City's journey to that fateful 1983 meeting with Luton Town...

City had been in freefall since January. John Bond, perhaps sensing the chaos ahead, had quit after a 4-0 FA Cup defeat to Brighton in January and the cash-strapped Blues were unable to strengthen or bring in a manager of any note.

Bond’s No.2, John Benson, was handed the reins for the final four months of the campaign but immediately seemed a little out of his depth in terms of experience, and this quiet man who had once played 44 games for the club he was now in charge of, was under enormous pressure from the word go.

Yet, despite the early FA Cup exit, there was no hint of the chaos that lay ahead for Benson and his players.

City were in a decent position in mid-table and there seemed no immediate danger of anything other than a seventh season without silverware.

All Benson had to do was steer a listing ship through choppy waters until the summer when the board would surely look to employ somebody with a higher profile – or maybe Benson would take on the role for the long term if he did a decent job.

His tenure began with a creditable 2-2 draw against title-chasing Tottenham at Maine Road, but that was followed by a heavy 4-1 thrashing at Coventry, a 1-0 home loss to Notts County and a 2-1 defeat away to Sunderland. 

The storm clouds weren’t exactly gathering, but there were certainly one or two rumbles of thunder in the distance.

One point from a possible 10 and things could only get better…

Benson decided to go back to basics for the midweek visit of Everton at the start of March and a 0-0 draw represented a modicum of improvement.

Next up, the Manchester derby at Maine Road, but there was to be no lift-off moment for Benson, who saw Kevin Reeves’ first-half goal count for nothing as a Frank Stapleton brace gave the Reds a 2-1 victory.

Benson knew his side were urgently in need of a pick-me-up having gone eight games without a victory in all competitions (including the last two games of Bond’s tenure).

Successive trips to play teams at venues where City rarely did well followed, with Swansea and Southampton much more daunting fixtures in 1983 than they perhaps are today.

And so it proved.

City were beaten 4-1 at The Dell and, again were thrashed 4-1 by a Swansea side who were heading for relegation at the Vetch Field and after those wretched performances, few doubted the Blues were becoming embroiled in a relegation dogfight.

Joe Corrigan left City after the Southampton loss, signing for Seattle Sounders in the NASL – a deal that few people could believe had been sanctioned by Benson.

The timing could not have been worse.

Big Joe had, for so long, been a magnificent last line of defence for the Blues, and without him, the defence looked that much more vulnerable.

Accordingly, 21-year-old Alex Williams, with just a handful of appearances under his belt, was pitched in at the deep end.

Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town then left Maine Road with a 1-0 victory, meaning Benson’s reign thus far looked like this: Played 9 Won 0 Drawn 2 Lost 7 Goals for: 8 Against: 21

With eight games to go, there was still time to turn things around, but a team desperately low on confidence needed a win – and finally, away to West Brom, where the Blues had lost heavily at several time in recent years – it came.

A 2-1 win at The Hawthorns was surely the catalyst for a more productive end to the season and certainly eased the pressure on Benson who was at least consistent in his press conference messaging that “the boys know what they have to do” – a line he would repeat continually week in, week out.

With reigning champions Liverpool next up at Maine Road, City fans arrived in hope more than expectation as an annual home drubbing by the Merseysiders was considered as something of a tradition back then.

Liverpool had won their last five visits to Moss Side by an aggregate on 17 goals to one. And the Reds didn’t disappoint again, heading back down the M62 with a 4-1 victory.

A trip 45 miles south didn’t hold quite as much fear for travelling City fans as the Blues looked to bounce back quickly against Stoke at the Victoria Ground, but the Potters would snatch the only goal of the game and once again the picture was starting to look bleak.

Benson’s City had taken just five points from a possible 42 and the thought of dropping outside the top division for the first time since 1966 seemed an ominous possibility.

City fans hadn’t seen a home victory for three long months and a feeling of desperation was evident ahead of our home game with West Ham United.

Five games remained and the Blues needed to win at least a couple – probably three – to ensure survival – and one of those needed wins did indeed come against the Hammers, with goals from Bobby McDonald and Tueart sealing a 2-0 win, and again eased the massive pressure on Benson and his men slightly.

With Arsenal and Nottingham Forest up next, it had been a crucial three points.

Trips to Highbury had rarely yielded points and save for a 3-2 win back in 1975, it had been something of a graveyard for even the best City teams over the years, so a 3-0 loss on this occasion was no surprise at all.

Could rookie boss Benson out manoeuvre Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest at Maine Road in the next game?

The Blues gave it a good go, but Forest edged a 2-1 win leaving a trip to already-relegated Brighton – where Bond had quit four months earlier and the awful run had begun – and a home game against third-bottom Luton Town.

The season had boiled down to two matches and four points were needed to guarantee survival.

Given what gone before, that felt like a huge ask, but City dug deep, and a disciplined defensive performance on the south coast yielded an unexpected 1-0 victory at the Goldstone Ground courtesy of a Kevin Reeves goal.

One game left and the Blues were now a point away from safety, with Luton Town, our final opponents of the 1982/83 season needing to win in order to leapfrog Benson’s side to save themselves and send City down.

In many ways, it probably would have been better if City had needed a win, because the knowledge that a point would be enough undoubtedly left uncertainty in the players’ minds – stick or twist?

Luton, blessed with a number of gifted attacking players such as Ricky Hill, Brian Stein, David Moss, and Paul Walsh, would surely go for it – they had to.

The week leading up to the game was unbearable.

City fans just wanted it over and to get across the line in any way possible.

Hatters boss David Pleat felt confident his team could get what they needed at Maine Road and why wouldn’t he be? They had already beaten City once that season – a 3-1 win at Kenilworth Road the previous December.

The Blues had won just one home game in eight, losing five in that sequence and were teetering on the brink.

Pleat knew there would be a huge crowd backing City, but he also knew that their tension and anxiety could easily be used to his own team’s advantage.

In his eyes, the pressure was off his players as they were expected to lose and return to the second tier after only one year back in the top flight.

Finally, the day of reckoning was here.

Maine Road was packed with more than 43,000 fans inside the ground and the atmosphere was both expectant and unbearable.

How had it come to this?

A little more than 17 months before, City had beaten Wolves 2-1 to go into 1982 as First Division (now Premier League) leaders with genuine hopes of winning the title.

Now, John Bond had gone, the talismanic Trevor Francis had been sold to balance the books and Corrigan was keeping goal across the Atlantic.

The Match of the Day cameras were there, of course, and as the teams ran out, commentator John Motson claimed, “It’s do or die today…”

Motson also reminded viewers of one of those odd coincidences only football seems to throw up occasionally, in that just eight years before, City had held Luton to a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road in the final game of the 1974/75 season.

Though that took the Hatters a point clear of the third relegation spot, Tottenham’s re-arranged game with Leeds United ended 4-2, and Spurs duly leapfrogged Luton and relegated them as a result.

Though not as dramatic or directly involved, the Blues had played their part in Luton’s demise once before.

The game began, with the City fans loud and boisterous, attempting to carry the players over the line.

Kevin Reeves’ angled shot was as near as City came to a goal and a first half of few opportunities and the teams went into the half-time break with the score at 0-0.

City were halfway there, but the finish line felt like a million miles away. The angst and torture was visible all over the stadium – everyone just wanted it over.

Dennis Tueart had a couple of great chances and Asa Hartford went on a mazy run Georgi Kinkladze would have been proud of, but the ball wouldn’t go in as Luton threw bodies on the line and managed to scramble anything and everything clear.

Just one goal would surely do it as Luton – who had offered so little going forward - would then need to score a couple, but as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes, so the tension and bitten fingernails increased and that nervousness filtered down on to the pitch.

Everybody knew that if either side scored from that point on, it would surely be too late for the other to recover.

Luton, with nothing to lose, were past the point of no return – it didn’t matter if they threw everything at it for the few minutes that remained because if they didn’t score, they were going down.

Then, with 86 minutes on the clock, a Luton cross from the right was half-cleared by Alex Williams’ punch to the edge of the box but only to the feet of second-half sub Raddy Antic who shaped up to hit the loose ball, connected with a low shot that (almost in slow motion) travelled through the crowded box and past Williams into the bottom left corner of the City net.

Total silence, bar the wild celebrations of a couple of thousand Luton fans high up to the right of the Kippax.

By the time the game kicked off, City had maybe three minutes to rescue the situation, but everyone knew in their gut that it was over and as the referee blew for full-time, Hatters boss David Pleat emerged onto the Maine Road turf in his beige suit, tan loafers, and a skipping victory jig, all while he buttoned up his jacket.

Then, all hell broke loose, and everything became a blur as fans poured onto the pitch, angry and frustrated by what they had seen.

The ultimate irony?

City had fallen into the bottom three for the first time on the very last day of the season – the only time when there was nothing that could be done to reverse the situation.

There were angry scenes outside the main entrance as thousands gathered to register their disgust at chairman Peter Swales, but none of it really mattered.

Manager John Benson was duly sacked shortly after, saying, “I'm glad it's all over. It's been hard graft. We have not been able to do our jobs properly. We had to con players who have conned us for nine months.

“I'm not going to live through that every week, no way.”

City were relegated and out of the top flight for the first time in 17 years and many young fans – including this writer – shed tears over their beloved team for the first time, though not the last…

Written by David Clayton