Manchester City’s goalless draw at Porto last night sealed top spot in Europe’s ‘elite’ competition and saw them qualify for the last sixteen of the Champions League for the eighth successive season. As has been well documented, the blues have come a long way since the dark days of the third division, where trips to Darlington for an FA Cup tie have been replaced by journeys to Dortmund.
But last night, as City took to the field in Portugal, knowing that a draw would guarantee them to win the group, my mind was cast back nineteen years to 1st December 2001 and a time where Champions League football wasn’t even mentioned on the Kippax in the same context as the blues. For on that day, City travelled to Blundell Park and a Championship clash with Grimsby, a town that truly suits its name.
The blues sat in eighth position in the league, 14 places above their seaside hosts and 8 points behind leaders Wolves. A crowd of just 7,900 watched the blues take three points, thanks to two late goals – a penalty from Darren Huckerby and a last-minute strike from Shaun Goater. The win lifted City into fourth place in the Championship table, but were now seven points behind new leaders Burnley, but it would kick-start a run that saw the blues only lose three games for the rest of the season.
But, as the blues dominated the match in Portugal last night, it was a different story on the east coast. Before Huckerby won and scored the penalty that gave the blues the lead, Grimsby had hit the post and had to rely on keeper Carlo Nash to keep them in the game. Huckerby should have scored in the second half, before he did on 72 minutes. Brought down inside the box, Huckerby dusted himself off and sent the keeper the wrong way.
Grimsby again hit the post from a header, but Goater thankfully made the game safe in the last minute when he rounded the keeper to make it 2-0 to the blues.
Man City team at Grimsby: Nash, Wiekens, Dunne, Mettomo, Tiatto, Benarbia, Berkovic, Horlock, Wright-Phillips, Huckerby, Goater.
Subs: Weaver, Ritchie, Negouai, Killen, Toure (Alioune, not Yaya or Kolo).
City would be promoted as champions at the end of the season, finishing with 99 points, while Grimsby would finish a full fifty points behind the blues and escape relegation by just a solitary point. Their promotion would prove to be the last time the blues played outside the top flight, but the thought of football against Europe’s elite, was nothing more than a pipe dream, even with Kevin Keegan at the helm.
After a successful first season back in the Premier League, where City finished ninth, reality kicked in and it was a familiar story for blues fans. From the following five seasons, City would finish in the bottom half in three of them, but the takeover from ADUG changed the landscape.
In 2001 and onwards, City weren’t exactly a threat to the Premier or Champions League’s elite. In fact, if a blue had said City would be champions in 11 years, they would be carted off and placed in a special facility. But City fans were ever the optimistic type, and when Keegan led the blues back to the Premier League in such style, it was only natural that the fans expected silverware to follow.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Keegan would depart the club in 2004 and Stuart Pearce took over. The former defender took City with a penalty of European competition but it wasn’t to be. Pearce was replaced two years later and City fans had silverware in their eyes as Sven Goran Eriksson arrived. Heavy defeats at Chelsea and Middlesbrough contributed to the Swede losing his job after just one season, with then owner Thaksin Shinawatra believing Mark Hughes could do a better job, before ADUG came along and bought the former Thai PM’s shares in the club, and giving Hughes a war chest that over clubs could only dream of. After purchasing Robinho, City must surely win some silverware soon. and for a while it looked like they might. Hughes took the team to the Europa League quarter finals, but oversaw a shock League Cup defeat at Brighton and a surprise home FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest.
Hughes’ team made a blistering start to the following campaign, but soon faded and a comfortable lead over Sunderland was cut as the blues ran out 4-3 winners. But three wins from twelve matches was not good enough for the new owners and Hughes was replaced by Roberto Mancini. The new boss lost the League Cup semi-final to United as the Italian struggled to find his feet in England. But again, that would all change the following season.
Although knocked out of the League Cup by West Brom, Mancini guided City to the Europa League last 16 and a place in the Champions League. But it was the run to Wembley that fully reversed City’s fortunes. After beating United in the semi-final, the blues faced Stoke in the final. A tense game was settled by Yaya Toure’s powerful left foot shot, which flew into the net and sent the travelling fans into ecstasy.
The following season, Mancini went one better. His rampant team beat United 6-1 at Old Trafford, reached the League Cup semi-final, and the Europa League last 16. But it was the last 6 matches of the season that would cement Mancini’s legendary status. Trailing United by eight points, the title race was almost over, however United started to uncharacteristically falter. On the evening of 30th April, City faced United with just three points separating the two. Vincent Kompany’s first half header was enough to secure the points and send City top on goal difference.
The rest as they say, is history as City went on to win their final two games and claim the Premier League title for the first time, and their first top flight title since 1968. The love affair with Mancini came to an end the following season. City failed miserably in the Champions League and were beaten by Wigan in the FA Cup Final. Mancini was sacked and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean transformed City, guiding them to the Champions league last 16, before claiming the League Cup and Premier League double in his first season. However, the FA Cup eluded him, as did a victory over Wigan who beat the blues at the quarter final stage.
Pellegrini would find out how frustrating it was to manage City when they lost at home to Newcastle in the League Cup and lower division Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. Meanwhile, Barcelona put the blues out of the Champions League for the second successive season at round 16. He won the League Cup again in the 2015/16 season and in January, the Chilean announced he was being replaced by Pep Guardiola for next season. He did reach the Champions League semi-final, but a lacklustre performance at Real Madrid saw the blues lose 1-0 on the night and overall.
Guardiola arrived on the back of an amazing reputation, and many asked if he could do it on a cold, wet night in Stoke. And the answer was yes, he could. Well it wasn’t exactly a cold wet night, more like a nippy September lunchtime, but the blues still ran out 4-1 winners. His first season was viewed by some as a failure; however the following two seasons was anything but.
City broke record after record, ending the season on 100 points and winning the title with five games remaining, as well as claiming the League Cup. The following season, Guardiola went one step better and not only claimed both trophies again but added the elusive FA Cup as City secured the first ever domestic treble.
The evolution at Manchester City has been incredible. From fighting relegation to four times Premier League champions, losing to Middlesbrough to beating Madrid and being unable to pay the players wages to having some of the most expensive players in the world. Times have certainly changed on the blue half of Manchester.
And no more trips to Grimsby!!