Sunday’s Capital One Cup summit with Liverpool will also mark – to the day – the 40th anniversary of City’s famous 2-1 League Cup final win over Newcastle United.
Tony Book’s side had a marathon run to the final in 1976, playing eight matches during an adventure that was packed with drama, excitement and a devastating injury to Colin Bell that all but ended the career of one of the Club’s greatest players.
It all began when the Blues were drawn away to newly-promoted Norwich City in Round 2 and, having already beaten the Canaries 3-0 at Maine Road on the opening day of the season, it was a game City were expected to win.
John Bond’s side had started the campaign well and were in sixth place and came into the match in good form having scored 12 goals in their previous four games while City were in 13th having won just two of their opening six matches.
A crowd of 18,332 turned out for the midweek clash with both teams at full strength. The Blues had been to the final twice in the previous six years, winning the trophy in 1970 against West Brom but then losing to another Black Country side in 1974 when Wolves triumphed 2-1 at Wembley.
In a tight encounter, City had to settle for a replay with Dave Watson scoring in a 1-1 draw. The League Cup didn’t have penalty shoot-outs back then and so the game went to a replay at Maine Road a week later.
Dennis Tueart and Joe Royle were both on the score-sheet that night, but again the teams couldn’t be separated after an entertaining 2-2 draw in front of 29,667 fans – and yet again the match went to a replay.
With no coin toss to decide which team would host the game, the match went to a neutral venue to settle the outcome and bizarrely, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge was selected!
With Norwich fans having far less to travel than City supporters, it was no surprise that a crowd of only 6,238 made the trek to West London
...1976 League Cup...
The match wasn’t televised live, so many Blues had to rely on the commentary of Piccadilly Radio’s Brian Clarke for updates – and it turned out there would be plenty of ‘It’s a goal!’ jingles during records as City ran riot, beating the Canaries 6-1.
Tueart scored a hat-trick and there were goals for Mike Doyle, Royle and an own goal as Book’s men finally progressed to the third round.
The draw had been kind with City paired with struggling second tier side Nottingham Forest at Maine Road.
Forest were third bottom in Division Two and were now under the tutelage of Brian Clough who had arrived at the City Ground in January but it was anything but a breeze for the Blues who edged tie 2-1 courtesy of goals from Bell and Royle.
The draw for the last 16 produced the tie everybody had been hoping for with the Blues pulling United out of the hat, with the venue Maine Road.
The teams had already shared an exciting 2-2 draw in the league and the anticipation for this game was close to fever pitch with the Reds coming into the game in fifth spot having just be knocked off the top following a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool
...1976 League Cup...
City raced out of the blocks and Tueart scored within minutes to send the majority of the 50,182 crowd wild, but the Blues would pay a major price with Bell stretchered off with a horrific knee injury.
United’s Martin Buchan mistimed his tackle and left the City and England idol in agony.
Bell recalled the moment vividly: "The first option was to take a shot if the ball sat up kindly. The second was to increase my forward pace to try to get away from the player. The third was to stop, drag the ball back, and let him go across me. Then I would be clear through on goal. I selected the last one.
"I dragged the ball back, which left me balanced on my right leg with all six studs in the ground. I could see now that it was Martin Buchan who was challenging me. His tackle smacked me just below the knee, on the right leg, which had my full weight on it.
"It felt like my leg had been screwed into the ground. My knee bent backwards, bursting blood vessels in the bottom of my thigh and in the top of my calf. All the ligaments in my knee were torn.”
The damage caused by the tackle meant Bell was ruled out for several months and though he attempted a comeback later in the season, it was ill-judged and he then missed the next 18 months and was never the same player again.
Clearly upset, the loss of Bell seemed to drive the City players on and goals from Asa Hartford and Tueart meant the Blues went in 3-0 up at the break. Royle added another after the break to complete the rout.
The reward for the derby triumph was another home tie and a quarter-final with Third Division minnows Mansfield Town who had already seen off top flight opposition in the shape of Coventry City and Wolves at Field Mill.
The Stags were rock-bottom of their division and City were expected to coast into the semi-final, but despite Hartford’s early goal, Ray Clarke levelled on 17 minutes to send the travelling fans wild.
The Blues eventually wore down Mansfield and Royle, Tueart and Alan Oakes completing a 4-2 victory in front of 30,022 fans.
Now only Middlesbrough stood between City and the final and ironically, the teams met in the league just three days before the first leg at Ayresome Park.
Boro, a solid mid-table outfit, won the league encounter 1-0 and repeated the score to edge ahead in the first leg, but City were far from finished.
In a curious coincidence, the Blues – as Boro had done – repeated score from the league meeting earlier in the campaign with Book’s men beating the Teessiders 4-0 at Maine Road
...1976 League Cup...
The injury-hit hosts took the game to Boro from the kick-off and goals from 20 year-old Ged Keegan and Oakes put City 2-1 up on aggregate by half-time.
The crowd of 44,426 were in raptures after the break with Peter Barnes and Royle scoring to complete a 4-0 win on the night and a 4-1 aggregate victory.
City had scored 23 goals along the way to the final with Tueart (7) and Royle (6) leading the way.
Newcastle United awaited the Blues in the final having seen off Southport, Bristol Rovers, QPR, Notts County and Spurs – like City, the Magpies overcame a 1-0 first leg loss to win the return match comfortably and reach their first League Cup final.
Strapping centre-half Watson was a major doubt for the final having suffered a slipped disc and was unable to train before the game – but with a mixture of pain relief and good old fashioned steel, he was named in the starting XI.
The final proved to be an exciting, close affair but the Blues grabbed the initiative through a well-worked set-piece.
In his autobiography ‘Blue Blood’, skipper Mike Doyle explained: “The first break came when we were awarded a free-kick on the right-hand side of the pitch. We had been practising a move for such an opportunity all the previous week. I stood on the centre circle of the 18-yard box, and our three biggest players — Joe Royle, Dave Watson and Alan Oakes — went to the back.
“The hope was that Newcastle would stick someone small on me, and worry more about marking our big guys. Tommy Cassidy was the man who stood with me, and he wasn’t the best header of a ball in the game. Glen Keeley, Alan Gowling and Pat Howard were marking our three big men, for that — so Newcastle thought — was where the danger would lie.
“The trick worked like a charm. Asa Hartford took the free kick and our three big guys moved from the far post to the near post, taking their shadows with them — while I doubled round the back.
“Cassidy was still with me, but I’d made a bit of room, and as the ball came over I headed it across the face of the goal… and there was Peter Barnes, all ready and waiting to stick it into the net.
“I was so elated that as I raced around shouting, ‘It worked! It bloody worked!’”
The 18 year-old Barnes became the youngest player to score in a Wembley final, but Alan Gowling’s 35th-minute leveller saw the teams go in level at the break.
Within a minute of the re-start, however, City were back in front with one of the most famous goals ever seen at the national stadium.
Again it was a set-piece that did the damage with Willie Donachie crossing the ball into the box, Tommy Booth nodding it back across goal and Tueart, with his back to goal, acrobatically scored with a bicycle kick to send the City end of Wembley wild.
It was goal worthy of winning any game and it indeed turned out to be the strike that ensured the Blues won the League Cup for the second time.
“It was an iconic moment,” recalled Tueart. “An overhead kick to win a cup final against your hometown club who had rejected you – it had all of the Roy of the Rovers elements.
“I’d gone too far into the box, I used to gamble on the ball dropping to me from one of the big centre-halves or centre forwards. Tommy headed it and you don’t really think about it – you just adjust your body.”
A memorable day capped by a breath-taking goal, it would be 38 years before the Blues lifted the trophy again. Hopefully, on Sunday, City can celebrate their fourth success in this competition...