maine road's last derby
THE STORY OF HOW CITY ENSURED WE LEFT OUR OLD HOME WITH ONE LAST WIN OVER UNITED...
It’s hard to believe that 18 years have passed since the last ever Manchester derby at Maine Road, but today, November 9, is the anniversary of what was an unforgettable clash between the Manchester clans.
United had finished third the previous season, while City had won Division One (now Championship) in a canter, playing a thrilling brand of football that had made the Premier League sit up and take notice.
Nicolas Anelka, Marc Vivien Foe, Jon Macken and Peter Schmeichel had all been signed in the summer to add quality and experience to the side as Kevin Keegan aimed to get City back to where the club belonged.
But towards late October, City were struggling and the Anelka-Macken combination wasn’t working...
Just two wins from the first 10 games – which included six defeats – didn’t bode well for Keegan’s men.
United, meanwhile were flying with the derby now on the horizon.
Anelka’s arrival had threatened the starting place of terrace idol Shaun Goater who featured little in the first few months, but Keegan restored the Bermudian against Chelsea in a bid to find a winning formula.
That game ended 3-0 to the visitors and some scoffed at the combination of the former Real Madrid striker and the lower league journeyman who had once led the line for Rotherham United - but then, they wouldn’t have known much about football. And nothing about Shaun Goater.
Goater, signed in 1998, had found his spiritual home at Maine Road and finished top scorer for four successive seasons.
His only top fight season had been blighted by injury and the fact that he was now 31 meant some had written him off – but not the City fans and, thankfully, not Keegan who decided to give Goat another chance.
Though the Chelsea loss hadn’t yielded any goals, Keegan had seen enough to stick with Goater and Anelka for the trip to Birmingham, and a 2-0 win at St Andrew's relieved the growing pressure that a winless streak of six games had brought.
Better still, the next game – away to West Brom – saw definite signs of an understanding as Anelka scored and Goater grabbed the winner in a 2-1 win at The Hawthorns.
It was hard to imagine better preparation for the 127th Manchester derby, and Goat had earned his right to start against his former employers for the first time.
And it’s through Goat’s eyes we relive that memorable day at Maine Road…
“I scored at West Brom in a 2-1 win - as well as missing a sitter! - and though I wasn’t aware at the time, that was my 98th goal for City and the next league game was at home to United.,” recalled Goat.
“I crossed my fingers that I would finally get to start against the team that brought me to England having been on the bench for my previous two matches against them. I had half-expected not to play, so I didn’t get wound up or too excited about the prospect – I’d been in this position before.
“We lost the midweek League Cup tie at Wigan 1-0, but I was relieved to see my name next to Anelka’s on the team-sheet for the Manchester derby. At last I had a chance to show Fergie what I could do, and I knew that a good performance in this game and Keegan would have to stick with me.
“It was the last Maine Road derby ever, so we knew we had to beat United for our fans, but we had our work cut out. Lucien Mettomo and Gerard Wiekens replaced Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne who were both injured and obviously we started as underdogs.
"I had studied United and knew that if I scored against them, it would be best to not get too over-excited because they had a habit of coming back so I thought staying calm until we were certain of a victory was the best approach.
“I felt good to be on that stage in front of our supporters and I knew that this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for.
I was upset that David Beckham and Roy Keane were out because if we beat them, I wanted us to beat them all, and United not be able to make excuses up.
“This was to be a game that, for me, showed the true quality of Gerard Wiekens. Whenever he was called upon to do a job, he did it superbly and on this day, he marked Ruud van Nistelrooy as well as I’ve seen anyone do. Gerard wasn’t the quickest, but he read the game well and he didn’t allow Ruud a sniff that day - in fact, whenever he marked me in training, I always had a difficult time.
“I’d watched Ruud’s game over the past couple of seasons and I concluded that our game wasn’t a million miles apart. Neither of us seemed to get many – if any – goals outside the box and the fact Gerard marked Ruud as well as he did me proved we had a similar style. Every time Ruud made a move Gerard had him in shackles and it was like ‘I got you – you’re not going anywhere’.
“I was very relaxed as we kicked off and Anelka scored an early goal to put us 1-0 up but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer soon made it 1-1. It was a fast, exciting game but when Marc Vivien Foe played a long ball up front, he kind of miscued it and it was heading out for a goal kick.
“I thought ‘hmm, what would Dicky do?’ as the ball rolled towards the line. Gary Neville seemed to be trying to see the ball out of play, so I chased him down. I expected him to shield it as I challenged him, but then he decided to play it back to Fabien Barthez – I could see what he was thinking and put in a block tackle and the ball stayed in play. I edged him out of the way and took the ball in towards goal but there was nobody on at all for me to square the ball to.
“I was on my own, so I went along the goal line and tried to angle back in a little before hitting the shot low past Barthez and into the net. While the fans went hysterical, I stuck to my guns and didn’t get too excited because United had plenty more left and weren’t about to roll over. I’d seen enough teams fall into the trap of thinking the game was won against them and end up losing.
“Choosing the right moment to pull the trigger would be the key and having studied United, I knew Barthez’s habits and as a sharp agile keeper, if you hit the ball in low he had the ability to make some fantastic saves
"I knew his strength lay in low shots, so I’d always thought that if I ever was one-on-one with him, I’d dink it over him. As I held off the defenders, the ball bounced in front of me and it was perfect for me to do a gentle half-volley over Barthez who had gambled on the low shot and the ball gently bounced in to the back of the net.
“That was 3-1 and also turned out to be my one hundredth goal for the club, though I honestly wasn’t aware of that at the time. I ran off to the United fans saying ‘Ssshhh! I can’t hear you anymore!’ I celebrated that goal a bit more than the first, but I still wanted to remain cautious with there being quite a bit of time left.
“I’d waited so long for this moment and after taking so long to play a full game against United who represented a yardstick in English football as far as I was concerned. As little kid in Bermuda, this was the team I wanted to play against because they were the team to beat back then.
We held out comfortably to win 3-1 and I walked off to an incredible rendition of ‘Feed the Goat’ followed by ‘Who let the Goat out?’ –echoed around the Maine Road.
“It was amazing and what a way to end a fantastic day. The whole team played really well that day and all I wanted now was a shirt and I didn’t mind whose I got – they were all good players. I did like Scholes because he was an England international and kept a low profile, but I got a rejection when one of our security guys went and enquired in their dressing room – ‘it’s all packed away’ he was told.
“Then I walked up to Keegan’s room near the tunnel and Ferguson was in there. I asked him how he was doing and then asked if there was any chance I could get Scholes’ shirt. I think I was treated to what is now commonly known as the hairdryer treatment from the Reds’ boss!
“He then added, ‘I should have left your backside (or words to that effect) in Bermuda!’ He said it all half-jokingly but I also knew he also meant it, too!
“I asked again and he shouted ‘no!’ – I was glad I scored against his team that day and my only regret was that I didn’t have the chance to ask him to sign the match-ball, too, but two goals were good enough.
"I left empty-handed but not overly bothered. It was a proud day for City, me and my family and as I drove home, I thought that surely now I’d won Keegan over – he didn’t say anything special to me after the game and my well done was no different from anybody else’s…
“Still, we’d beaten United in the last derby at Maine Road… and nobody could take that away.”