Despite seeing off Malcolm Allison’s Crystal Palace 4-0 in the FA Cup 3rd round and then Norwich 6-0 in round four, there was good reason for City being wary of fifth round opponents Peterborough United when the draw for the last 16 was made.
City had been on the end of two major FA Cup upsets in the previous three seasons, losing 2-0 to third tier Shrewsbury Town in 1979 and then struggling Division Four side Halifax Town a year later.
But this was a different City team.
John Bond had arrived in October after the sacking of Malcolm Allison and Tony Book, steered his new team up the table and taken the Blues to a two-legged League Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
Now, the 100th FA Cup final was in view.
Signing wily old Scottish trio Tommy Hutchison, Bobby McDonald and Gerry Gow for a combined fee of less than £500,000 had transformed an ailing side into a confident, purposeful unit that played with a mix of silk and steel.
"For ‘The Posh’, however, this was their cup final and they were determined to add their name to the list of Manchester City giant killers."
For Peterborough United, this was a huge tie, and a genuine chance to get into the last eight of the FA Cup.
With City’s recent record in the competition, it had all the makings of a classic FA Cup banana skin, with a sell-out London Road eagerly anticipating the game – swelled by around 8,000 fans travelling from Manchester.
For ‘The Posh’, however, this was their cup final and they were determined to add their name to the list of Manchester City giant killers.
Peterborough defender Trevor Slack was a teenager at the time and remembers the day vividly.
“That game against City in was amazing,” said Slack.
“I was only 18 at the time and the ground was full – jammed with people, which was fantastic for the club
“It was one of the games I was assessed for by the England selectors for the Under-20 squad and I must have done OK because I was called up shortly after and was the only fourth tier player in the squad. I was marking one million pound man Kevin Reeves and Dave Bennett, so I had my hands full.
“I always remember City left Tommy Caton out of the team for that game – he was a lad who got picked in front of me for the England Schoolboys team!
“We just went out to beat any team, but at home we were really hard to beat. We never feared anyone and had a good blend of experience and youth. We also had Peter Morris as manager - the best talent-spotter in the country and a great tactician.”
Another Posh teenager, Micky Gynn – who would go on to spend a decade in the top division with Coventry City – recalls the day John Bond’s men rolled into town clearly.
“We were hoping we could beat City and move into the FA Cup quarter-finals which would have been huge for our club,” says Gynn.
“We’d beaten Notts County who were top of what is now the Championship in the previous round, so we were confident.
“We were doing OK in the Fourth Division, but we knew it was going to be a big step up in class. But with a full house at London Road and the pitch not being very good, we thought it might be a leveller if we had the rub of the green.
Micky Gynn and City's Gerry Gow
“In any one-off game, you’ve always got a chance. I was 19 at the time and it was the biggest game I played in up to that point, so to run out in front of almost 28,000 people was a real buzz. I wasn’t nervous at all and was really looking forward to it.
“We were well aware Halifax Town had beaten City a year earlier and we were certainly a better team than Halifax, so we knew we had a chance, but we were up against a side with quality players playing in the top division, so we needed that bit of luck, too.”
One of the Blues’ stalwarts of that side was Tommy Booth, but he was played in midfield on occasion with Kevin Bond, Nicky Reid and Tommy Caton often competing for the two central defensive slots.
Booth adapted well in the middle but was in and out of the side under Bond – a manager he admits he didn’t particularly like.
“It was a game that we were expected to win, but it was also a game that we could have come away quite upset from,” remembers Booth.
“I had a lot of family members up around the Peterborough way, so when the draw was made, I was inundated with ticket requests. I was playing in midfield and having been in the side that lost to Halifax 12 months before, I was a bit wary I suppose.
“Our fans were there in their thousands and they were who we played for. They followed us all over and they were always great with me.
"We had three or four good chances in the first-half and had any one of them gone in, it would have been very interesting."
“Peterborough caused us a few problems and it was a hard game. We were the favourites so the pressure was on us, but we just had to live with it, ride it out and try and get our noses in front.”
Indeed, Posh roared out of the blocks and City were soon under the cosh.
“We had three or four good chances in the first-half and had any one of them gone in, it would have been very interesting,” says Gynn. “I almost scored right from the kick-off. We were attacking the London Road End where our fans were and I ran past a few challenges before getting to the edge of the box where the ball bobbled up and just ran away from me and Joe Corrigan collected.
“Then Billy Kellock put a great ball over Nicky Reid’s head for Robbie Cooke to run on to – he probably had 20 goals already that season – but his half-volley went wide. Then he headed another cross wide and Kellock also missed a good chance – so we’d had four real opportunities in the first-half, but it never quite happened.”
Slack believes City were taken back by Peterborough’s energy and confidence, adding: “You could see it in the City players’ eyes when they ran out – they could see we were hungry and fancied our chances and I think that put them on the back foot a bit. The atmosphere was electric and we began playing so well. The Posh crowd were amazing and they nearly won the game for us.”
But City weathered the storm and, as top teams do, snatched the lead just before the break to dampen the flames, somewhat.
“The ball dropped kindly onto my left-foot following a corner and I just swivelled and thumped it home – I think Nicky Reid might have shouted ‘Tommy, leave it!’ and I was thinking that none of them could hit a barn door so I was never going to leave it!” said Booth.
The City fans celebrated wildly behind the goal and Booth’s opportunist strike would turn out to be the only goal of a keenly-contested game, with the Blues heading into the last eight with a 1-0 win.
“City controlled it after they scored that and we found it hard going in the second half, but if we’d scored, it could have been a different story,” reasoned Gynn.
"Dave Bennett played for City in the 1981 final and we ended up being team-mates at Coventry a few years later – and at least Benno got his revenge against Spurs in the 1987 final!"
“I wanted City to go on and win it because I wanted to be able to say to people that we’d lost to the actual winners of the FA Cup, but it didn’t happen against Spurs in the final.
“Dave Bennett played for City in the 1981 final and we ended up being team-mates at Coventry a few years later – and at least Benno got his revenge against Spurs in the 1987 final!”
For fellow teenager Slack, it was an unforgettable day, too.
“I was voted man of the match by my team-mates I did an interview after with East Anglian Sport afterwards,” he said. “It was also the only time I appeared on Match of the Day that night with Jimmy Hill presenting game. It was a great time in my life and it was great day even though we lost.”
Micky Gynn wanted to be at London Road for the 2022 meeting between City and Posh but says getting tickets the sell-out tie is nigh on impossible – even for a former club favourite.
“I’d have loved to have been at this game, but the capacity is halved these days,” says Gynn.
“If there was one more game I could my boots on for, this would be it. I don’t think this will be 1-0 to City – I think there might be a few more this time because City are a wonderful side and Peterborough are struggling at the moment.
“I’d like Peterborough not to be embarrassed and put up a good show, but maybe this time if Posh lose to City, we actually can say they were beaten by the FA Cup winners on this occasion.”
Trevor Slack says anything is possible.
“The town is buzzing again and we fancy beating City at London Road,” he smiled. “On the day, we can beat anyone - that’s what the FA Cup is all about. Giant killing.”
"I never got on with John Bond in all honesty."
Sadly, for Tommy Booth, City reaching the Centenary FA Cup final after seeing off Everton and then Ipswich Town, would end in frustration – and a departure from the club he loved and played 491 times for over 14 seasons.
“I never got on with John Bond in all honesty,” says Booth.
“We travelled down on the Thursday before the FA Cup final and Bond told me I’d be in the starting XI against Spurs, but when he came to naming the team before a pre-match meal the day before, he read out the side - and I wasn’t in it.
“I couldn’t believe it and I looked over at Joe Corrigan because I’d told him Bond said that I was going to be playing and he just shook his head. I finished my meal, got up, went and got my things and headed back to Manchester on the train.
“My family were already on their way down so it was a big disappointment for me and I never played for City again, leaving in the summer and signing for Tommy Docherty’s Preston North End.
“It ended a bit sourly, but I was a boyhood City fan and I loved my time at the Club and I still love the Club. I can’t see us not winning this game. Our team is so good and you always trust that Pep will get it right.”