13th May 1989.
Manchester City’s promotion train was shuddering to a halt and in severe danger of derailment right at the end of the journey. One win in five matches had allowed Crystal Palace into the race and threaten City’s automatic place back in Division One after a two-season absence. City sat in second place in the table, three points ahead of Crystal Palace and with a better goal difference by five goals, however if the blues lost and Palace beat Birmingham by more than four goals, Palace would rake the final automatic promotion spot.
Over the last five games, City had been thrashed 4-0 at Blackburn, suffered a shock home defeat to Barnsley, missed the chance to put some distance between themselves and Palace by only drawing with the Londoners at Maine Road before throwing away a three goal lead at home to Bournemouth to draw 3-3. Suffice to say, City fans were not exactly filled with confidence as they travelled to Valley Parade.
Still they travelled in their numbers in nervous anticipation of one of the most vital games in recent years, and the blues started well enough to repay their faith. Trevor Morley released winger Nigel Gleghorn with a superb ball past the Bradford defence, and winger managed to flick it the ball over the keeper, but nowhere near the goal.
Then in true City style, they put their fans on tenterhooks by conceding. A cross from the left was knocked back into the box and, after a mis-kick by a Bradford striker, the ball fell to Mark Ellis, who curled the ball beyond Paul Cooper to give the home side the lead.
City continued to press but couldn’t find the back of the net. Paul Moulden whistled a shot wide, Neil McNab dispossessed the defender in the box and fired wide and Gleghorn took on the Bradford defence before also hitting the ball well wide of the target. Half time arrived with City a goal down and 45 minutes away from the lottery of the play-offs.
The blues were determined not to let that happen and started the second half even more determined to score and not undo a season’s work. City charged forward and Morley again set up Gleghorn, who fired over the bar.
Moulden then brilliantly set up a City counter-attack and released Andy Hinchcliffe down the left wing. The defender crossed into the box and Morley got their first, hitting a vicious shot that flew inches over the bar.
The blues were getting closer, but time was getting on and the longer it went on, the more desperate the players and fans were getting. Even worse, word came through from South London that Palace were beating Birmingham 4-0 at Selhurst Park, and that match would go on after City’s had finished as a crowd invasion had delayed the match. Another goal for Palace and City’s automatic promotion hopes were hung in the balance.
Winger David White hit the post as City pinned Bradford into their own half, and the blues had another host of chances that they just couldn’t finish, including a Morley chance that was saved by the legs of the keeper. Blues fans held their heads in their hands, unable to comprehend what was happening in front of them. After taking just two points from the first twelve, City had forced their way up the table and were now staring a final, devastating defeat firmly in the face.
In a rare foray forward, a cross from the Bradford left was plucked from the air by Cooper. In an instant, the City keeper started a last hope attack. Throwing the ball to Gleghorn, the winger passed to Moulden on the left. His pass inside the defence found White, who had swapped wings and outpaced the defender to play the ball into the six yard box where Morley was rushing in. The City striker made no mistake this time and flicked the ball with his right foot, beyond the keeper and into the back of the net.
The City fans went wild with delight as all the missed chances throughout the match were forgotten and Morley, the man subjected to some abuse from the fans earlier in the season, turned into an instant hero.
There was still time for a little drama as Hinchcliffe’s header back towards Cooper fell a little short, but the keeper was alert enough to gather the ball before any damage could be done.
As the final whistle went, City fans invaded the pitch to celebrate with the players as the blues took their place back in Division One. As it turned out, City would still have been promoted as Palace never got that fifth goal, however Birmingham put a spanner in the works by scoring themselves, but the day firmly belonged to City.
Final Score: Bradford City 1-1 Manchester City
Scorers: Ellis (24), Morley (86)
City Team: Paul Cooper, Gary Megson, Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White, Nigel Gleghorn, Ian Brightwell, Neil McNab, Trevor Morley, Paul Moulden
Subs: David Oldfield, Wayne Biggins
Relive the match here