City had just blasted six past an abject Newcastle yet a strange frustration settled among the faithful as they departed the Etihad back in October. Sergio Aguero’s one-man spree was exhilarating to behold with five goals that comprehensively put to bed fears of a draught, while a half-hour maelstrom of slick passing and remorseless probing brought to mind the Blues’ finest performances in recent times.
So what was with the collective undertow of disgruntlement that accompanied the walk down the spirals? Surely there should have been outright giddiness at witnessing such a memorable triumph?
The answer to this doesn’t reside in greediness or arrogance on our part but the undeniable truth that had Pellegrini not substituted Aguero at his most ruthless on 66 minutes – and had the team not consequently lapsed into cruise control – it should, and could, have been much more.
Following an early second half blitz, Newcastle were curled up in the foetal position protecting their head and dangly bits and a game that was finely poised at the break had swiftly been reduced to shooting practice. The visitors were primed to be ripped apart and a Premier League scoring record – which would have sweetly trumped United’s nine vs Ipswich in 1995 – was realistically there for the taking.
Just take a second to imagine it. How the slate bearing two recent defeats to West Ham and Spurs would have been wiped clean and then some. The bumped-up spot on the nine o’clock news. The raised eyebrows from residents of Barcelona, Munich and Salford as City reached double figures.
Instead, with the three points in the bag, Pellegrini brought off Aguero and Silva to bubblewrap them. Why? Because he could.
This is not a criticism of the Chilean incidentally because such is the way with modern football. There is just too much money, too much pressure, and too much everything at stake now to luxuriate in the chasing of rainbows at the expense of uber-pragmatism. The harsh truth is we all probably would have done the same in Manuel’s position.
The game was won and, like a Formula One car miles ahead of second place, City took less off at each apex and guided themselves safely home. I get that.
It didn’t make it any less frustrating though and perhaps even more so to lads and lasses of a certain age. Blues old enough to recall football before it was invented by the Premier League and before business and common sense relegated romance to the lower divisions.
On November 7th 1987 at an unusually sparse Maine Road, Paul Stewart looped in a header against a beleaguered Huddersfield Town to make it six to the home side. The goal was clocked at 66 minutes, the same juncture in the game where Aguero reluctantly trudged off with further strikes in his nostrils. This though was a very different time, a time that the cynical call innocent and the innocent deem it how football should forever be. Because there was no taking the foot off the accelerator here and certainly no mercy shown. Instead barely a minute later Tony Adcock charged down a clearance and tenaciously drove into the box to put away his hat-trick.
In football parlance six goals to the good is generally considered a ‘rout’ while seven is naturally rhymed with heaven on the following day’s back pages. The near-twenty thousand crowd were certainly residing there now, chanting for the impossible ten and electrified into anticipation every time we crossed the halfway line. All save for the away fans of course. They were busying themselves with a snaking conga in and around the Platt lane benches. I have regarded Town fans with affection ever since.
City’s seventh completed a hat-trick for Tony Adcock, a player who arrived from Colchester in the summer and left in January in a swap-deal for Trevor Morley. In his six short months at the club he played a pivotal role in our record score-line of the 20th century. Others have put in a decade’s service with less to shout about.
Adcock’s third sparked a commendable degree of pride in relegation-doomed Huddersfield who were stoically driven on in midfield by former Blue Andy May. Their fans may have been enjoyingan ironic partybut they were playing for their new boss Malcolm Macdonald and strangely had begun the game as much the better side. They probably fancied their chances too against a Mel Machin side that were peak City as likely to win 4-3 as lose 3-2. With slightly more of the former thus far City were eyeing one of those new-fangled play-off spots but with a batch of promising kids coming through, £250,000 signing Paul Stewart bedding in, and a new gaffer themselves this already looked like a season of consolidation in the old division two.
A quick word on Stewart who I feel is due some revisionism. Bought for a quarter of a million and sold on to Spurs for nearly seven times that amount a season later he provided not only a very welcome windfall for City but banged in 24 goals during his brief spell at Maine Road. The Manc-born forward’s bullish endeavour scared the bejeezus out of defences and offered up a great deal of excitement in a campaign that ultimately amounted to fun before going on to be pretty rubbish for Spurs and Liverpool. That’s damn near enough to warrant hero status.
Aptly it was Stewart who then tapped in a late eighth to complete his own hat-trick before David White blasted home his second of the game to make it 9-0.
We were now entering the realms of fantasy and the humour emanating from the terraces transferred to the pitch with a charitable non-penalty given to the despondent away side with barely a minute left to play. Good. Any thrashing with a one at the end always sounds better. It suggests the other team put up at least a fight.
All four sides of the ground cheered when May slotted one home for old time’s sake but the spot-kick only heightened the decibels as the Kippax demanded the magical ten. Huddersfield meanwhile were jolted back into life and foolishly attacked en masse leaving half the field for White to run onto a sumptuous throughball by Neil McNabb – it was that kind of game – before rounding the keeper and creating history.
Three separate hat-trick heroes. 10-1. The vidiprinter on Grandstand presumably used letters in brackets.
There is an epilogue to this tale and one I particularly love. The following April City headed to Leeds Road for the return fixture. They lost 1-0.
City’s six of the best against Newcastle earlier this season was a very welcome tonic after two consecutive defeats. Yet afterwards, on the motorway home, I felt strangely hollow. I pictured Sergio’s face as he traipsed off to thunderous applause. He knew a double hat-trick was there for the taking and who knows what other records could have been smashed that day. And I recalled that surreal afternoon nearly thirty years ago, a time before romance, carefree abandon and just plain going-for-it was considered naïve or idealistic. I much rather the now but my goodness I do miss the then.