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A tale of two Cities

Tuesday 23rd January 2018

It’s easy to forget that Manchester City plummeted head first into what was then called Division Two this time two decades ago.

A 3-0 victory over fellow Division One strugglers Portsmouth at Fratton Park on 10 January 1998 was Frank Clark’s last win as Man City manager. The club went on to pick up just three points from his last five games in charge.

Joe Royle was appointed to steady the ship in mid-February. He was tasked with preventing the Citizens from becoming the first winners of a European trophy to suffer relegation to the third tier of their respective football league.

Royle, a former England international who played for Man City in the 1970s, was unable to turn things around at Maine Road. His side suffered damaging defeats against Oxford United, Port Vale and Bradford City in March.

Despite a 5-2 victory at Stoke City on the season's final day, the Citizens succumbed to relegation as Portsmouth secured Division One status with a 3-1 win over Bradford at Valley Parade.

It proved a dark day for Man City; a club which had achieved two successive fifth-place finishes in the English top flight between 1990 and 1992.

During that period, Bristol City was seemingly on the rise. The Robins were flying high under John Ward in Division Two. Their attack was spearheaded by Shaun Goater, who later joined Manchester City for £400,000 on transfer deadline day (26 March 1998) in a bid to help Royle’s side stave off relegation.

Goater had bagged 16 league goals for the Ashton Gate club that season and was also named in the Division Two PFA Team of the Year. He went on to become a cult hero at Maine Road, scoring over 100 goals. The Bermudian striker played a crucial role in helping Man City rise from the brink of oblivion back to an established top-flight team.

Bristol City, meanwhile, secured promotion back to the second tier following relegation in 1995. Defeat at Preston North End on the last day meant that the Robins were pipped to the Division Two title by Graham Taylor’s resurgent Watford.

Euphoria wouldn’t last long in Bristol, however. Only three wins in 16 league games saw the end of Ward’s tenure, with Benny Lennartsson brought in to save the Robins from an immediate return to the third tier.

It was a baptism of fire for the Swede, who faced high flying Bradford and Wolverhampton Wanderers in his first two games. Lennartsson's side were thrashed 5-0 at Valley Parade before being thumped 6-1 by Mark McGhee’s Wolves at Ashton Gate.

The strike partnership of Ade Akinbiyi and Soren Andersen was not enough to keep Bristol City in Division One. They finished bottom, five points from safety (Portsmouth and Queens Park Rangers managed to cling on for the second consecutive season).

Manchester City, meanwhile, were enjoying a revolution. After a 2-1 defeat at York City on 19 December 1998 (their sixth of the campaign), Royle’s men only lost two more games en route to securing a dramatic play-off victory over Gillingham at Wembley. The Citizens returned to Division One at the first attempt.

Another promotion followed for Royle's men. Goater finished the season with 23 league goals to help fire City to the Premier League, securing second place behind Charlton Athletic.

The Citizens lasted just one season back in the top flight, before being crowned champions the following season to gain promotion in 2002. Goater was instrumental once again, ending the campaign as Division One top scorer with 28 goals.

The formidable frontman was joined in the Division One PFA Team of the Year by teammates Ali Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic, who had been signed by Kevin Keegan to play an enthralling brand of football. It worked. City scored an astonishing 108 goals and amassed 99 points.

It took until 2007 for Bristol City to return to the second tier. After two failed play-off attempts in 2003 and 2004, the Robins eventually won promotion as League One runners-up behind Scunthorpe United.

Gary Johnson, the father of current Robins boss Lee, almost led the club to unprecedented back-to-back promotions but saw his side beaten by Hull City in the Championship play-off final.

That began a steady decline for Bristol City. They were eventually relegated back to League One in 2013 after finishing bottom of the table, 14 points from safety.

Farther north, backed by wealthy owners from Abu Dhabi, Roberto Mancini's Manchester City had claimed a first league title in 44 years. They were gradually emerging as a force at the top of European football. 

A second Premier League title soon followed, courtesy of Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean maestro also delivered the League Cup in his first season at the helm.

Bristol and Manchester City, set to meet on Tuesday night in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg, were, seemingly, worlds apart.

However, the Robins were taking League One by storm under Steve Cotterill. They swept aside the competition to win promotion as champions in 2015, rounding off the campaign with an emphatic 8-2 victory over Walsall. Cotterill's team suffered only five defeats all season, with respective 16 and 15-game unbeaten runs bookending their title-winning campaign.

After flirting with relegation for the past two seasons, Bristol City are currently fifth in the Championship. The aim now is to secure promotion to the top flight for the first time since 1980.

The Robins have already eliminated Premier League opposition in Watford, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Manchester United to reach the EFL Cup semi-final stage. Man City are a different animal, though, with Pep Guardiola pulling the strings. 

Heading into Tuesday night's encounter, a 2-1 first-leg advantage is a slender margin for the Premier League leaders. Is an upset possible?

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to remember where both clubs have come from in the past two decades.

Chris Wildgoose

Chris is a Manchester City fan and season ticket holder. Graduated with a 2:1 degree in BA (Hons) Sports Journalism. Freelance sports journalist. Has contributed to Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Mansfield Town, the Express and Star, Goal and GiveMeSport.

Portfolio can be found at: http://cjwsportsjournalist.wixsite.com/cjw-blog

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