Almost 20 years ago to the day, David White inspired City to a 5-1 win at Villa Park, with the young forward grabbing four goals and making the other. White recalls a night he says was "magical" ahead of our game with Aston Villa...
April 22, 1991
Division One: Aston Villa v Manchester City
It had been 13 years since City had finished above Manchester United in the top flight.
Six points from the three games that remained for Peter Reid’s side would ensure a fifth-place finish – one higher than the Reds – and some local pride restored.
It had been a good season considering Howard Kendall had quit in November and rookie boss Peter Reid had taken over.
Unbeaten in six games, City travelled to Villa Park looking to take advantage of a Villa team struggling near the foot of the table.
In David White and Niall Quinn, City had one of the most effective front partnerships in Division One, with Quinn’s height and White’s electric pace almost unplayable at times for opposition defences.
And in the region of 6,000 City fans swelled an otherwise disappointing crowd of just over 24,000, with the traveling Blue Army in ebullient mood on a warm spring evening in Birmingham.
City ran out in the change strip of white shirts, blue shorts, and white socks to avoid a clash of colours with the hosts and there was something special in the air that night, particularly for White who would turn in his best ever performance for his boyhood club.
“It’s funny because one of the main things I remember was that my dad wasn’t there that night,” recalled White. “He maybe missed five or six games in 342 City games, home and away but he was going to Heathrow to catch a flight the next day so decided to drive to London direct and not stop off in Birmingham to watch the game.
“I think it was a rearranged match with the first game called off because of snow, but I was happy enough because I loved playing night games and Villa Park was one of my favourite away grounds. They always had a good pitch, a good team and a great atmosphere so I was looking forward to the game.
“We were going pretty well that season under Peter Reid and in normal circumstances, we’d have been on track for a UEFA Cup spot if English teams hadn’t still been banned from European football.”
So was finishing top dogs in Manchester an incentive for the players? White says it wasn’t…
“It wasn’t just United we wanted to finish above – we wanted to be up there competing in the top six sides where we felt we belonged. I don’t recall the chance of finishing higher than United being an additional motivation at that time for any of the lads."
“I remember that whenever we had an away game, on the day of the game I’d go with the team coach to the ground beforehand and while Roy Bailey, Tony Book and the kit man sorted things out, I did a bit of a warm-up on the pitch.
“We were in our away kit that day and for some reason, every time we went to Villa, the shorts were always too small - I've no idea why - so after the kits and boots had been laid out, I’d go back in and find one of the two or three pairs of shorts that actually fitted well and take them back to the hotel in my kitbag, ready for the game.
“The lads could never work out why I always had one of the pairs that looked OK while theirs were too small. Steve Redmond had to cut his down the sides so they fit better because he had massive thighs!
“The burgundy or sky blue shorts were the worst, but we just had to put up with it. It was a different world because we weren’t allowed to swap shirts and we had one home and away shirt for the whole season.”
City’s huge following was in great voice ahead of kick-off. It was bright enough to not have the floodlights on to begin with and the prospect of a highest top flight finish since 1978 was buoying the travelling support.
The dressing rooms were next to the away section, so when City were walking down the tunnel, it sounded more like a home game than one being held 70 miles or so from Manchester.
“In all honesty we always had a big following at away games so it didn’t feel that different in terms of numbers,” said White.
“Villa Park has the lower section of the stand opposite the Holte End and the tunnel is also close to the away fans so when we ran out we could see our end full to capacity and it does give you a lift as they were making plenty of noise.”
Within four minutes of the match starting, the City fans were making even more noise, with White putting City ahead and before the break, adding a second to make it 2-0.
“The first two goals sort of summed us up at the time,” said White. “We could go either way, by playing really good passing moves or go long and Quinny would flick it on to me to have a run at goal.
Quinny was as good as anyone with the ball at his feet. Because he was six foot four and good in the air, people never gave him the credit he deserved, but he had a deft touch and could play as well on the ground as he could in the air. We saw it every day in training.
“I think Quinny and Mark Brennan were involved in the opener and we sort of carved the Villa defence open and to get a good chance as early as that, I was only ever going to get a shot away – even though it was on my left foot. I never hesitated when I had sight of goal and I hit a low shot across the keeper and into the bottom right corner.
“The second goal on 34 minutes was a move that we’d always got in our locker if needed. Quinny was almost guaranteed to win every header he went for and he could pick you out with a flick or glance as well as anyone I ever played alongside.
“He barely had to jump and because I was so quick, I would always back myself in a race. I used to stand on the shoulder of the defender who was marking me because if there was a ball to chase, I would invariably win the sprint so when Tony Coton kicked it upfield, I knew Quinny would knock into my path and, with the confidence I had from the first goal, I just looked up, saw the keeper off his line and lobbed it over him. We were 2-0 up and cruising.”
There was still work to do.
Villa might have had a difficult campaign, but they had plenty of quality on the pitch and were capable of dragging themselves back into the game.
A third was crucial, and just past the hour, White was again integral in helping City increase the lead.
“I got as much pleasure out of assisting goals as I did scoring them, so I had drifted out on the right, looked up and saw Brennan running in so sent in a low cross along the edge of the six-yard box and luckily he swept it home," he said.
“Villa had a good side back then with Paul McGrath, David Platt and Tony Daley among others, so when they pulled one back with 20 minutes or so to go, we weren’t panicking, but it gave them a bit of a lift.
“For me, the key to the whole game had been Villa’s tactics on the day. They had a young central defender called Andy Comyn at the back and McGrath was being used as a sort of holding midfielder. After we scored the second, McGrath moved into the back four and it was more difficult for me.
“But they were chasing the game when they pulled one back and McGrath went back into midfield which left more gaps for me towards the end.
“My third goal and our fourth on the night was a bit route one I suppose, with Quinny flicking a pass to me that put me clear – I took a touch with my left foot first, looked up and the goal looked a 100 yards wide so I struck a rising shot that flew in off the right-hand post. It was a technique I’d practiced from being a kid in my back garden and in countless training sessions. It was probably the most relaxed I’d ever felt on a football pitch and as soon as I received the pass, I knew what I was going to do and knew that it was going to be a goal. Even the noise as it struck the woodwork was perfect.
“If I could bottle any one moment of well-being on a football pitch or just a feeling of supreme confidence, that would have been it.
If I could have played in that mood every game of my life, I’d have been a world-beater. I needed to feel on top of the world and feel confident to be at my very best and that night, I was.
White wasn’t quite finished yet, though.
In a devastating display of speed, finishing and vision, White showed his true, explosive potential. Still only 23, he was showing the kind of form that had seen him dubbed as one of English football’s brightest talents.
It was an evening when everything fell for the Manchester-born forward and his fourth goal, cutting in from the left before hitting a low right-foot shot home from 20 yards completed a resounding 5-1 victory for City.
“My fourth wasn’t even a great strike if I’m honest,” he said.
“I didn’t hit the shot all that well, but I just caught Nigel Spink out on his near post.
It was a magical evening. To get four goals in any game is an achievement and being at Villa Park, it was even sweeter.
“I had scored hat-tricks before against Huddersfield and again away to Oldham – my dad missed that one, too – so I scored three career hat-tricks and my dad missed two of them! I think he’d have enjoyed being at Villa Park that night…”
As a footnote, City lost 1-0 to Manchester United a few days later but ended the campaign with a 3-2 win over Sunderland to secure fifth spot