There is a certain something about a midweek fixture under the floodlights, especially when it’s a big game, and anyone who was lucky enough to witness this week’s victory against Barcelona can attest to that.
It’s partly that you have all day to anticipate the game, the rush to make it to the ground after work, the queuing at the turnstiles glancing at your watch and finally when you get in, the lights themselves and how they seem to intensify the green of the pitch.
Back in the 1970s we used to park on Denison Road and then head down Claremont Road with the throngs of fans to Kippax Street. As you got closer, the glow from the floodlights drew you like the proverbial moth to the flame towards Maine Road. They were, however, not so big on lighting on the outside wall of the Kippax Stand – it was frankly pretty dark out there for a night game and the lights from inside the turnstiles were the only illumination. When you finally got in and climbed to the top of the switchback stairs, you entered the dimly lit stand and found your usual spot, then you saw the pitch clearly for the first time. It was a sight to behold from the gloom, almost luminous – a green battlefield awaiting its combatants.
One of the big midweek nights of the 1970s which evokes memories of Maine Road and which had the ground bouncing a la Barcelona on Tuesday night was our League Cup semi-final second leg victory over Middlesbrough in January 1976. City were one down from the first leg at Ayresome Park, a goal from a Boro legend John Hickton had separated the sides; this meant City had lost one-nil to Jack Charlton’s side twice inside four days in the league and in the cup.
The first leg had been a tough midfield battle and many thought the second leg would be tight as well. Some pundits were even predicting Boro would be able to defend their slender lead and head to the final at Wembley as City were without several senior players including Dennis Tueart, Colin Bell and Dave Watson, replacing them with what was seen as inferior youngsters from within the squad. It didn’t take long for these predictions to look misplaced.
— Graham Ward (@exohms) November 4, 2016
Maine Road had 44,426 crammed in for the game and City flew out of the traps. It took just five minutes for them to wipe out the first leg deficit; attacking the North Stand, Asa Hartford cut in from the right and hit a hopeful high cross into the box looking for Joe Royle which evaded everyone but Peter Barnes on the left. He picked it up and whipped it first time back into the box, where the diminutive youngster Ged Keegan headed it into the net for his first ever City goal.
The roof was nearly lifted off, it was game on and Boro were under the cosh. Their defence dropped deep in the face of the onslaught but City were flying, everything they cleared was coming straight back; a deep cross into the box by Donachie was cleared but was immediately put right back into the mixer by Colin Barrett, Ged Keegan chested it off to Alan Oakes who from outside the box crashed in one of his special left foot pile-drivers into the bottom corner of the net, cue pandemonium on the pitch and in the stands akin to the scenes after the two goals in quick succession in the 2014 League Cup Final. City were in front on aggregate after just eleven minutes.
The game though was far from over. Jack Charlton’s side were made of stern stuff, very much in the mould of their manager. Though City were still dominant, Boro got a foot hold in the game and the midfield battle of the first leg recommenced, with Hartford, Alan Oakes and captain Mike Doyle doing battle with ex-Celtic legend Bobby Murdoch, the always reliable David Armstrong and a young Graeme Souness.
Boro carved out a couple of chances and hit the post with one of them, so they saw themselves as very much in the tie at half-time. However, any plans they had formulated for the second half were ripped up within minutes of the restart as City struck quickly again to take the game away from Boro. With City pressing high up the pitch, Donachie forced a wayward pass across the back line meant for Souness which Barnes intercepted leaving him clean through on goal. He raced into the box and fired a shot past Jim Platt into the far corner of the net. Boro were deflated while City were brimming over with confidence and Wembley was in sight for the Blues.
It was another error in the final minute which sealed a memorable win. This time it was Souness who was forced into a suicide ball along the half way line, Joe Royle intercepted and ran unopposed on goal and fired past the keeper. The chant of “four-nil, four-nil, four-nil” rang around the ground.
Tony Book’s men were heading for the final, where one of the youngsters from that night, Ged Keegan (pictured above) would be rewarded with a starting role in his more usual right-back slot rather than the temporary midfield role of that glorious night. He would end up collecting a winner’s medal after the 2-1 victory against Newcastle with goals from PFA Young Player of the Year Peter Barnes and that goal by Dennis Tueart winning the day. Tueart, who was banned for the semi-final after getting sent off against Hartlepool, was not even in the ground to see the win against Boro. Along with his wife he had gone to a restaurant for a meal, as he said he couldn’t bear to watch. He was, however, kept informed of the score via a chef who had the game on the radio.
Alan Thompson in the Daily Express thought it was a magnificent win against Middlesbrough and made note of the role the crowd played in what he described as a rout. He felt the noise of the crowd was music to the ears of the City players and helped give them the edge in the tie.
The hard work and pressing the City players put in on that night against Middlesbrough – putting them under pressure and forcing errors – is not a million miles away from Pep Guardiola’s philosophy and reaped its reward. Let’s hope for many more nights like these in the future where the crowd and players lift each other to glory.
Written by Richard Donlan
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