The remarkable story of how City went more than 13 hours without scoring a single home goal…
By David Clayton
When Georgios Samaras planted a penalty kick past Tim Howard to give City a 2-0 lead over Everton on New Year's Day, 2007, nobody inside the City of Manchester Stadium could have imagined that there wouldn’t be another goal for the home side for more than eight months.
In total, the Blues would manage just 10 goals on their own patch all season - and two of them had come in this game against the Toffees - meaning that just eight more were distributed between the 19 matches played that campaign and unfortunately for City fans, those 10 goals had now already been accounted for.
On 13 separate occasions in 2006/07, the City faithful would head home having not had a Premier League goal to cheer in our relatively new home, and for a set of supporters used to rollercoaster campaigns at one end of the table or the other, mid-table mediocrity was particularly hard to stomach. It was simply not in the Manchester City DNA.
Football is an entertainment business, but there was little pump the adrenaline in a campaign that would break several records that nobody wanted to be associated with, the worst being fewest home goals ever scored in a Premier League season – a statistic that Fulham would finally break in 2020/21 by one fewer.
Watched by just shy of 40,000 fans, the 2-1 win over Everton was Pearce’s side’s third win in succession and with eight wins, five draws and nine defeats leaving City on 29 points from 22 games, there was hope of a top 10 finish or maybe even the possibility of scraping a UEFA Cup spot.
Chairman John Wardle and his business partner David Makin had limited resources to give the manager who was forced to bring in a collection of free agents, loanees and free transfers during the summer and, tellingly, the only two cash purchases were for goalkeepers Joe Hart (£100,000) and Andreas Isaksson (£2million).
Financially, City were not in the best place with no prospect of things improving anytime soon. Relegation from the Premier League could have signalled a fall from grace potentially worse even than the drop to the third tier in 1998. So while football was indeed an entertainment business, keeping the Club in the top flight was also high on rookie manager Stuart Pearce’s remit with the chance of finding a potential buyer sure to recede if the threat of second tier football became a reality.
City saw out the New Year's Day game against Everton, conceding a Leon Osman consolation, but taking the three points. Optimism was reasonably high.
Nedum Onuoha: I remember Samaras’ penalty vividly because it was so long before we scored again. It didn’t feel as though we weren’t going to score each time we went out and we were defensively pretty sound.
If anything, we were set up not to get beat before all else and to try and get a clean sheet, but when people say about defenders loving clean sheets, I’d have happily never had one again if we were scoring goals at the other end and winning games.
A team that has two four banks of four with two forward pressing are set up, first and foremost, not to get beat and that’s sort of what we were back then.
Up next was a mid-table Lancashire battle with City hosting Mark Hughes’ Blackburn Rovers.
Darius Vassell and Bernardo Corradi started up front, but the opening exchanges were dull, with BBC Sport reporting: The match was far from a classic - in fact the first 30 minutes were almost entirely forgettable - characterised largely by stray passes, poor control, and an almost total lack of excitement.
Things livened up somewhat thereafter, as Micah Richards saw a thumping header from a corner cleared off the line by David Bentley - with the ball clearly brushing the winger’s arm in the process – but referee Phil Dowd waved appeals away rather than award a spot-kick and issue a mandatory red card.
It would be costly decision for City as Morten Gamst Pedersen planted a header past Nicky Weaver on 44 minutes to give Rovers the lead.
It got worse in the second half, and though Brad Friedel was forced into making two good saves from Vassell, the visitors added further goals from Pedersen (62) and Matt Derbyshire (90) to complete a thoroughly miserable afternoon for the home supporters.
What was becoming a familiar pattern continued into the next game against Reading, managed by former City boss Steve Coppell.
Twice City spurned glorious chances to take the lead either side of the break as first Samaras’ 20-yard shot was pushed out by keeper Marcus Hahnemann to Joey Barton who shot straight at the floored goalie when it looked easier to score, and later Vassell blasted over from close range.
It felt inevitable that Reading would make the Blues pay for such profligacy, and on 79 minutes, Leroy Lita raced onto a Steve Sidwell pass before driving an angled shot past Andreas Isaksson who had replaced the injured Nicky Weaver on 35.
Lita would add a second just before full-time, with City wide open at the back chasing an equaliser, as the Reading striker again broke clear and slotted past a static Isaksson to seal victory.
Without disrespect to either Blackburn or Reading, the home fans felt their club should be beating those teams on their own soil. And they were, of course, right.
Stephen Ireland: I liked Stuart Pearce and will always be grateful to him because he gave me my debut, trusting me and sticking with me when a lot of others had been given an opportunity ahead of me. Maybe they were out of form or whatever, but when I had that chance, I took it and won the man of the match of my full debut, so I worked hard and earned the right to stay in the team.
For him to put me in centre midfield when we had a lot of experience - players who had been in World Cups or played a lot of games - is something I will never forget. The truth is, it was a really difficult time for the club, but everyone was trying. We had Steve Wigley as a coach – one of the best coaches I ever had, what a guy - and the training was really good. I think he came from Southampton, and he was watching me in the reserves and was saying, ‘Why’s this guy not playing? He’s the best player week in, week out,’ - and he pushed me forward as well.
I was playing alongside Joey Barton in a 4-4-2 and up front we had Darius Vassell, Georgios Samaras, Bernardo Corradi, and Emile Mpenza. The squad had been massive under Kevin Keegan and people like Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman – big names – were being left out, so younger players weren’t getting a chance. That changed under Stuart Pearce.
It was a tough time, and we were struggling to create chances and when we did, we still couldn’t find the back of the net. It was frustrating for everyone.
If things had felt desperate against Blackburn and Reading, they were about to get even worse against lowly Wigan Athletic with a result that saw City drop to the fringes of the relegation zone.
No matter what combination Pearce tried, his strikers could not score goals.
Latics striker Caleb Folan scored what would be the only goal on 18 minutes, with the Blues at best lacklustre in every department.
A sunshine break in Dubai was meant to refresh the players’ minds and bodies ahead of this game, but perhaps John May on BBC Sport captures the mood of the moment when he wrote: It was 19 minutes before City shrugged off their lethargy and fashioned an attack, but even then Ball's threatening low cross was an easy gather for John Filan as Georgios Samaras and Bernardo Corradi sauntered into the box like a couple of Sunday churchgoers.
There was no natural finisher in the team, a lack of urgency, no real creativity and confidence was low. Press reports described Samaras as “ineffective”, but he wasn’t alone.
He was replaced at half-time by new arrival Emile Mpenza - a 29-year-old journeyman striker without a club who had impressed enough in a trial match to win a short-term deal.
And the Belgian at least added a bit of zip to the attack, but he couldn’t inspire a comeback in what was another depressing loss.
Pearce was no fool.
He knew where the problem lay and while defensively, the Blues were generally well organised, up front the problems were increasing.
After, he said: For the first 20 minutes we didn't compete, and it was only a matter of time before they scored. Our biggest problem this season has been in front of goal, we haven't scored enough to be competitive. We have plenty of talent in the squad, but Wigan proved you also need endeavour to win games.
Pearce’s honeymoon period had ended in the final third of his first full season in charge.
After Kevin Keegan’s shock resignation in March 2005, Pearce’s energy and passion had seen the Blues embark on a run that almost ended with European qualification.
A run of eight games without defeat was followed by three wins and two draws at the start of 2005/06 – 13 matches consisting of seven wins and six draws meant Pearce had overseen an unbeaten run that had stretched for more than past six months, but that would be as good as it got.
Enough points were collected by the Blues during the earlier part of that campaign to offset an awful run of nine losses from the last 10 games that saw City finish an uncomfortable 15th, just nine points ahead of relegated Birmingham.
Nobody doubted Pearce’s intelligence or integrity, but it had been a run of results almost no manager would have normally escaped the sack from, yet the truth was all parties had to soldier on with the club in all likelihood not in the position to compensate Pearce if he had been dismissed.
Next at the City of Manchester Stadium where title-chasing Chelsea…
Nicky Weaver: We’d had been on a really good run. We’d beaten Sheffield United, West Ham and then Everton all inside a week and were buzzing, but for whatever reason, we didn’t score again at home in the Premier League that season. It was a season that had promised loads, we’d had some really good results earlier in the campaign but ended up fizzling away badly.
We were doing extra finishing sessions in training, but it wasn’t so much the forwards were missing glaring opportunities each game, we just weren’t creating chances. We lost at home to Blackburn, Reading and Wigan and with all due respect, when you’re losing to teams like that, the fans are not going to be happy. After that, it was a case of if we fell behind in a game the pressure we felt was incredible.
If one thing had kept City fans’ spirits up it had been the hope of silverware.
Having seen off Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Preston, the Blues were handed an away tie against Blackburn Rovers.
More than 8,000 City fans crammed into a sold out Ewood Park, but frustration turned to anger as 10-man Rovers ended the Wembley dream with a 2-0 win for Hughes’ men in what was Nicky Weaver’s last game for the Club.
Taking on Chelsea at least had the caveat of City not starting as favourites to win the game so when Micah Richards conceded a penalty on 28 minutes, future Blue Frank Lampard drilled home the resulting penalty, it wasn’t entirely unexpected
Pearce’s men had no response to offer in the hour or so of football that remained.
BBC Sport’s Phil McNulty wrote: City's lack of invention was almost embarrassing, but Barton threatened an unlikely equaliser after 80 minutes - however, he shot wastefully wide.
City had lost again and failed to score a home goal for a fourth match running.
Supporters wondered where it might all end, with five successive Premier League defeats seeing City worryingly slide down the table.
Stuart Pearce had needed something – anything – before he was summoned for what now seemed an inevitable meeting with the Chairman and a departure from the club.
And he got it.
Middlesbrough had robbed City – and Pearce - of European football in May 2005, but at the Riverside Stadium, an inept Boro display undoubtedly helped Pearce keep his job.
Managed by Gareth Southgate, the Teessiders were downed by second half goals from Sylvain Distin and Mpenza as the Blues headed back from the north east with a 2-0 win and a first Premier League win in seven attempts.
A fortnight later, an increasingly rejuvenated Mpenza struck a superb late winner away to Newcastle to give Pearce back-to-back wins when he’d needed it most, as well as easing his team away from the bottom three.
Surely third bottom Charlton Athletic were the ideal opposition to end the home goal drought? And the opening 20 minutes suggested it was just a matter of time before the Blues scored, but Alan Pardew’s side dug in, rode their luck at times and after weathering the early storm, held out for a 0-0 draw in front of 41,424 fans.
The howls of derision weren’t quite as loud, and a point further eased relegation fears. But it had still been another disappointing performance without a goal.
Nedum Onuoha: Even with a record as bad as ours in terms of goals at home, we were never in a relegation dogfight at any stage. Nobody really turned us over and, if nothing else, we were hard to beat.
It became not much fun to play at home because the longer the run went on, the more frustration there was from our fans and though it wasn’t a toxic atmosphere as such, it became a comfortable environment for visiting teams to play in because they knew it wouldn’t take a lot to get our own fans on our backs.
There were things that weren’t right, though. I remember once being away to Newcastle and Stevie Ireland was going on and Stuart told him to go and play in the No.10 role, but when he got on, Joey said he would play the No.10 role instead, because he ‘was better at it’ and Stevie should play as a No.6.
It’s no surprise that Joey had the most shots during that run without scoring, because although he was a good player, in his mind, he was the greatest! In one game, he got sent off and he went and sat on the advertising boards for a few moments – but the fans were clapping him because he was being perceived as trying,. I'm not sure that helped the team at that stage, though.
Following a 3-1 away win over Fulham, the dark clouds were lifting over the City of Manchester Stadium and there was even hope the Blues might finally find the net against Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool.
It would, however, prove to be a largely uninspiring 90 minutes that, if anything, City just shaded.
The visitors had their eye on an upcoming Champions League semi-final, while Pearce’s side had worked their way up to 11th in the table and so well clear of the drop zone.
Though the game would end 0-0, City at least seemed to be getting closer to breaking the home goal drought with DeMarcus Beasley striking the woodwork 15 minutes from time being the closest for some time.
Pearce commented afterwards: We knew it would be a difficult game, but we are delighted. Five games ago we were cannon fodder for everybody. Now we are five games unbeaten, conceding one goal in that run. We're delighted with our progress. We have worked ourselves into a position of 11th and we've got to consolidate on that.
A 3-1 defeat away to Arsenal and a 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road against Watford preceded the home visit of Aston Villa, taking the wind out of the Blues’ sails somewhat, but there was a feeling that the City fans’ patience has been stretched to the limit.
A goal was needed, and a win was crucial – there was nothing at stake other than pride and the fans wanted to see their team throw off the shackles and just go for it, but there hadn’t been anything to cheer at the City of Manchester Stadium for close to 10 hours and as the clock ticked by, enough was enough.
In fact, 10 hours had passed when – finally – City were given the opportunity to end one of the most depressing sequences in club history when Villa keeper Thomas Sorensen flattened Vassell in the box in first-half added time. There was a moment's hush before the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Joey Barton picked up the ball and decided he would be the man to end the misery and as the stadium fell silent in anticipation, Barton stepped back, sized up the goal and approached the ball… before striking it high into the crowd.
The run went on.
Villa were already ahead by that stage and added another after the break with howls of misery greeting the full-time whistle in what was becoming an increasingly toxic situation for all concerned.
If people had started wearing badges inspired by the movie The Truman Show with ‘How's it going to end?’ on, it wouldn’t have been out of place.
Nicky Weaver: Each game became harder as we went along, and the fans were getting more frustrated. Joey practiced his penalties continually, as he did everything, but it’s different on the training ground than in the high pressure situation of a real game.
It’s hard to put your finger on why we couldn’t score at home, but after we went out of the FA Cup away to Blackburn – my last ever game for City – we struggled to find direction. The truth was, we were just an average mid-table side with a modest transfer budget and an average squad - a world away from the Manchester City of today.
As a City fan, it was hard to imagine a less palatable situation.
Defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would leave Manchester United on the cusp of yet another Premier League title, whereas a City win would give Chelsea the chance to overhaul the Reds and pip them at the post.
For the Blues in attendance that day, however, it meant breaching a defence that rarely gave anything away with an attack who had forgotten how to score on home soil.
The club handed out thousands of blue and white scarves as a thank you for the unwavering support that season and the gesture resulted in an electric atmosphere, with a deafening chorus of Blue Moon before and during the game, played in warm spring sunshine.
On paper, there would only be one outcome and that was a United win with the likelihood of a clean sheet for the visitors.
And that’s what happened, though it was no stroll for the Reds as City set out to ruffle their neighbours' feathers of nothing else.
Michael Ball should have been sent off for a stamp on Cristiano Ronaldo – and would have been in today’s VAR era – but the Portuguese would recover and go on to tuck home a penalty on 34 minutes after being felled - again by Ball - to put United ahead.
City dug in, using physicality over creativity to try and find a way back into the game.
Beasley and Mpenza sent in powerful shots -though straight at the goalkeeper - but on 79 minutes, the Blues were handed the opportunity of redemption for a season of disappointment.
It came when Ball made the most of a challenge by Wes Brown in the box, dramatically tumbled to the floor and referee Rob Styles pointed to the spot.
Surely this time…?
Darius Vassell – averaging a goal every seven games that season – had to find the back of the next and end the City fans’ misery, not to mention putting a spanner in United’s title aspirations… but the truth is he never looked confident, perhaps sensing the weight of expectation and hope and instead seemed to rush the whole process.
He stepped back, ran up and his weak shot went straight down the middle and though Edwin van der Sar had gone to his right, he still saved easily with his legs.
The wait went on and the game ended 0-1 to United.
Nedum Onuoha: Emile Mpenza joined us, but he was a player looking for a club rather than a player with a club looking for him. A team that doesn’t score a goal at home should get beaten easily by a side like United, but we competed that day and we weren’t going to make it easy for them. We dug in, were just a goal down and then we were handed a lifeline, but Darius’ miss was our season in a nutshell. If you’d have wanted to watch an entertaining game of football as a neutral at that time, you wouldn’t have tuned in to watch City playing.
Nicky Weaver: There was no lack of effort on Stuart’s part and ultimately, it was down to the players because the manager can only do so much. As a group, we just weren’t doing it on the pitch and once the goals dried up, the season just petered out and Stuart paid the ultimate price by losing his job whereas the fact was we, the players, just weren’t doing it on the pitch. He had done everything he could and the lads loved him, but he paid the price as managers always do.
The contrast between the City that ended the 2006-07 season and the one that began the 2007-08 was like night and day.
New owner, new manager and pretty much a new team.
Positivity and optimism flowed like a burst dam and the eight home games without a goal were dismissed like a bad dream.
Thaksin Shinawatra had purchased Manchester City, Stuart Pearce had inevitably been relieved of his duties and replaced by Sven-Goran Eriksson and seven new players had been signed as the Swedish boss hastily assembled a team that was full flair and creativity.
And finally, City’s long wait for a home goal was over, and in some style, too.
Michael Johnson drifted in from the right outside the Derby County box, played a short pass to Elano, received the ball back as he moved into the box before slotting a rising shot into the top corner to put the Blues 1-0 up on 43 minutes.
The City of Manchester erupted in an outpouring of joy not seen for a long, long time.
In fact, in ‘Typical City’ style, - as was the phrase back then - the Blues won their first nine home Premier League games that season, scoring 17 goals and conceding five.
From one extreme to the other.
Nedum Onuoha: I remember the feeling of having a new owner, a new manager – and not just any manager, but a former England manager – and new players who brought energy and vitality with them. Look at Elano – when was the last time we’d signed a player like that? There was hope and excitement after a season that became a monstrosity. It felt like a different football club from the inside, and that was what was needed at the time.
The goalless home run was over. 227 days and 781 minutes had passed since Samaras had scored against Everton on New Year's Day.
And though nobody knew at the time, Johnson's goal actually heralded the dawn of a new era for Manchester City as an incredible upward trajectory began. One that continues to this day...
Words: David Clayton
Design: Merle Driver & Simon Thorley
Special thanks to Nedum Onuoha, Stephen Ireland and Nicky Weaver.