Manchester City in 2003 was a completely different club to what it is today. When the Blues travelled to Leicester back then, both teams were scrapping for survival in the Premier League. Ahead of the match, the two sides each had four matches left to save their skins – City had the advantage, being in fourth bottom and six points ahead of their opponents, who were only off last position on goal difference.
It meant defeat for City would drag them right back into trouble. It would be compounded if Leeds were to then win at home to Portsmouth the following day. That worst-case scenario would leave Kevin Keegan’s side in the relegation zone.
As it transpired, this was the afternoon where City pretty much sent the Foxes down. An eventual 1-1 draw wasn’t enough to guarantee safety, but it meant the six-point gap remained in tact with just three fixtures left. Leeds’ defeat the next day gave the Blues a three-point buffer between themselves and the relegation zone – which was effectively four points because of the Yorkshire club’s awful goal difference.
Understandably, it was a nervy tie. The home side started off the better and were pressurising their opponents. Obviously, the victory would have been ideal for both clubs, but a draw suited City more than it suited Leicester. David James was called upon to make a great save from veteran Les Ferdinand, while Muzzy Izzet’s free kick evaded everyone in the box.
However, it was the visitors that nearly edged in front after Nicolas Anelka was gifted an opportunity by the Leicester goalkeeper Ian Walker. The England international skewed a goal kick straight to the striker’s feet, but he recovered well to tip the ball away from the Frenchman as he tried to go around him.
City eventually took the lead on the stroke of half time, after a free kick was awarded some 30-yards outside the Leicester box. Michael Tarnat, having scored from long, long range at Ewood Park earlier in the season, stood over it and Ian Walker lined up a three-man wall. It was a clean strike for the German and it would have been a simple save for the goalkeeper as the original effort was right at him – however, a deflection inside the box took it into the near post.
City, though, couldn’t hang on to the lead. Just after the hour mark, James Scowcroft took advantage of a loose ball in the visitors’ box and beat Tarnat in the air, after Sylvain Distin couldn’t clear. His header looped over James and into the net to pull the home side level.
With eight minutes to play, it could have gone from bad to worse. Izzet broke through the City ranks fortuitously and into the area. He touched the ball past Tarnat and into the path of Paul Bosvelt, who mopped up the danger – but the Leicester man went down under the German’s challenge and the referee pointed to the spot. The visitors were incensed; not only did they think it was a soft penalty, there was a strong case for Izzet using his hand to bundle his way through on the edge of the box.
It sparked scenes of mayhem on the pitch. An almighty melee broke out between the two sets of players, as the recently-substituted Steffen Freund ran back onto the field of play to get involved and Keegan went apoplectic inside the technical area.
When the situation had been calmed down, ex-City striker Paul Dickov stepped up to take the penalty, but his low drive just to the left of centre was well stopped by James. Trevor Sinclair was then first on the scene to belt the rebound away. It would turn out to be a precious point.
Two wins in the final three matches would see City finish eight points clear of the relegation zone. It looked quite a comfortable end to the campaign, but it was anything but – the victories against Newcastle and Everton lifted the club into fifth-bottom, with Leicester, Leeds and Wolves making up the last three spots.
The key incidents from the match are here.
City: James, Jihai, Distin, Dunne, Tarnat, Wright-Phillips, Barton, Bosvelt, Sinclair, Wanchope, Anelka (Sibierski 90).
Unused: Arason, Reyna, Macken, Jordan.
If City fans were worried about relegation after this match, they could take solace in that McFly were sulking after their song 5 Colours In Her Hair was knocked off number one spot in the UK chart this week.
Fans nipping to the cinema after the match could have seen Simon Pegg and Nick Frost take on the zombie apocalypse in Shaun of the Dead.
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Written by David Mooney.