The 2001/2002 season brought a new beginning for Manchester City and its fans. The club had experienced its third relegation since 1996 and were determined to get back to the top at the first time of asking. The board decided it would be best to relieve manager Joe Royle of his duties during the summer and installed former Newcastle and England manager Kevin Keegan as the man to spearhead the club’s push for promotion.
The performance in the First Division this season matched some previous club records while also setting some new ones. They equalled the record number of total goals scored (108) in any prior season; set a new club high for total league points accumulated (99) in a single season (since 3 points for a win was introduced); produced the greatest number of season wins (31) and equalled the club’s prior record for the total number of home wins (19).
Manchester City’s First Division title win became a record seventh second-tier title won by the club, a record still to be equalled or surpassed by any other English team. Shaun Goater was the club’s leading goal scorer in this campaign with a tally of 32 goals – making him the first City player since Francis Lee in 1972 to net more than 30 goals in a season. Goater scored 28 of these in the club’s pursuit of promotion back to the top-flight, which meant that he was also the leading goal scorer in the First Division.
The club’s first hurdle in their attempt at promotion began at Maine Road on August 11th with the visit of Watford. Two debut goals from Eyal Berkovic and Stuart Pearce allowed Keegan to get off to the perfect start and City’s 3-0 victory over the Hornets put them temporarily top of the table.
The month continued in much the same style as it had begun. City ended the month with three wins from four – the only defeat coming away at Carrow Road as City lost 2-0 with Carlo Nash and Jeff Whitley picking up injuries to round off a miserable first away game of the season. A 5-2 home victory against Crewe (despite throwing away a two-goal lead) and a 2-4 triumph away at Turf Moor against Burnley completed a successful August.
September could be viewed as both City’s most crucial and most disappointing month. Two heavy losses away at West Brom at the beginning of the month and a thumping 0-4 home defeat to Wimbledon saw Keegan’s attitude to certain players change. Despite having given the majority of the squad their chance to impress, many were then deemed surplus to requirements and spent the rest of the season either at new clubs or on the bench.
The defeat to Wimbledon proved to be the club’s only home loss in 23 games. Home victories against Walsall and Birmingham by a score line of three goals to nil stood City in good stead. However, another defeat came away from home at Highfield Road where Coventry edged out a victory in a 4-3 classic.
A comprehensive 2-6 away win at Hillsborough saw the club give good value for money at this early stage of the season and much of this was due to striker Shaun Goater. The Bermudan had already struck 11 league goals by the end of September and then added another in City’s 2-4 win away at Notts County on September 11th in the Worthington Cup – a game which controversially went ahead after the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre only hours previously.
Before the game against Birmingham, Keegan had opted to increase his firepower with the arrival of a little-known Algerian named Ali Benarbia from PSG. The playmaker joined following a quick discussion with Keegan who promised to him Algerian a City hero. His majestic performances from the word go were crucial for Keegan and his City side in their push for promotion.
October saw City struggle to maintain momentum and challenge Bradford at the top of the league. Three draws in this month at home to Stockport and Sheffield United and away to Nottingham Forest caused a drop to ninth and were followed by a defeat at Deepdale despite a wonder strike by Jon Macken. The club’s form was worrying, and questions began to be asked regarding Kevin Keegan’s tenure.
However, two wins against Grimsby and Barnsley saw the club end the month in fifth position. City’s League Cup run was going strong when at the start of the month Darren Huckerby scored four of City’s six against Birmingham, and the club progressed to the fourth round of the competition.
When Goater scored another City hat-trick against Gillingham at the start of November, a sense of conviction was finally upon the team. However, a 2-1 defeat at Fratton Park against Portsmouth on the 17th November was one of the club’s darker days. Ex-City striker Lee Bradbury came back to haunt his old side by cancelling out City’s opener scored by Huckerby.
The month ended with City being dumped out of the League Cup by eventual champions Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park in a match in which Christian Negouai was sent off. Only days previously the player had scored one of the most controversial goals of the season by palming in the opener in a 2-1 home victory over Rotherham at Maine Road – a goal that lives long in the memory for many fans. First-team coach Willie Donachie then left to become assistant manager at Sheffield Wednesday.
Three successive away games followed with victories away at Grimsby 0-2 and a 2-3 win away at the New Den against Millwall and a defeat away to Crystal Palace at the start of December. The game against Millwall saw City youth graduate Shaun Wright-Phillips score his first goal for the club in front of an empty stadium as supporters were banned due to previous crowd trouble.
A victory against league leaders Wolves (a game where future City player Joleon Lescott sent off) further showed City’s inconsistency to mount a title challenge however only five days later a 3-1 victory against Bradford came before the club’s Boxing Day draw at Gary Megson’s West Brom.
League leaders then Burnley travelled to Maine Road, and now the attention was firmly focused on Keegan’s men. City did not just beat Burnley but destroyed their local rivals with a stunning attacking display in the early kick-off. Having gone into half-time 4-0 up, the match ended 5-1 and City were now showing real promotion form as 2001 came to a close. Danny Granville also moved on when he moved to Crystal Palace in December for £650,000.
2002 brought a renewed sense of optimism and hope as Chairmen David Bernstein was determined to see City back in the Premier League before the year closed. A trip to Bramall Lane was first on City’s agenda, and they didn’t disappoint as a 1-3 away win gave Keegan’s men the perfect start.
A home tie in the F.A. Cup against Swindon was the Blues’ first FA Cup match of the new year. A comfortable 2-0 victory set up a clash with Premier League opposition Ipswich at the end of the month. Arguably City’s finest performance of the season saw the promotion chasers travel to the top flight strugglers in the hope of a cup upset. A stunning 1-4 away victory against George Burley’s men added to the belief surrounding the club.
The win came off the back of some impressive form with victories over Norwich at home and Watford away. January ended with the club having won all five games they played in both league and cup. Dane Nicolas Jensen was signed during the month and made his debut against Ipswich as a substitute having cost £700,000 from FC Copenhagen.
After seven successive wins, City travelled to Selhurst Park – where the club would suffer its first defeat since December 8th (against Crystal Palace also at Selhurst Park ). A 2-1 loss at Wimbledon gave the South-Londoners the honour of the only club to do the double over City during the season.
Two more home victories followed for Keegan and his expansive City side who were now playing football similar to that of his Newcastle side of the 1990s. Preston and Sheffield Wednesday were the unfortunate pair to suffer defeat to City’s rampant attack however it was Walsall’s defence that surprised everyone by holding the eventual champions to a 0-0 draw at the Bescot Stadium to close out the month.
Before the end of the month, Keegan returned to St. James’ Park when Newcastle hosted Manchester City in the 5th round of the FA Cup. An early red card for Richard Dunne forced City to play for 75 minutes against ten men. City went on to lose the game 1-0 thanks to Nolberto Solano’s goal, but the plaudits City gained after the defeat further rallied the club’s promotion charge back to the promise land of the Premier League.
The Blues had slipped to second in the league but had two games in hand on leaders Wolves. Further players left the club with Paul Dickov off to Leicester and teenager Leon Mike to Aberdeen. However, City then signed their first Chinese International player, Sun Jihai from Dalian Shide.
The promotion was virtually sealed by the end of the month with three successive away wins against Birmingham, Bradford and Crewe leaving City thirteen points clear of third place West Brom. The Friday night game against Bradford saw the first goal in the Manchester City career of Jon Macken. The Mancunian born Macken was a £4 million buy from rivals Preston and had scored against his boyhood club twice before his spring move to Keegan’s City.
Six wins from six followed as City defeated promotion-chasing Crystal Palace but came surprisingly unstuck against bottom of the table and bitter rivals Stockport County. The loss saw club top scorer Goater sent off and City concede two late goals at Edgley Park.
This was the last meeting between the two sides competitively to date. A 1-1 draw away to Rotherham left City needing 10 points from their remaining fixtures to clinch promotion, and they started the process off in the best form possible with a comfortable 3-0 home win against Nottingham Forest thanks to a hat-trick from Huckerby.
April began with a trip to title rivals Wolves, whose challenge was starting to stutter. Two goals from Wright-Phillips meant City were on the cusp of glory.
On Friday, April 5th when Millwall denied Wolves victory, it meant that City had achieved promotion and would now be playing in the Premier League once again. Nonetheless, the title was still up for grabs and a point against Barnsley would see City win England’s second tier title for a record seventh time. Another hat-trick from Huckerby gave City a comprehensive 5-1 win and the title of First Division champions 2001-2002.
The season ended with two 3-1 victories against Gillingham and Portsmouth respectively, and City had achieved a First Division record of 99 points from 46 games – a feat that would go unmatched until Reading broke it in the 2005-06 season on their way to the title.
Having scored 108 goals (another record) Keegan’s City were already favourites to survive in the Premier League the following season. The only disappointing aspect of the entire season was Pearce’s failure to land his 100th career goal on his final appearance by missing a penalty in the last game against Portsmouth. It was also the first time a City side scored over 100 goals since the 1957-58 season.
3 points: Coventry City, Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Portsmouth, Preston N. End
1 point: Stockport County, West Bromwich Albion
0 points: Wimbledon