Two Matches from One Season:
Saturday 18th August 1980 A long and tedious trip down to the South Coast for City fans wanting to see how Malcolm Allison's expensively assembled side would fare in the new season. The Opening Day, always one of the most eagerly anticipated, matched City against a home side featuring ex-City men Mike Channon and Dave Watson, future City men Graham Baker and Ivan Golac plus Kevin Keegan, here making his second football league debut after a spell abroad at Hamburger SV. City, ill prepared after a home thrashing by Legia Warsaw in the final pre-season game of the summer, continued where they had left off against Kaziu Deyna's old team mates (that match had been organised as part of Deyna's transfer the previous season from Legia to City). Listless and lifeless, the Blues were the bit part actors in the Grand Opening Show for Keegan and his men.
It was Mike Channon, of all people, who stole the limelight, however, scoring both goals in a blistering first half. Channon had endured a torrid two years at Maine Road, ending in acrimony as Allison picked on him and other big name stars as the underperformers who had to be shipped out to allow him to create his new City. Watson too had departed under a cloud and this ultimately easy win would have put a smile on both their faces. Allison was not smiling at all. Calling his side's performance a disgrace, he confided to the Mirror's Bob Russell "We were only fifty percent competent".
This was perhaps being kind to a City side containing the unlikely talents of Paul Sugrue, one of Big Mal's purchases on a whim from non-league Nuneaton Borough. A seemingly competent back four of Ranson, Caton, Reid and Power was given the complete runaround by Southampton and only two late chances for Dennis Tueart and Kevin Reeves, gave any glimpse of what City were capable of. This torrid opening game would lead to a 4-0 home reverse by Sunderland, immediately putting Big Mal under severe pressure as the season got underway.
By Saturday November 15th 1980, much had changed. Allison had been sacked after one lethargic performance too many by his expensive charges, replaced by the avuncular John Bond and his entourage from Norwich City. Southampton had lost that early season sparkle, with Channon and Charlie George slowing after a sprint start to the season had seen them in second place in September. On top of this, Kevin Keegan was beginning to pick up a succession of niggling injuries. City, on the back of three legendary early signings by Bond, in the unlikely shape of the slow moving Coventry full back Bobby McDonald, the mobile threshing machine that was Gerry Gow and the spindly legs belonging to 33 year old Coventry winger Tommy Hutchison, lovingly called Hutchinson by various organs of the press.
In this game the tables were turned conclusively with the visitors, despite a first half penalty looped into the North Stand by Nicky Holmes, overwhelmed by a City side full of the verve and confidence that often comes from a change of manager. Southampton's string of City connections were added to by the inclusion here of Phil Boyer, who a matter of weeks later would head north to sign for City.
In a performance full of the energy and optimism so patently lacking in the reverse fixture, City prevailed down the wings, with a goal set up from the left by McDonald and a header from Reeves which originated in the right wing trickery of Hutchison. Bond's third signing, Gerry Gow, weighed in with the other goal, his first for the club since joining from Bristol City. The season would end in sparks for City, reaching the League Cup semi finals and the centenary Cup Final, where Hutchison would score at both ends, City only succumbing to Spurs after a replay. Allison had said, after the rubble of the opening game at the dell, that his side would pick up and win something. In his absence, the Blues so nearly proved him right.
The two games with Southampton had offered a snapshot of the schizophrenic nature of Manchester City in the early eighties.A hapless, shapeless display under Allison juxtaposed alongside a roaring confident 3-0 win, both against the same opposition within the space of three months.
Those, as they say, were the days.
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