Simple: give the ball to Shaun Goater and there was a very good chance the ball would hit the back of the net.
Quite how the ball would cross the line (and via which body part) definitely varied… but the concept remained the same. Just ask Gary Neville.
The Manchester United star discovered the serious consequences of ‘feeding the Goat’ on one glorious day in November 2002 – the final Manchester Derby hosted at Maine Road – and in rather amusing fashion.
With the game locked at 1-1, after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (of course, now the current Red Devils’ boss) had cancelled out Nicolas Anelka’s early opener, City pressed to regain the lead.
However, an overhit long ball over the top looked to cause little danger, with Neville seemingly set to comfortably shepherd the ball out of play; he did not realise he was being pursued by the hungry Goat.
With his predatory instincts heightened in and around the box, Goater gave chase and ‘pickpocketed’ the United captain to keep the ball in play before driving towards goal and curling a beautiful finish past Fabian Barthez from an acute angle – his 99th City goal.
While Maine Road erupted into raptures, Neville – and several of the Red contingent – stood stunned with their hands on their head, unable to comprehend the mistake, and the potential significance of it.
To rub salt in the wounds, United legend Peter Schmeichel – lining up against his former Club during a successful one-year stint at Maine Road – turned to the North Stand to celebrate with the jubilant City fans. It really was a priceless moment.
Goater’s celebrations meanwhile were subdued, as the rest of the squad ran over to congratulate the Bermudian on his solo effort. It was a memorable Manchester Derby goal all of his own making, but in his eyes, it was a case of: advantage gained from a mistake – a goal not to be acknowledged for its craft.
Although, of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy it!
“I’m humble about it because I scored so many goals, but it’s against United and it means so much more for the City fans – those two goals.
“On that world stage in the Derby against United, it was special.
“People always say: ‘Do you remember the goals against United?’ I scored 103 goals for the Club so when you’re a goalscorer, you score goals and you know what it’s like!
“Gary Neville is one of the best pundits out there today. He doesn’t hold back if a defender does something basic, especially something very basic, and he would say: ‘That was really bad defending’ and that’s what he’d say about himself at that particular time!”
Goal number 99 was certainly one to remember, and his City Century – his 100th for the Club – would follow in the second half – just five minutes after the break.
This one in contrast was beautifully fashioned: a goal, which showcased both sides of City’s game.
Having dispossessed United in the centre, the home side capitalised, as Niclas Jensen played an excellent ball into midfield maestro Eyal Berkovic’s path.
With exceptional technical ability and a vision which saw into the future, the Israeli playmaker clipped a gorgeous first-time ball into the path of Goater, who controlled before chipping the ball delightfully over Barthez to hand City a two-goal advantage.
He celebrated this one more exuberantly, putting his finger to his lips before jumping for joy in front of the City faithful – and rightly so, it was another fantastic finish, a crucial strike and moreover, his 100th goal for his beloved Club.
He didn’t know that at the time though!
“The strange thing was: I wasn’t even aware it was my 100th goal until after!” he admitted.
“I’d followed my goals for the season but I didn’t follow my total goals for what I had achieved at the Club.
“When I found out, I thought: ‘This story just gets better and better!’
“My 100th goal against Manchester United in the last Maine Road Derby… the boxes just get ticked on their own. I couldn’t have written it any better.”
A delightful double for the Goat, our first Derby win in 13 years and a first Premier League triumph over the Reds – all in all, a day to remember.
Although Goater (and Neville, whose every touch and later substitution was cheekily cheered by the home crowd) took the acclaim, the Bermudan credits his former teammate and close friend for an influential display: defender Gerard Wiekens.
The Dutchman, who played in three divisions with City, produced a fine display to keep United’s fearsome forward line quiet, as the Goat remembers fondly.
“For me, he was underrated in terms of his appreciation,” he stated. “When he played against United, he marked Ruud van Nistelrooy out of the game.
“That was the quality of Gerard Wiekens. I hated playing against him because in training, he read me so well.
“I was the easy-go-lucky guy so I got on with pretty much everyone, but Gerard and I were probably the closest – we really seemed to hit it off in terms of our temperament and how we were.”
Describing the final Maine Road Derby as ‘a wonderful game’, Wiekens himself holds the victory in equally high regard, deeming the game one of his all-time favourites.
Will there ever be a Derby goal scored in such comical circumstances again? Who knows?
One thing is for certain however: should Neville be in attendance on Saturday evening, he will certainly receive a warm welcome…