Following the success as a coach at Norwich City like previous City manager John Bond, Mel Machin was appointed Manchester City manager in May 1987 when Chairman Peter Swales convinced the Newcastle-born Machin to take over the Maine Road hot-seat. It would be guiding his City side to the humiliating 5-1 derby massacre of near-neighbours Manchester United which Machin would be most remembered for by the City faithful despite also gaining promotion for the Blues. Machin served for 1st May 1987 – 30th November 1989.
His time at City will be remembered for both the positive and negative reasons. Despite winning promotion with the club in 1989, many of the thousands of supporters distrusted Machin and remained sceptical of his management style as he far too regularly changed systems and players in his starting line-up. Machin failed to establish rapport with the club’s loyal fan-base, a claim Peter Swales made following his dismissal in November 1989.
One positive aspect of the Machin era was the development of youth players. Paul Lake, David White and Ian Brightwell all blossomed under the leadership of Machin who was keen to allow youth players to establish their place in the City side. A measure of experience was also added by the man nicknamed “Farmer Mel” by the media due to his rural background. Kenny Clements, Imre Varadi and Neil McNab were all recruited by Machin who viewed them as the perfect base to build his young side around.
Machin was appointed in 1987 for the sole purpose of guiding Manchester City back to the top division. The former Norwich boss got off to a rocky start at Maine Road, but by November his authority was becoming apparent. A 10-1 victory over Huddersfield on November 7th moved City up to tenth place.
Many of the 1986 youth team were now ever-presents in the City starting XI. Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe and David White were regulars during Machin’s first season, and Hinchcliffe was attracting the attention of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.
City would end the season having made the quarter-final of both the F.A. Cup and League Cup. Everton and Liverpool would eliminate the blues from the competitions, but fans remained hopeful of being able to compete with the best despite their inconsistency.
Machin guided City to a 9th place finish in his first season and City were the second highest scorers in the division, however, top goal-scorer Paul Stewart was sold to Tottenham for £1.5 million after scoring 24 goals.
The second season for Machin proved to be a greater success. With two games remaining and six points clear of third place, City needed a single victory to secure promotion back to the First Division. A 1-1 draw at home to Crystal Palace meant City faced mid-table Bournemouth at home on the final day of the season – with a party in the Kippax planned.
On the last day of the 1988/1989 season, City were led 3-0, before the cherries came back to level the contest at 3-3. A win for City would have guaranteed promotion to the top tier once again, but fortunately, other results went in their favour to ensure City would be playing in English football’s top flight once again. During the summer of 1989, Machin bought Ian Bishop, Colin Hendry and Clive Allen and the experience of these three was seen as crucial to City’s survival chances.
The new season in Division One saw City struggle. Seven games in, the Blues were at the foot of the table although Machin guided his side to the greatest achievement of his reign – the 5-1 Maine Road Massacre of Manchester United. This result is the one that will always be remembered as Machin’s finest hour.
Machin was sacked just two months later. Rumours had been rife before City’s game with Charlton that Machin would be replaced and shortly after the match, he was asked to resign by Swales which he refused. The club felt he was unable to guide the team to the next level and Howard Kendall was appointed a month later.