The 1977-1978 campaign saw the arrival of Mick Channon at Manchester City as the big close season signing for £300,000 from Southampton. It was a move that was delivered in part by chairman Peter Swales, who appeared to help the deal along with lengthy chats with the striker on an England trip during the summer in South America.
City had finished runners-up to Liverpool the season before and hoped they were buying the finished article in England International Channon – the question was whether Channon, already in his late 20s, was that final piece of the jigsaw that would see City to go one step further and beat the current European Champions from Merseyside to the title.
Where this left the previous season’s strike force of Brian Kidd, Joe Royle, Dennis Tueart and Peter Barnes would become clear over the coming months.
In the previous season, City had played a flexible 4-3-3. In his biography, Tueart stated that on returning for pre-season training they were advised the team would be switching to a more rigid 4-4-2, with Channon and another striker up front with support from Tueart and Barnes on the wings. The attacking players had worked well in the previous system, interchanging positions, with the wide men often drifting into the middle and swapping over. Meanwhile, Royle was a handful up front and good in the air, while Kidd was a clever forward who was good for a goal every other game.
Channon, meanwhile, was a striker who drifted around, waiting to run onto through balls. It looked like the formation was changing to accommodate the new signing, which few understood – even the player himself.
The players got on with it and the new season started well. At the end of September, City were top of the league and the team had picked up where they left off the previous year. But then slowly things started to unravel: Tueart picked up an injury, Doyle was dropped and City crashed out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle to Widzew Lodz on the away goals rule, after throwing away a two goal lead with around 10 minutes to go in the home leg to draw 2-2.
The second leg away in Poland was a goalless draw, and this exit seemed to knock the team’s confidence and they entered an erratic period of form. They got a creditable draw at Everton, but then lost at Coventry. Barnes and Tueart both scored to beat Arsenal at home, but they were defeated in the next two – away at eventual champions Nottingham Forest and, more worryingly, at home to an average Wolves side. It saw them drop to fifth in the table.
It hardly felt like the best time to play the European Champions.
Liverpool had also gone into the transfer market during the summer. Iconic striker Kevin Keegan had left to play in Germany and he was replaced by 26-year-old Kenny Dalglish, who arrived at Anfield for a British record fee of £440,000 from Celtic. This signing was an unqualified success, as Dalglish would score 20 in the league and 31 in all competitions during the season where they would retain the European Cup.
For this match Dalglish started up front with David Fairclough, the original super-sub actually playing from the beginning for once. From season to season, Liverpool’s side only ever altered slightly. Irrespective of what a player had done in the past and seemingly devoid of sentiment, they would decide which players were approaching the point where they were just not hitting the highest level and they would move them on in favour of a younger star, who was about to hit that level. With their continued success, they had the pick of the best players around the league. It was usually only one or two players at most who changed, and it worked for them, allowing continuity, but not letting the team grow old.
For City, there was no Tueart in the starting forward line, so it was Channon up front with Royle – supported by Barnes on the right and nominally Kidd out left.
Liverpool started well and took control of the game leaving City to hang on. Gradually, the Blues started to find their attacking fluidity and the game began to open up. Channon, as was his way, started to drop deep in search of the ball and this proffered the first shot in anger for City: head down, he drew players to him and glided past them, looking for an opening. He then let a shot go, which Ray Clemence in the Liverpool goal saved smartly low to his right.
City were getting little change out of Liverpool down the middle, but from wide areas they were trying to stretch them. Barnes drifted inside and got to the edge of the box to hit a cracking shot, which beat Clemence but hit the post.
All City’s chances had been from outside the box, and it was Liverpool who broke the deadlock on the half hour by finally penetrating the City area. A pass from wide was fed into Ray Kennedy in midfield, he passed to Fairclough who laid it off to Dalglish. Anticipating a return ball, Fairclough raced towards the box and he received a defence-splitting pass back from the Scot, which he ran onto and stroked past the advancing Joe Corrigan.
City made no changes at half time; the team was playing well, but just not finding a crucial break to get behind the Liverpool defence. A huge turning point came early in the second half, as a goal kick was missed by the usually reliable Dave Watson. On the bounce, the ball was flicked on by Fairclough and Dalglish was clean through – Corrigan rushed from his line and just when it looked like he was going to be rounded he stretched out a hand and scooped the ball away. City scrambled it clear.
The home side plugged away and finally got a reward from a set piece. A low corner from Barnes was steered towards goal by Channon, and then, in the blink of an eye, it was volleyed into the roof of the net by Kidd for 1-1.
The game turned into a toe-to-toe fight. Liverpool opened up City down the right, as Jimmy Case played a ball into Dalglish, who was just outside the six yard box. It seemed like he had to score, but instead he could only hit the post.
Then City went ahead. A straight ball from Watson was just the sort Channon thrived on, and he ran onto the pass with the Liverpool defence caught napping and, in his stride, hit it past Clemence. Cue the trademark Channon windmill arm celebration.
Liverpool pressed forward as time ran out and dusk fell on Maine Road searching for an equaliser. It left them open to the counter, which City took full advantage of – Barnes burst from midfield, drew defenders and turned Alan Hansen inside out to be brought down. To his credit, the referee let the move go on, and the ball fell to Royle at the edge of the box. He cut inside the centre half and lashed it past Clemence to seal the 3-1 victory.
Written by Richard Donlan
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