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City DNA #14: The Forgotten ‘Bridesmaids’

CITY DNA: The Forgotten 'Bridesmaids'
“Manchester City are still alive here…”

You know the rest.... You’ve heard it a thousand times; watched every camera angle; listened to every interview; studied every facial expression and recited every piece of commentary… But what about the preceding events?

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The forgotten goals of Manchester City’s history. Goals that have played key roles in shaping our success – goals that proved equally crucial to their subsequent counterparts but are not held in as high regard as the magical moments which served to claw victory or salvation from the jaws of defeat and desperation.

Plus, what about those truly sensational goals which were rendered meaningless, failing to impact a result? Steve Mackenzie’s Wembley wonder-strike for example, or Craig Bellamy’s curling cracker at Old Trafford… Spare a thought for Denis Law, who bagged a double-hat-trick against Luton – only for the game to be abandoned on 69 minutes… and of course, City would lose the replay!

Glorious goals sadly tarnished and marred by the events that followed… Thankfully in more recent history, such setbacks are few and far between – but what is it like for a player to have a goal like that, especially on the big stage, overshadowed?

Kevin Horlock knows exactly how it feels. Our left-footed legend had a knack for scoring lovely long-range efforts but he is most famously remembered for his ‘forgotten goal’ in City’s remarkable Division Two Play-Off Final comeback triumph over Gillingham, as he struck in injury time to halve the deficit – seemingly too little, too late… but how crucial it would prove.

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Naturally, it is the equaliser that stole the spotlight – Paul Dickov’s delightfully dramatic leveller in the final seconds to salvage our hopes of promotion. That famous knee slide… the euphoria… the significance… that kit... That’s the iconic image that has become such a standout moment in the Club’s history… but Horlock isn’t jealous at all!

“Look, let’s not kid ourselves…" he laughed. "If you asked me: ‘Would I rather swap with Dicky and be the one that got us back in it?’ I think if you asked any lad – of course, they’d say yes.

“It is what it is. I’m thankful it fell to my left. I’m thankful I played a small part getting this football club back up to where we see today. It’s the forgotten goal.

"It came really late on. Did I still believe? I was still going to give it everything to get back into the game but in all honesty, I probably thought it was consolation like most other people I suppose. I just thought in a selfish way: 'I’ve scored at Wembley – something to tell the grandkids when I’m older.'

“Dicky’s a great lad. He worked his socks off for us, whenever he played, and the fans took to him. He would chase anything, he gave everything – he deserves that goal. Am I jealous? No… Is my goal the forgotten goal? Yes, but so what?

“But I tell you what I did do: I touched on the build up to Dicky’s goal so I’ll settle for that. I’m happy with being that bridesmaid. I’m happy being the bridesmaid, scoring the forgotten goal and having a touch in Dicky’s goal because he deserves everything he gets.”

The most meandering of twists in the tale at Wembley… and how fitting that City’s first Premier League title would be secured in such similar circumstances: with two injury time strikes to turn a game on its head in our favour.

That topsy-turvy encounter in May 2012 ensured both Edin Dzeko and Pablo Zabaleta are victims of the preceding goals scenario. ‘ZabMan’ opened the scoring against Queens Park Rangers and looked to have set City on our way to victory – only for the relegation-threatened visitors to respond with two goals in the second half to put the Blues on the brink.

Feeling pretty good about his contribution at half-time, Zabaleta admitted to envisaging the headlines: 'Zabaleta, the hero!' and how close City came to registering his first strike of the season utterly worthless.

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“The forgotten goal!” he recollected. “I’m sure the City fans do remember the goal…

“At half-time, at 1-0 up, I thought: ‘Okay, if we finish the game at 1-0, I will be the hero! People will keep watching the game for many years and I will have scored the winning goal for Manchester City to win our first Premier League medal.

“When they equalised, I thought: ‘No way!’ and when we were losing 2-1: ‘We’ll score one goal and we're still going to lose!’”

That one goal would arrive very, very late on, courtesy of ‘the Bosnian Diamond’ Dzeko – but did anyone really believe City could score that all-important third, or did the equaliser merely add to the pain? Would it just serve to highlight how close we would come to success?

“When I scored that goal, everyone just woke up,” Dzeko remembered, “and everyone was back in the Stadium, starting to believe again, even though there was only two or three minutes left…”

So, when Sergio Aguero collected Mario Balotelli’s solitary assist for City in the 93rd minute, absolutely no-one in the stadium – including the joyous, Premier League survivors QPR – would have begrudged our Argentine ace that treasured moment when the ball hit the back of the net to snatch the Premier League title away from neighbours United, sending the footballing world into delirium.

In truth, it didn’t matter who scored – as long as that ball crossed the line, in whatever circumstance! Nothing else mattered: City were 3-2 up and about to lift our first Premier League crown with a victory fashioned in the most astonishing circumstances.

Did Zabaleta and Dzeko mind? Not one jot!

“When Aguero scored, it was a crazy feeling – the best feeling in my whole career,” Dzeko smiled. “I don’t think it will ever happen again.”

'Adopted Mancunian' Zabaleta agreed: “The ending was like a film. You cannot describe, you cannot explain the feeling in that moment.”

And how about Horlock, who still holds a deep love of the Club? What did he make of the incredible turn of events that day – and the similarities to his own unforgettable experience? Two goals in added time... you couldn't script it!

“The Premiership win and the timings of it (to the Wembley game) are a bit spooky.

"I’ve seen the footage where they’ve lined the Aguero and Dickov goals up and it’s incredible.

“If Edin’s watching, I know how you feel being the forgotten goal!

“But Aguero and Dickov are both heroes from where I’m sitting…”

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