A trip to Manchester City is a daunting one for any club these days, but particularly so for Albion. Ten of the 22 previous meetings between the clubs have been away from Sussex and The Seagulls have yet to register a victory.
Overall, the history between the two clubs goes back to an FA Cup tie in 1924. That game saw City run out 5-1 winners but the next encounter in that competition was in 1983 when, in our run to the final, we sent City packing with a 4-0 win at The Goldstone. The first league fixture came soon after our promotion to Division One in 1979 and that game at Maine Road is the subject of my column this week.
Albion were still finding their feet in the top flight, having lost both previous fixtures. The opening-day defeat against Arsenal had been followed by a 2-1 reverse at Aston Villa. Just over 40 years ago this weekend, we travelled to Manchester in desperate need of a good performance.
Manager Alan Mullery had brought in some new signings, notably a young centre-half from Portsmouth called Steve Foster, and the versatile John Gregory from Aston Villa. Foster was yet to make his debut however, and the manager kept faith with many of the players who had gained promotion just three months before.
Eric Steele continued in goal and in front of him, Gregory was joined by Mark Lawrenson, Andy Rollings and Gary Williams. The midfield had a familiar look, with Brian Horton, Gerry Ryan, Peter O’Sullivan and Peter Sayer, supporting the two strikers, Peter Ward and Teddy Maybank.
Manchester City were also searching for their first win of the campaign, having drawn against Crystal Palace and lost away at Middlesbrough. Manager Tony Book made two changes from the side that had lost at Ayresome Park. Joe Corrigan in goal was behind a back four of Ray Ransom, Tommy Caton, Tommy Booth and Dragoslav Stepanovic. In midfield, Paul Power and Steve MacKenzie were partnered with Barry Silkman and Colin Viljoen and Michael Robinson was up front with Mick Channon.
City came of the blocks quickest and had by far the best of early exchanges. An early free-kick from Silkman was headed just over by Channon and just after that, Mark Lawrenson had to scramble to make a recovering tackle after his mistake had let in Michael Robinson.
The Albion defender was again called upon shortly afterwards, when a beautifully-timed tackle denied Channon again. Albion’s first attack came to nothing and after 12 minutes, we were dealt a blow when Andy Rollings was injured after making a tackle on MacKenzie. He was able to continue, but was limping heavily.
City took the lead on 24 minutes, Paul Power converting a near perfect pass from Silkmen, which allowed the City midfielder to hold off the Albion defence. Albion were level nine minutes later, when Peter O’Sullivan found Peter Ward on the left-hand side of the City penalty area. In one fluid movement, he brought the ball down and rifled in a shot on Joe Corrigan’s goal. He could only parry the ball into the air and Teddy Maybank was on hand to head home. Just before half-time City regained the lead. Silkman broke down the left, out-pacing Brian Horton, and his cross into the box picked out Mick Channon, who powered home a shot.
Just two minutes after the re-start it was 3-1. Substitute Paul Clark, on for Rollings, was adjudged to have brought down Ray Ransom and Michael Robinson made no mistake from the spot.
Despite this, Albion continued to press the City defence and both Peter O’Sullivan and Peter Ward had chances to reduce the deficit. A real opportunity came with nine minutes remaining, when O’Sullivan was upended in the penalty box. Unfortunately, the usually-reliable Brian Horton send his spot-kick wide of the post. Albion did receive a lifeline with four minutes remaining. John Gregory advanced down the right and released Peter Ward, who brought the ball down with his chest before scoring his first goal in the top flight.
Albion were unable to snatch an equaliser and the defeat left Alan Mullery fuming after the game. He was very critical of the team’s performance and the travelling Albion fans in the 34,557 crowd were left rueing the missed penalty. We had at least showed that we were capable of competing at the top level. We went on to register our first win the following week, on the way to survival in our debut top-flight season.
Our point away at Arsenal last May is the only point we have picked up on the road, against the so-called ‘top-six’. Most pundits will give Graham Potter’s team little chance of bettering that record on Saturday against Pep Guardiola’s men, but there have been signs so far this season that we will be able to be a more effective unit in these games.