Greatest Games: Ten man City stun complacent Spurs in FA Cup classic

Kevin Keegan
The win at Spurs was one of Kevin Keegan's best moments as City boss

There have been many classic clashes between Manchester City and Tottenham down the years but Steve Rawlings plumps for an astonishing comeback win at White Hart Lane for his beloved Citizens.

"It's the greatest comeback I've ever witnessed and it's one I'll never forget."

Tottenham 3 Manchester City 4
FA Cup 2003-04 Fourth Round Replay

Hotspur thorn in my side

As a Manchester City fan since the mid-70s, I'm certainly not keen on United and I can't begin to pretend to like Liverpool either, but the constant thorn in my side, and the club I feel I should dislike above all others, is Spurs.

Tottenham Hotspur, and more specifically, Ricky Villa, broke my 13-year-old heart way back in 1981 when he produced this bit of magic in the FA Cup final replay, five days after City had been 11 minutes and a bizarre Tommy Hutchison own goal away from lifting the trophy themselves.

Fast forward 12 years and I was one of the 23,000 inside Maine Road for the FA cup quarter-final between City and Spurs and I'd convinced myself we were going to win it when Mike Sheron put City one nil up after ten minutes but it wasn't to be.

By the time we got to halftime, the City faithful were enduring chorus after chorus of the highly irritating ditty written for the '81 final - 'Spurs are on their way to Wembley'. Minutes after the break Spurs were 3-1 up and Nayim put the tie to bed with five minutes to go.

It was a depressing day for City, made worse by a pointless pitch invasion but just as I still cling to the memory of Steve MacKenzie's spectacular volleyed equaliser in the '81 replay, this piece of individual brilliance by Terry Phelan on 88 minutes to make it 2-4 provides a crumb of comfort.

Memories brought back

Memories of those two games came flooding back again last April when despite beating Spurs 4-3 at the Etihad, the Citizens were out of the Champions League after Raheem Sterling's last gasp goal was disallowed. It was the very first time my daughter had been visibly and genuinely upset by a football result and as we traipsed back to the train station, consoling her somehow made me feel better. It was nothing compared to what I'd gone through for decades as a City fan but finally, she had a tiny notion of how cruel the beautiful game can be.

There has been the odd highlight for us City fans. The 5-2 victory in October 1994 is widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever played at Maine Road and I have fond recent memories of not one but two 5-1 demolition jobs at White Hart Lane. Edin Dzeko bagged four in the win there in 2011 and he was again among the scorers in 2014 but it was the memories of the FA Cup fourth round replay ten years earlier, just a few months before my daughter was even born, that provided the real solace back in April. It's the greatest comeback I've ever witnessed and it's one I'll never forget.

The two sides had played out a rather dull 1-1 draw at the Etihad ten days prior to the replay at White Hart Lane on 4 February 2004 and it looked like yet another forgettable and soon-to-be-ended City Cup run was very much on the cards.

Ledley King put the home side in front after just two minutes and Robbie Keane doubled Spurs' advantage after only 16 minutes. City's task then shifted from highly difficult to nigh on impossible when star striker, Nicolas Anelka, limped off with a hamstring injury in the 27th minute and Christian Ziege then thumped in a quite brilliant freekick just before halftime, awarded after Joey Barton had attempted to snap Michael Brown's left leg.

Barton was only booked for the challenge but, as was so often his wont, he couldn't keep his gob shut and as the two teams left the field he argued his way to a second booking and the red card he should have been given anyway.

Given their hopeless situation, the ten men of City were surely only playing for pride but soon after the restart, complacent Spurs were immediately put under a bit of pressure when a clever freekick by Michael Tarnet was headed in by Sylvain Distin but the game's biggest turning point came a few minutes later...

Playing in the first of only two appearances for City, Icelandic goalkeeper, Árni Arason, pulled off a fabulous double save, tipping another stunning Ziege freekick on to the crossbar before scrambling across his line to stop Gus Poyet's follow-up header on the rebound. That moment gave City belief but what they really needed was some luck. They soon got that in spades.

A weak Paul Bosvelt strike from the edge of the box appeared to be heading wide in the 69th minute before it took a huge deflection off Anthony Gardner to wrongfoot Spurs keeper, Casey Keller, and find the back of the net. All of a sudden, the atmosphere changed entirely. What had looked like a formality for Tottenham fans was now turning into a tense finale at best and the City faithful sensed that they could be witnessing something incredible.

Another 11 minutes passed and the Citizens received their second enormous slice of fortune when a pinpoint Robbie Fowler pass found Shaun Wright-Philips in an offside position. The linesman's flag stayed down and Wright-Philips neatly lifted the ball over the advancing Keller and into the empty goal. Incredibly, with ten minutes left the two sides were level and from that moment on, I could only see one team winning and it wasn't the side with numerical and home advantage.

Spurs were shellshocked and beaten before they were actually beaten and there was an air of inevitability about Jon Macken's 90th minute headed winner. Martin Tyler claimed City had made the impossible possible and his co-commentator, Andy Gray, responded with: "Well, I've seen it, but I still don't believe it."

And that summed it up perfectly.

City v Spurs celebrations.jpg

City didn't go on to win the Cup in 2004. They were comprehensively beaten by Manchester United in the fifth round just ten days later. And that team didn't go on to greatness either, far from it. The cracks were already beginning to show under manager, Kevin Keegan, and they went on to finish 16th in the Premier League, narrowly avoiding relegation.

Wright-Philips went on to be sold to Chelsea for £21m - a move that literally kept City from going bankrupt - and the match winner, Macken, went on to experience the indignity of remaining on the bench when Keegan's replacement, Stuart Pearce, instead of bring the striker on, decided to send his keeper, David James, up front with two minutes to go against Middlesbrough in the final game of the following season.

There have been two other remarkable and more obvious late City comebacks. The 2-2 draw at Wembley in the Second Division Playoff Final in 1999 that the Citizens went on to win on penalties when first Kevin Horlock and then Paul Dickov scored in injury time to peg back Tony Pullis' Gillingham. And of course, the final game of the 2011/12 Premier League season when Dzeko and Sergio Aguero scored in injury time to beat QPR 3-2 and to snatch the title from United. City fans will quite rightly argue that neither the 2004 or the 2012 comebacks occur if the 1999 doesn't happen and Dickov's 95th minute equaliser IS city's most important goal of all time but that wasn't my remit.

On the grounds of entertainment value, drama and sheer implausibility the 2004 comeback beats those two and any other I've ever witnessed by any other club. Quite simply, it's the greatest game I've ever witnessed.

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