Bournemouth’s first visit to the Etihad on Saturday will stir one or two memories for some of City fans.
The Cherries very nearly burst the Blues’ promotion bubble in 1989 in a memorable game at Maine Road that sent the home supporters away shaking their heads in disbelief, muttering ‘only City…’
The Blues were making hard work of promotion back to the top flight after a two-year absence.
Chelsea had been runaway leaders for most of the season but Mel Machin’s men blazed a trail behind and with six games left, were 11 points clear of third-place Blackburn Rovers and 15 clear of Crystal Palace who had three games in hand and a congested fixture list.
Defeats against Rovers and Barnsley gave the chasing pack renewed hope, but the Blues were still masters of their own destiny. A win over Oxford was followed by a crucial game against a Palace team who had come up on the rails from nowhere.
With Palace the next visitors at Maine Road, City knew they couldn’t afford to lose and when Nigel Gleghorn’s goal settled the 33,456 crowd down, all seemed well – until keeper Andy Dibble’s recurring groin injury struck again and Gleghorn had to go in goal! Palace only managed to put one goal past the midfielder as the game finished 1-1.
The Blues now had to find just two points from their remaining two games to go up.
Bournemouth arrived at a sun-drenched Maine Road with nothing other than pride to play for and on the back of a poor run of results that had seen their own play-off hopes disappear after a run of nine losses in their previous 12 matches.
Guaranteed a mid-table position and with City winning the first meeting at Dean Court 1-0, few among the 30,000+ crowd envisaged anything other than the home victory required over the south coast outfit.
The Cherries, with future City favourite Ian Bishop in midfield, looked as though they’d already begun their summer holidays in the opening minutes as the Blues started like a team on a mission
...City v Bournemouth 1989...
Within two minutes, the hosts were ahead. Andy Hinchcliffe’s deep cross into the box was aimed at Trevor Morley, but Bournemouth skipper Mark Newsome got their first and when his clearance fell to Paul Moulden, the City striker banged home his fifth of the season to send Maine Road wild.
It was the perfect start and the goal settled the players and crowd down, though it wasn’t until the 39th-minute that the Blues increased their lead.
Hinchcliffe again searched out Morley with a long ball and this time the City striker controlled the pass, turned inside his marker and curled the ball into the net to make it 2-0.
Minutes later the celebratory atmosphere turned into a carnival on the terraces as the Blues scored again when Hinchcliffe’s free-kick took a deflection off the wall and looped up, hitting the crossbar and allowing Moulden to gleefully tap home.
Three goals to the good, the fans could surely finally enjoy the afternoon and all the players had to do was keep things tight and wait for the clock to tick down. At least, that’s what should have happened. The Cherries, it transpired, were far from finished.
Two goals midway through the second-half in the space of a few minutes from Peter Shearer and Matt Holmes suddenly had the Blues living on their nerves with the anxiety among the City fans transmitting down to the players who were grimly hanging on as the clock ticked towards full-time.
In fact, deep into injury time, Bournemouth were still looking to spoil the party and when Hinchcliffe’s clumsy challenge resulted in a penalty for the visitors, there was a certain inevitability about the whole occasion.
Luther Blissett thundered home the spot-kick with 97 minutes on the clock – and the referee blew shortly after to end a text-book game of two halves and leave Maine Road stunned.
Palace now knew that if City slipped up in their final game and they could turn a five-goal difference around, they could snatch the last automatic spot
...City v Bournemouth 1989...
There was to be a happy ending, however – just. City travelled to Bradford City’s Valley Parade on the final day of the season and despite trailing until the 86th-minute and news coming through that Palace were 4-0 up against Birmingham (the perfect storm scenario for the Eagles) Morley slid home the goal that won the Blues promotion right at the end. Even then Bradford nearly scored a last-gasp winner but it ended 1-1.
For the Blues’ long-suffering fans (10,000 had wanted to travel, but 3,000 was the away allocation), it was all-too familiar as their team – yet again – put them through the grinder before finally delivering the goods.
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