|The end of Tony Coton's participation in the '94 cup tie|
Having secured a place in the League Cup final v. Arsenal on February 25th, Pep Guardiola’s men will this weekend try to maintain a parallel course for the concrete heaven of Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup. With Premier League games coming thick and fast and a return to Champions League action in the Swiss Alps next month also on the menu, City’s success under the Catalan is illustrated perfectly by an increasingly cluttered fixture list.A visit to the sun-kissed boulevards of Cardiff will resurrect recent memories of the 2013-14 season, when the Welsh side enjoyed a single season rubbing shoulders with the great and good of English football. Their exploits against Manuel Pellegrini’s side that season bore some fruit, with a topsy turvy early season win at home (3-2) and an equally entertaining defeat (2-4) on their trip north to play at the Etihad. The game in Wales in particular is still remembered as prime Pellegrini Evidence of slackness, lethargy and an it’ll-all-be-fine-won’t-it mentality that set in good and strong during the Chilean’s three year tenure.
FA Cup matches between the two sides have been few and far between, starting with a clash way back in 1924. A positively humungous Maine Road crowd of over 76,000 turned out to see a 0-0 draw between the two sides. That’s 76,000, seat-counter fans. Figures and dates like these bely the modern day gripes of rival supporters that City have few fans and even less history. Where were you when you were shit, indeed. As the popular retort goes, watching/beating/running you when we were shit.One hundred years ago, the club was not only winning trophies but regularly doing so in front of some of the biggest crowds in the country. So much for teenage Twitter warriors that can just about remember David Beckham.
With a replay won 1-0 in Cardiff, City were set to do the same again when the teams were drawn together in 3rd round in 1961. Once again the tie went to a replay, after the two sides drew 1-1 at Ninian Park in front of 35,000 spectators. The replay in Manchester was goalless but the second replay, played at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium, finally brought a winner, once again City (2-0). Two games were also needed in 1967 in the 4th round, with a 1-1 draw in Wales preceding a 3-1 City win in Manchester.The most recent cup confrontations between the two sides came in 1982 and 1994, the first of which saw John Bond’s side -- fresh from participating in the previous season’s Centenary Cup Final v. Tottenham -- needing only one game at Maine Road to dispose of their opponents 3-1.
Then as now, City faced second tier Cardiff as league leaders. Then, as can be expected this weekend, the lower league side played with a “nothing to lose enthusiasm”, according to Derek Allsop in the Daily Mail the next day. Guardiola’s side can expect much the same at the weekend from a side that has re-acquitted itself well since relegation from the Premier League and is now fighting once again for promotion.
By 1983-84 Cardiff would be visitors in the league, not just the cup and there would be problems galore with that too.City have already experienced the quality and enthusiasm of the top echelons of the Championship with gruelling League Cup battles against Wolves and Bristol City this season. These two second tier sides have been responsible for the two best performances from away sides seen at the Etihad this season so far and that includes the much vaunted likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal, all of whom were a distinctly damp squib.
However, it is the most recent FA Cup tie between the two teams that may give us the greatest pointer to what to expect. In January 1994 a buoyant City side arrived in South Wales to play a Cardiff team down on its luck. Ninian Park, their ancestral home, had been allowed to drop into a dilapidated state and the stench of decay was all around. As well as this, the sounds of war could also be heard at one of the most hostile grounds to visit in those unreconstructed days. A trip to Cardiff matched Leeds, Millwall, Chelsea and certain parts of the West Midlands (Birmingham, Wolves) for a “grand day out”/keep your wits about you stroll around town.
"My first away trip was that cup tie, It was a week after my 15th birthday and I’m still younger now than most of the Cardiff firm that was outside the boozer" - Mark Finnegan on Twitter
Lee’s bid would be accepted in acrimonious circumstances the week after the Cardiff tie, apparently setting the club up for a bright future on the pitch and financial stability off it. Within four exuberant years, City were heading for a second relegation and the third division.The Cardiff tie perhaps sowed some of the seeds of disaster when all were thinking in terms of renaissance. On a truly shambolic day, full of the noise and passion of true hatred from the home crowd, City’s stars succumbed to an acrobatic winner from Nathan Blake. “Apart from the opening minutes, it was the second division side that called all the shots,” wrote Vince Wright in The Times. With Tony Coton carried off injured and skipper Keith Curle failing from the penalty spot, it was yet another game where all the elements needed for disaster aligned quickly and accurately.
It was a result that has been added to a sizeable list of potholes and pratfalls in City’s history. If nothing else, here we have a club that has helped boost and maintain the relevance of the term “giant-killer” throughout its long and fluctuating history.
Today’s Manchester City wears different clothes, however, but it is worth remembering that in 1994 City were also seen as upwardly mobile and (kind of) athletically efficient (with the exception of Alan Kernaghan), certainly good enough to overcome Cardiff. What followed disproved both of those ideas with rude haste and serves a lesson to any top level club, who is foolhardy enough to underestimate opponents from a lower status.