Etihad Ten: 2003/04 season
- 01 June 2013 09:01
- Posted by @dclayton_mcfc
With the Maine Road ties finally severed, City finally took up residence in the City of Manchester Stadium officially in June 2003.
Fans had been able to view their seats during the summer and Barcelona were the invited guests for the inaugural home game at Eastlands - as the stadium quickly became known.
With the top tier still not quite ready for public use, the capacity was limited to 36,000 for the game against the Catalan giants and there wasn’t an empty seat for this most historic of occasions.
The sun beat down on the sun-drenched crowd as City came out for the first time on to the lush green surface and the Blues rose to the occasion with Nicolas Anelka becoming the first man to score at the stadium with a 34th-minute goal to give Kevin Keegan’s men the lead.
Argentine star Saviola equalised for Barca but Trevor Sinclair marked his home debut with a bullet header to make it 2-1 and end the scoring for the afternoon on 54 minutes. It was the perfect start.
Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho looked a little bemused as he was given a standing ovation as he came off in the second-half and impressive though he was, it was the fact he’d turned down a summer move to United that won him a special place in the supporters’ hearts!
The showpiece event was special, but the records etched and the result were, in effect, meaningless in terms of the history books. The honour of the first official opponents at the CoMS were, of all teams, Total Network Solutions – a Welsh non-league outfit who had drawn City in the preliminary rounds of the UEFA Cup.
It was City’s first European home tie for 24 years having won a back door back into Europe via the Fair Play League so it was perhaps typical that we’d pull a South Wales minnow out of the hat!
Trevor Sinclair, signed in the close season from West Ham, continued his dream start to life in sky blue with a terrific volley on 14 minutes to become the scorer of the first competitive goals at Eastlands and Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jihai Sun, David Sommeil and Anelka completed a 5-0 rout in front of more than 34,000 fans.
The Blues were off and running and intended make their new home a fortress and the feel-good factor continued with a 3-0 opening day away win at Charlton Athletic. Everything seemed to be going City’s way and the first ever league game at CoMS followed a week later.
With a crowd of 46,287 crammed into the ground, Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth arrived and soon took on the role of party poopers as Yakubu scored a 34th-minute opener to become the first opposing player to score a goal at the Blues’ new home.
And as the game drifted into injury time, they looked like they would become the first team to beat City on their own turf, too, until defender Sommeil popped up to head home a Joey Barton free-kick and earn the hosts a last-gasp point.
Life at the City of Manchester Stadium was well and truly under way and though Arsenal did win 2-1 in the next home game at Eastlands, a 4-1 over Aston Villa a fortnight later saw the Blues earn their first three Premier League points at home and Anelka became the first man to score a hat-trick there, too.
By Christmas, however, City had won just two of nine home Premier League games, suffering demoralising defeats to Leicester City and Middlesbrough though a 6-2 win over Bolton was at least one high.
People started wondering if the Blues could possibly lose their top-flight status in the first season at the City of Manchester Stadium and continue the recent yo-yo existence.
Failure to win the next five games added weight to those fears in what was rapidly becoming a depressing first season in the new surroundings – two wins from the first 13 home league games was a terrible return for a team now battling for their Premier League lives.
So who would you least want to play next? Yep, the Manchester derby! Would United further dent City’s survival hopes in the first derby at Eastlands? Well, the answer, thankfully was no as the Blues turned on the style to hand out the biggest derby thrashing for more than 14 years as goals from Robbie Fowler, Jon Macken, Sinclair and a stunning last-minute solo effort from Wright-Phillips wrapped up a 4-1 win.
Though that should have been the platform to go on and secure safety before the last few games, three more home matches passed thereafter without victory meaning the penultimate home games against Newcastle United was an absolute must-win.
With Magpies looking to secure fourth spot and City just three points above the relegation places, the game proved a tense, nervy affair but Paulo Wanchope’s second-half header was enough to all-but guarantee safety.
Other results went City’s way the weekend after a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough and the season ended as it had started, on a high, with a 5-1 win over David Moyes’ Everton.
The first season at what is now the Etihad had been anything but dull, but that, as City fans will happily confirm, came with the territory!