MATCH OF THE SEASON
Rewind to February 2004 and a game no City fan will ever forget
If ever a game summed up the management of Kevin Keegan, it was the FA Cup fourth replay between City and Tottenham in February 2004. Goals, drama, controversy, despair and ultimately elation, it remains one of City’s most incredible comebacks of all time and, let’s be honest, we’ve a few to choose from.
It was a roller-coaster of emotions at the best of times aboard the Keegan express, with the former Newcastle, Fulham and England boss arriving in 2001 and his swashbuckling brand of attacking football seeing City dubbed as ‘The Entertainers’ on the way to the second tier title.
A first season back in the top flight had ended with a top ten finish and a place in the UEFA Cup, so there was plenty of optimism going into the 2003/04 campaign with the Club also taking up residence at our new City of Manchester Stadium home.
And things had started well, with just one defeat in the opening 10 games in all competitions, but thereafter, things tailed off badly.
The FA Cup was the last chance for silverware, but when drawn against a Spurs side who had already knocked Keegan’s side out of the League Cup, many felt the first clash between these two sides at the City of Manchester Stadium had offered City the best chance of progressing into the fifth round so a 1-1 draw suggested that chance had passed.
The odds seemed stacked against City going into the replay at White Hart Lane following a disastrous run of just one win in 19 matches. The Keegan magic had faded to a dull lustre and the manager who thrived on energy and momentum seemed no longer capable of rallying his badly mis-firing team.
City needed a boost from somewhere – anywhere – before the damage became irreversible, though after the first 45 minutes of this match, it looked like Keegan might be on the verge of holding his hands up and passing the reins on to somebody else.
Within only two minutes of the replay in North London, City faced a monumental challenge as Ledley King showed a slight of foot not usually associated with central defenders as he cut inside Jihai Sun and fired a spectacular shot past Arnie Arason into the roof of the net.
There was worse to come for City, too. Robbie Keane latched on to a superb through ball on 19 minutes, controlling the pass and then lifting the ball over Arason to make it 2-0 and then Nicholas Anelka limped off with just 27 minutes played – surely City’s night couldn’t get any worse?
Jon Macken replaced Anelka and recalls the chaos of the remaining 18 minutes of the first half.
“We were already 2-0 down when I came on and just before the break, they scored again,” recalled Macken. “As a sub, you want to make a difference and have an impact but on this occasion, it couldn’t have started much worse.”
But as the half-time whistle went, Joey Barton decided to share his thoughts with the referee and as result, an already difficult task suddenly looked impossible.
“We saw Joey involved with a bit of commotion with the referee as we were walking off the pitch at half-time and I saw a red card held up in his direction,” said Macken. “When we got back in the dressing room, we knew he’d been sent off and we were down to ten men, which actually deflected away from the fact we were 3-0 down.
“If I’m honest, everyone was a bit dumbstruck because we could have been six or seven goals behind if it hadn’t been for our keeper Arnie Arason if I’m honest, and now Joey was off – there was a feeling of ‘where do we go from here?’ I can’t remember Kevin Keegan saying very much at all, but I’d always found him a fantastic manager who always tried to push you forward and improve us as players. There just wasn’t much to say, I suppose at the stage.
“We were going through a difficult patch and I think he was struggling as much as the players to find a way to end the run we’d been on, so that first 45 minutes at White Hart Lane was really difficult for all of us. The thing is, when you feel you’ve reached rock bottom, the only way is up and though it wasn’t easy, we sort of geed ourselves up and with nothing to lose, thought we’d give it a real go.
“We went into the tunnel early and waited for a moment or two and we could hear the City fans singing, even though the match seemed as good as over and took inspiration from them. It was like, ‘well they haven’t given up so why should we?’
“I think the Spurs players felt they’d done enough with a 3-0 lead and the opposition reduced in number, which is natural, but when the game started, they were still creating chance after chance so maybe they still felt there was work to be done.”
City came out and began to play as though the shackles were off and it seemed to take Spurs back a little. If fortune really did favour the brave, the ten City players were going to have to dig deep within their reserves of courage and belief if they were to salvage a little pride and when a free-kick was awarded 40 yards out just three minutes after the break, a chance to repair some of the damage presented itself.
The excellent Michael Tarnat floated the ball towards the six-yard box where Spurs, perhaps a little blasé, allowed a galloping Sylvain Distin enough space to fashion a header past Kasey Keller to make it 3-1.
Not long after Spurs came within a whisker of making it 4-1 as Christian Ziege -scorer of the third goal - fired in another superb free-kick, only to see it strike the bar and Robbie Keane missed the chance to head home the rebound as Arason scrambled back to stop the ball on the line. Icelandic keeper Arason, making his debut for City, was immense and would make another two incredible saves to keep the hosts at bay.
With almost 70 minutes gone, City were still clinging on to hope at 3-1 down. Then, the dynamic shifted again. As the ball was half-cleared by the Spurs defence, Paul Bosvelt hit a low drive that span wickedly off Anthony Gardner and past Keller into the net to make it 3-2. Game on.
“So, we’d pulled a couple back and you could feel the tension from the terraces and see a nervousness in the Spurs players because we had belief and momentum,” said Macken. “So we kept going.”
The 1,500 or so City fans that had made the journey south for the replay roared on their 10-man team and, fittingly, with 10 minutes to go, they were rewarded with an equaliser.
Macken remembers: “A long ball was played from our defence, I controlled it and laid it off to Robbie Fowler who then played it into Shaun Wright-Phillips’ path and as he ran into the box before managing to dink it over the keeper to make it 3-3.
The celebrations from us and our fans was incredible and it was like, ‘wow, can we go on and win it now’.
“We had been determined to give a good account of ourselves and show we cared and knew what it meant to play for Manchester City and even at 3-2, we knew we could have gone off with our heads held high because I think we’d already shown that. We had the quality and a great squad, but just weren’t living up to our potential, which is a shame because we should have done better.”
It was a fantastic comeback, but there was still one more twist to come. Extra time would have surely swung the balance back in Tottenham’s favour, with a chance to regroup and better utilise their one man advantage, but as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, there was to be one final twist.
Macken takes up the story: “So we’re back to 3-3 and time is just about up when we go forward one last time.
As soon as Michael Tarnat got the ball on the left, I thought we might get that one last chance. He had such quality and was an unbelievable talent so I expected him to whip it in the box.
“I took a gamble and moved towards the back post. Tarnat crossed it in deep enough to clear the first defender and the keeper and as I saw it coming towards me I felt Ledley King – I think – pulling me back because I had got a yard on him, so I might have got a penalty anyway, but I stayed strong, leapt up and got a great connection on the ball and I could see straight away it was going in and that was it. I set off to our fans to celebrate and I’ll never forget that moment. It was mayhem.”
The City fans, players and management went wild and the Tottenham players looked at each other in total disbelief. How could they have thrown it away? Three goals up, 45 minutes to play and the opposition down to 10 men yet they were now losing 4-3 on their own soil.
The whistle went moments later, completing one of the greatest comebacks of all time and perhaps one of the most exciting FA Cup matches ever.
Macken summarised that 90 minutes and how the players felt afterwards, saying: “It was so special because we’d lost our star man after 27 minutes, Joey had been sent off, we’d gone 3-0 down and the history of Kevin Keegan’s sides being involved in thrilling matches just all came together. It was the City way for certain and I don’t think anyone will ever forget it.
“When I watched it back later, the commentator said, ‘And Macken’s got the winner – but he should have done in the first game’ and I was like – I don’t remember that! Being a footballer is all about making memories, I think, and we definitely made a special memory against Spurs that night.”
The highs under Keegan thereafter would be few and far between. City went out in the next round, losing 4-2 to Manchester United before beating the Reds 4-1 in the Premier League a month later and eventually the threat of relegation was avoided by eight points.
As for the epic win at White Hart Lane, it was City boss Kevin Keegan predicted: “They’ll be talking about this match long after we’ve all gone.”
Indeed we are.