Can Spirit of 68 carry City to historic title?

Manchester City’s victory at St James’s Park against Newcastle last Sunday evoked memories of the last time the Blues were involved in a title race, way back in 1967/68. That year, City travelled on the final day of the season and secured a 4-3 win thanks to second half goals from Young and Summerbee to edge out rivals Manchester United (ironically defeated against Sunderland on the final day) in dramatic fashion. This time around City didn’t quite manage to win the title up in the North-East but the impressive 2-0 win ensured that they have matters in their own hands…

Can Spirit of 68 carry City to historic title?

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Danny Pugsley

May 11th, 2012

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Manchester City’s victory at St James’s Park against Newcastle last Sunday evoked memories of the last time the Blues were involved in a title race, way back in 1967/68. That year, City travelled on the final day of the season and secured a 4-3 win thanks to second half goals from Young and Summerbee to edge out rivals Manchester United (ironically defeated against Sunderland on the final day) in dramatic fashion.

This time around City didn’t quite manage to win the title up in the North-East but the impressive 2-0 win ensured that they have matters in their own hands heading into the final day. The thirty-eighth and final game of the 2011/12 Premier League season sees face off against relegation threatened QPR, who need a point to ensure they safeguard their Premier League status.

They are managed of course by Mark Hughes, a man who was sacked (in controversial fashion) by the City hierarchy and replaced by Roberto Mancini  back in December 2009. To add further spice to the occasion former City-players Nedum Onouha, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton will also return next Sunday.

Since that heady day back in the late-1960’s City have a number of crucial final day encounters. Granted, none would decide the title but as the club yo-yo’d erratically through the divisions the importance of these was perhaps as crucial in many regards.

The 1970’s were a relatively stress-free period in terms of final day nailbiters; the 1971/72 season could have seen a potential title decider against Derby but defeat against Ipswich the week before scuppered hopes that season as they ended up just a point behind (but in fourth place) Champions Derby.

The next two decades however saw City fans truly put through the mill. In 1982/83 – just two years removed from playing in the FA Cup Final – City hosted Luton on the final day of the season with the game being a relegation shoot-out. The premise was simple: a draw or win and City were safe, whilst Luton need victory. The game was a tense affair and looked to be heading for a 0-0 stalemate when just ten minutes from time Radi Antić  struck from just inside the box to break City hearts and famously send Luton manager David Pleat into a joyous jig across the Maine Road turf.

After a season of consolidation the 1984/85 season saw City amongst the front runners for the most part. On the final day bottom half side Charlton were the visitors with City needing to win to ensure a return to the top flight after defeat the week before at Notts County. City took control early though with goals from Phillips and May and with the nerves eased City were rampant and romped to a 5-1 victory and spark a joyous pitch invasion at the final whistle.

The 1980’s were very much an up and down decade for City and their return to the top flight last just two seasons before another relegation in the 1986/87 season. They closed out the decade on a bright note however as manager Mel Machin, in his second season at the helm, had his side – a mixture of youth from the 1986 FA Youth Cup winning side and one or two older heads – well positioned over the course of the 1988/89 season. However, with promotion looking likely, City suffered a case of the jitters with points being dropped notably at home to Bournemouth, when with promotion within sight they managed to throw a 3-0 half time lead away to come away with just a point with the game ending 3-3. That meant that City travelled across the Pennines to take on a Bradford side with Crystal Palace hot on their heels. Victory for the Blues would ensure they would go up and a point would be good enough depending on any margin of victory for Palace in their game. City fell behind to a Mark Ellis goal and it was a frustrating afternoon as news filtered through that promotion rivals Crystal Palace were racking up the goals. As the clock ticked down though Trevor Morley slid home David White’s through ball to level at 1-1 and end City up.

Back in the top flight City enjoyed their best period for some time. Under the stewardship of Peter Reid (who took over when Howard Kendall bolted back to Everton) they had three consecutive top six finishes in the early 1990’s and spent big on the likes of Tony Coton, Terry Phelan, Keith Curle, Niall Quinn and latterly Gio Kinkladze. An acrimonious takeover led by Francis Lee eventually resulted in Alan Ball taking over as manager. Ball, by no means popular with City fans, got off to the worst possible start and took just a solitary point from the first ten games of the season. That the Blues were anywhere close to being able to save themselves is a near miracle but with the final game at home to Liverpool City still had a chance of staying up. The Blues quickly fell 2-0 behind however but goals from Rosler and Symons levelled matters up. Believing that a point was enough and with the clock running down, City began to play out time before it was realised that a victory was needed due to results elsewhere. The Blues couldn’t get the winner and were relegated on goal difference.

Unlike the 1980’s this time there would be no coming back for City. The Alan Ball reign lasted a handful of games into the next season following relegation and City suffered the ignominy of having five managers in a s four month spell. Eventually, with Frank Clark (the most permanent of the bunch, lasting all of fourteen months) sacked, in came former player Joe Royle but he was unable to halt the slide down the table and the final game of the season saw a visit to Stoke with both clubs facing the spectre of the dreaded drop. A highly charged final day saw City triumph 5-2 but wins for Portsmouth and Port Vale saw both City and Stoke relegated.

City bounced back the following season of course, the famous come from behind playoff final win over Gillingham giving them an immediate return to English football’s second tier. With momentum behind them and a few canny additions to the squad, City started the season well and confounded most pundits by staying the course. This meant that City headed to Ewood Park to face Blackburn, knowing victory would earn successive promotions and return them to the Premier League. An astonishing game ensued as City triumphed 4-1, a scoreline that in no way provided a true reflection of the game with Rovers hitting the woodwork on a number of occasions and City seemingly scoring with every attack.

There has been a relative period of calm since then. City lasted just the one season back in the Premier League as the step back up proved that bit too much for Royle’s squad but with Kevin Keegan then taking over the club bounced straight back where they have remained ever since, despite flirting with the threat of relegation at times during the mid -2000’s but it has been over a decade now since City headed into the final day of a season with success or failure balanced on such a knife-edge.

It is many years now since the old First Division trophy was won at Newcastle ; heartbreak and joy has been experienced at the club in equal measure but none to the extent of what awaits shortly before 5pm this Sunday and it testament to how far the club – and this particular side – has come this past few seasons that they stand here on the cusp of a Premier League title: their fate held firmly in their own hands.

Legends live long and City’s history is awash with tales of Bell, Lee and Summerbee. Can the likes of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva et al emulate their predecessors and etch their own names into immortality?

Destiny awaits.

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