sort of impact on the top flight, with the highlight of the season coming way back in September, when the blues thumped United 5-1 at Maine Road. Since then, Machin had been sacked and replaced by Howard Kendall, but even the former Everton boss looked to have his work cut out in the Maine Road hot seat.
By the time they went to Villa Park, City sat in 18th place in Division One, two points behind Luton Town, who sat above the relegation zone and just four points behind United, who themselves also in danger of being relegated. At the top of the table sat Aston Villa, three points clear of Liverpool with seven games to go, although the Merseysiders had two games in hand. Villa had already beaten the blues 2-0 at Maine Road in October and a similar result was expected. But as usual, City don’t like to do what’s expected of them.
City’s defence was ragged and right-back Alan Harper was installed at left-back, while midfielder Paul Lake played at right-back, while Clive Allen partnered Niall Quinn up front.
The bleus started well though, which belied their precarious league position, with Mark Ward almost capitalising on a bit of indecision and hesitation in the Villa defence. But as we’ve seen over the years, playing well does not always equate to goals, proven when Villa took the lead. David Platt danced his way into the City penalty area, around Dibble, then back past Dibble again before laying the ball off to Gordon Cowans who rifled home.
City rallied and Quinn’s diving header went wide and a vicious shot by David White flew over the bar before the blues deservedly levelled. City won the ball in midfield and Mark Ward, who had moved to City from West Ham, drove forward and hit a left foot shot beyond Nigel Spink in the Villa goal, to record his first goal for the blues
It was no more than City deserved and the two teams went in 1-1 at the break.
City replaced Niall Quinn with Adrian Heath in the second half as they went forward looking for a second goal, and it was the former Everton man who almost set up a goal for David White. The little striker dinked his way forward and crossed for the winger, but his volley deflected over by the defender. From the resulting corner, Allen’s header bounced off the bar and into the hands of Spink as City threatened again.
The fans, who had travelled in their thousands for the match, were growing frustrated with the number of chances City had created with no reward, but all that changed with ten minutes to go. Playing it out from the back, White was released down the left hand side. The winger cut inside and fired a thunderous shot forward that cannoned of the foot of the post, only to fall kindly for Peter Reid, who calmly slotted home to send the blues fans wild in celebration.
City had another chance to score soon after, but as Blue Moon was heard amongst the pleas for the full time whistle, the ref finally blew and City had secured their first away win of the season and first in the top flight since the blues beat Spurs in January 1986! It was to prove a pivotal moment for both sides. The blues went on to secure their First Division status by five points, losing just one match from their final 11, including two further away wins at QPR and Norwich. The defeat was the start of the end for Villa’s title hopes as Liverpool won the league by nine points.
Final Score: Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester City