Everyone remembers where they were on the big occasions and the important Manchester City matches. Where were you for the iconic 6-1 victory at Old Trafford? How about when Sergio Aguero won the title for the Blues in 2012? What were you doing when Yaya Toure belted in the winner against Stoke in the FA Cup final?
For the momentous occasion of Steve McManaman’s return to English football and the third home league game of the 2003-04 season, which produced the first ever Premier League win for the Blues at their new City of Manchester Stadium, I can remember exactly where I was.
I was in the back seat of a dark blue Peugeot 406 with my legs outstretched onto the front passenger seat, in the very far corner of a car park in Owestry, Shropshire listening to a crackly BBC Radio broadcast commentary of the game. It belonged to The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where I’d just had my second of three operations on an osteoid osteoma in one of the bones of my right ankle.
The game was one that fit the cliché “of two halves”. The first belonged to Aston Villa. Marcus Allback went clean through on goal for the visitors twice in the early stages and twice City goalkeeper David Seaman saved to keep him from opening the scoring. Juan Pablo Angel ruffled the side netting after a superb flick to get himself clear, too.
The Columbian opened the scoring soon after, as he found space in the centre of the box to head home from a Lee Hendrie cross. Seaman started to come for the ball, but realised his error and ended in no man’s land; while Sylvain Distin was some way off his man in the middle.
It all changed in the second half. McManaman, who ran the show for the latter 45 minutes, earned the penalty for the equaliser. He weaved in and out of the Villa defence, before flicking the ball up and it was clearly handled by Mark Delaney, as he dispossessed the Scouser. Nicolas Anelka popped the ball into the bottom corner from the spot.
Two minutes later, an incident of holding on the corner of the box gave Michael Tarnat the opportunity to shoot from a free kick. He hammered it into the top corner and the Blues had taken no time to turn a deficit into a lead. Thomas Sorensen will have felt he should have saved it; as he waved two fists at it.
Mid-way through the half, City were in full control and they made their dominance pay. Joey Barton found Shaun Wright-Phillips with a cross-field pass and the little winger back-heeled for the overlapping Sun Jihai. Once in the box, he was brought down by Peter Whittingham and referee Mark Halsey pointed to the spot again. This time, Anelka went high and to the left – and beat Sorensen once more.
In the latter stages, the Frenchman sealed his hat-trick. Tarnat put in two excellent challenges to release the ball in the centre and it broke to the striker. He ran at the Villa defence and, after shifting the ball onto his right foot, picked out the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Here are the highlights of the match.
After the match, City boss Kevin Keegan said:
“I think there is so much more to come from Nicolas Anelka. He knows that. Some of the things he can do, I have not seen from anyone else on a training pitch. He’s been around for such a long time that it’s easy to forget he’s 24. I was 27 before I learned what football was all about. At 27, he will be at his peak, one of the best in the world.”
City XI: Seaman, Jihai, Sommeil, Distin, Tarnat, Wright-Phillips, Barton (Sibierski 73), McManaman, Sinclair, Anelka, Wanchope (Reyna 82)
Unused: Weaver, Dunne, Fowler
When this match was played, the UK chart had this banging tune at number one – it was the classic Where Is The Love by that superstar group The Black Eyed Peas.
If the Villa players needed cheering up, they could have gone to see the original Johnny English in the cinema following this match.
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Written by David Mooney.