The end of an era: 1970-1971 season review

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The Manchester City defensive wall await a free kick: (l-r) Arthur Mann, Alan Oakes, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee

The European Cup Winners’ Cup winners started the season as one of the favourites to go on and claim the First Division title, which would have seen them pick up the crown for the second time in four seasons and continue the era of success under Mercer and Allison.

The season kicked off away at the Dell and a comfortable 1-1 draw on the South Coast was soon followed up by a 0-1 victory over Crystal Palace also away from home. The City fans got their first view of the European champions when Burnley visited Maine Road. However a scrappy game in front of the home support resulted in a 0-0 draw leaving City mid-table on four points.

Early pace setters Leeds United started the season in devastating fashion and ex-City player Don Revie was building his Leeds side into a title contending team. Four wins over Blackpool, Forest, West Brom and Everton saw City go from a mid-table position to second place behind Revie’s men. The only downside to the season was defeat away at Carlisle United in the League Cup which saw the club knocked out in the third round.

The early season had also been dominated by affairs off the pitch rather than on it as news of a takeover bid surfaced by double-glazing tycoon Joe Smith who was trying to buy a large enough chunk of shares to take control of the club. Joe Mercer was firmly against a takeover as he felt that Albert Alexander should stay as chairman of the club. However Malcolm Allison had thrown his weight behind the takeover as he had been promised full control. Allison had become frustrated at not being in the limelight.

Amid off-field battles and a troublesome campaign in Europe, City experienced their first defeat of the season going down 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. Three draws and a loss in their next four games saw the team fall from second down to seventh. A victory, a defeat and a draw in their next three games and City’s title challenge fell further behind as they were now seven points behind pace-setters Leeds.

An away game at Revie’s Leeds was to come at the end of November but unfortunately another 1-0 defeat and the club fell eleven points behind their rivals. Further misery was piled on when Arsenal came to Maine Road and beat City 2-0. Their strong start to the season was by now a distant memory. The defeat however proved to be the club’s first home loss of the season despite their inconsistency.

Boardroom troubles and managerial disputes continued when Allison was sacked by the chairman in the tunnel after the game against Leeds. But the assistant manager was reinstated when Joe Mercer threatened to leave unless the decision was reversed.

Arguably the highlight of the blues’ campaign would come at Old Trafford in December. Despite a potential career-ending leg break for Glyn Pardoe, City humiliated their bitter rivals by beating them 1-4 in their own back-yard. A further four points would be picked up over the Christmas break and Mercer’s men would go into 1971 eleven points behind the leaders in sixth place.

Five games without defeat at the beginning of 1971 saw the club’s ambitions change but a subsequent run of ten games without a win in the league and cup virtually ended the side’s domestic season. In Europe however, City were still going strong and were still in contention for silverware when they reached the semi-finals beating Polish side Gornik en-route.

Finally their baron run in the league ended with a victory over Everton. However another run of three games without a win put City in eighth with just six games of the season remaining.

In European competition, domestic rivals Chelsea lay in store and beat City 1-0 in the first leg of their semi-final clash. Two more draws and a defeat to FA Cup runners-up Liverpool followed before they met Chelsea once again, and once again they lost in front of the Maine Road faithful which ultimately ended the club’s season.

City finished with two further defeats to Manchester United and Tottenham and won only one of their remaining eighteen league games. It was the first season in five years the club had failed to win any silverware and ultimately ended the great Manchester City side of the late 1960s.

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