Etihad Ten: Living in hope 05/06
- 03 June 2013 09:24
- Posted by @NieldyMCFC
Shaun Wright-Phillips’ late withdrawal from the Blues’ squad at Macclesfield’s Moss Rose ground ahead of the July friendly confirmed what many City fans had feared in the early weeks of the pre-season schedule.
The winger’s much-touted move to champions Chelsea would finally be concluded as the City hero, a cherished beacon in an otherwise often barren period for the club, left Manchester for the alluring promise and glittering lights of London.
Roman Abramovich added Shaun’s talents to his already expensively assembled squad, but despite the initial heartbreak of losing ‘one of their own’, the Blues faithful would be reunited with their favourite again three years later – if only we knew that at the time!
Losing Shaun was a huge blow for all connected with the club, but City fans would not have to wait long for the emergence of another Academy starlet to breathe life into Stuart Pearce’s faltering side with the most unlikely of FA Cup lifelines. Arise, Micah Richards!
With the Blues’ domestic cup dreams fading with a whimper at the hands of Aston Villa (City had already experienced League Cup embarrassment against League One Doncaster in September), the tiniest embers of last-chance-saloon time were still glowing the faintest shade of blue by the time Joey Barton’s in-swinging corner missiled into the Villa box, only to be met full-on by the outstretched battering ram of 17 year-old debutant Micah Richards.
A hero is born. And an infamous post-match interview followed!
City survived a late scare to despatch Villa in the March replay at the City of Manchester Stadium thanks to goals from recent imports Georgios Samaras and former Villa Park hero Darius Vassell.
Blues fans dared to dream that, come May, a long, long-overdue Wembley visit could overshadow the failures of a Premier League campaign that had begun with so much promise, but threatened to end disastrously.
City had burst into 2005-06 with three wins from the opening four games, and supporters were licking their lips at the immediacy in which summer acquisitions Andrew Cole and Darius Vassell had clicked their partnership into top gear.
Indeed, cause for early season cheer was confirmed as the Blues went into September’s derby at Old Trafford in second place - two league spots better-off than their cross-city rivals. Joey Barton’s goal to cancel out Ruud van Nistelrooy’s opener ensured they left Stretford in the same position.
Impressive performances against Everton, Aston Villa and Birmingham at home and a blockbuster 5-2 win at Charlton were interlaced with abject showings against West Brom, Bolton and Wigan as the Blues severely lacked the consistency required to maintain a top-half standing in the league.
Stumbling performances aside, 2006 got off to a flying start with another famous derby win to add to the recent collection. On a day when the City of Manchester Stadium served only blue ketchup, Robbie Fowler’s injury-time strike secured a 3-1 win that sent an ecstatic Stuart Pearce diving into the jubilant crowd for the second season running. "I'm looking for a woman," joked the City boss of his now familiar derby celebrations, "but I keep landing on the same big old bloke."
City’s joy was short-lived though as Pearce’s men embarked on a miserable run in which just three points were accumulated from the remaining 30 available. A solitary victory at Villa Park in April was all the Blues had to show for their endeavours in the concluding two months of the season.
The points acquired during the Blues’ early-season form was just about enough to ensure Premier League survival and fend-off the horror of a relegation dogfight which, at one point, looked likely to rear its ugly head during the sparse pickings that April and May delivered.
Light-relief in the form of the FA Cup Quarter Final against West Ham in March was cause for optimism for the starved City fateful, however, despite a late Kiki Musampa strike, a double from self-proclaimed Blue Dean Ashton ensured that this was to be another one of those painful ‘typical City’ days.
Optimism and promise extinguished in a cruel and oh-so familiar way; the FA Cup exit was a microcosm for what was, on the whole, a season that will not be looked back on as a classic, even by the most hardened of City fans.