5th May 1996
It was one of the most bizarre days of Manchester City’s history. The blues started the day in 18th place in the Premier League, level on points with Southampton and Coventry who were above them and City were only in the position they were in because of goal difference. While City sat on -25, both Coventry and Southampton sat on -18, so if the blues wanted to survive, they had to win their last match by a decent score line, or hope one of the other teams failed to win and City claimed three points.
The only team that stood in City’s way were third placed Liverpool.
But City had been in a downwards spiral for a few seasons. The blues had finished in fifth place in 1992, but got nowhere near those loft heights as managers came and went. Brian Horton had replaced Peter Reid, and he himself was replaced by Alan Ball for the 1995/96 season. It was a protracted summer move for the former Saints manager, and as fate would have it, he would be up against his old club in a battle for survival, and the plan for City was simple – win the match to stand a chance.
In true City style, the blues got off to the worst possible start. Giving the ball away inside the Liverpool half, Steve McManaman charged forward and passed to Ian Rush, whose shot was deflected wide for a corner. The delivery found McManaman on the edge of the City area, and the future blue teased his way into the area before his cross was turned into his own goal by Steve Lomas.
Niall Quinn hit the bar, then dinked a shot over the bar as the blues tried to get back into the match. Uwe Rosler headed wide when it was easier to score, then City’s appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears as Nicky Summerbee appeared to be brought down inside the box, but the referee said it was just outside and the free kick came to nothing.
And as City toiled to make their possession count and take their chances, inevitably there would only be one outcome – and that ultimately would mean a goal for Liverpool.
McManaman brought the ball forward again and with the City defence stretched, passed to a completely unmarked Rush, whose deflected shot made it 2-0 to the visitors. City were in real trouble and with both Coventry v Leeds and Southampton v Wimbledon both goalless, the blues had a huge mountain to climb.
City were handed a lifeline on 71 miutes when Georgi Kinkladze’s weaving run was brought to an abrupt halt and this time, City were awarded a penalty. Rosler dispatched it was purpose and the blues were back in the game, but still needed two more goals to have a chance at survival.
The blues comeback continued seven minutes later when Summerbee’s corner was played back to the far post where Kit Symons rifled home the equaliser. The blues were sensing a Great Escape moment and chased a third goal, but an instruction from manager Ball changed everything.
Believing Southampton were losing at home to Wimbledon, Ball instructed the team to just hold on for the rest of the match, instead of going for the win. As it turned out, the match was still goalless and as it stood, City were down.
Quinn had been substituted and as the blues held the ball in the corner trying to waste time, the big striker ran down the touchline to instruct them to get a third goal. By now it was too late as City’s time-wasting antics backfired.
As the final whistle went, the realisation set in that that all three games had ended in draw, meaning City’s Premier League days ended. They fell through the trapdoor when it could have been avoided.
Final Score: Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool