In anticipation of the visit of West Ham to the Etihad Stadium this Saturday evening, this edition of Halcyon Digest travels back to August 2008 when the sides met in Manchester.
When looking back to the beginning of the 2008/09 season, it is sometimes easy to forget what happened in the weeks before Manchester City’s infamous takeover by Sheikh Mansour on 1st September 2008. Such was the huge impact of the takeover many fans chose to ignore the issues surrounding the club at the time and looked to the future. The truth is, however, that the club was on its knees and on the brink of meltdown.
When City welcomed West Ham to the City of Manchester Stadium for the first home game of the season on 24th August 2008, few could have imagined the seismic changes that the club would go through just a week or so later. The new found optimism and riches that swept the club off its feet on that unforgettable day wasn’t even mooted as a possibility. Instead, club owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, was on the run from the Thai authorities after corruption charges against him in his homeland. To make matters worse for City, he had millions of pounds worth of assets frozen which meant the club were effectively penniless. Bizarrely, he sought refuge in the executive seats at the City of Manchester Stadium when West Ham came to town. It was the last time he would attend the ground as owner of Manchester City.
Whilst the club were in the mire off the field, new manager, Mark Hughes, had hardly enjoyed a good start to his time at Eastlands. The drumming at the hands of Aston Villa on the opening day of the season only accentuated the off the field problems. Indeed, Hughes would later talk at length about the dire state that the club was in and the false promises that were made about transfer funds when he signed to replace Sven Goran-Eriksson in June 2008. He said:
I made the switch from Blackburn because I thought City was a club with potential, in a good financial position, and there would be money available. The reality wasn’t exactly what was described and sold to me. In fairness we were able to go into the transfer market, but there seemed a focus that players had to be sold, and I realised that maybe the resources weren’t in place that I thought. The training ground was not fit for purpose. I was quite shocked by how run down it was.
The game against West Ham, however, brought some respite for Hughes and the fans, alike.
Having signed from Hamburg on the Friday, Vincent Kompany was thrown straight into the deep end and was named in the side the next day, making his debut in an unusual central midfield role. In fitting with the mess the club were in, Kompany spoke about his rather chaotic arrival in Manchester. He said:
At the time I signed, I was supposed to meet the owner [Shinawatra] but then I was told he had to cancel it to go into hiding somewhere. It was a bit of a funny situation.
With Kompany starting alongside the likes of Micah Richards, Michael Johnson, Stephen Ireland and Daniel Sturridge, this was a City side brimming with home grown talent. The rest of the team was padded out with various European imports and journeymen who had been around the block but were barely improving the team. The pride of the fans was always the Academy products in the first team. It was a typical line up for the era and the events that occurred in the weeks that followed meant that it was also the end of an era.
With all the drama off the field you could be forgiven for thinking the game would be something of a side story to an otherwise enthralling saga, but it was an eventful afternoon. A lively first half saw City gain control of the match with some aesthetically pleasing football but, despite hitting the woodwork twice, there were no goals. With the second half edging closer, the Hammers were reduced to ten men when Mark Noble was sent off for two yellow cards: one for a handball, the other for clattering into Michael Johnson. Micah Richards also left the field early in the second half, albeit in entirely different circumstances. After a collision with team mate, Tal Ben-Haim, Richards was unconscious for several minutes and was stretchered off the pitch. Although he came around in the dressing room a trip to the hospital was inevitable.
It wasn’t until just after the hour mark that the deadlock was finally broken by Daniel Sturridge, scoring his first goal for the Blues at the City of Manchester Stadium. It was quite a finish too. After the ball fell to him inside the box he rifled a left foooted volley into the roof giving West Ham ‘keeper, Rob Green, no chance. The floodgates soon opened and within ten minutes the home team were 3-0 up thanks to two goals from Elano. On both occasions Stephen Ireland and Vedran Corluka combined down the right flank before the Irishman cut-back the ball for Elano to coolly finish. The result was a fitting reward for City’s dominance in the game and it signified Mark Hughes first league win as City boss. After the game, Hughes said:
There have been a lot of negative things said about the club in the past week and it was nice to get back to football. The response from my players was excellent – right from the start they had the right attitude and tempo.
City XI: Joe Hart, Vedran Corluka, Micah Richards (Hamann 54), Tal Ben-Haim, Michael Ball, Stephen Ireland, Vincent Kompany, Michael Johnson, Martin Petrov (Etuhu 77), Elano (Evans 77), Daniel Sturridge.
Subs Not Used: Schmeichel, Garrido, Gelson, Caicedo.
On this day The Verve were sitting at number 7 in the UK Singles Chart with Love Is Noise.
In the world of cinema, Death Race, starring Jason Statham and Ian McShane, also premiered this week in 2008.
Written by Rob Toole