Monday, 14 May 2018

Column 12.5.2018

After seventeen seasons of trying the Sky Blues have finally made it to the Football League play-offs by virtue of finishing sixth, their highest league finish since 1970. On Saturday evening the Sky Blues entertain Notts County in the first leg of the semi-finals with the return at Meadow Lane on the following Friday and the chances are there will be a record crowd for a League 2 (or Division 4) play-off semi-final this weekend. The current record is 19,462 and was set in 2004 at the Huddersfield v Lincoln game at the Galpharm Stadium. It wouldn't surprise me to see 25,000 at the Ricoh this weekend.

City's record against the Magpies is not inspiring. City won 3-0 on the opening day but County won on their previous two visits to the Ricoh, which sandwich a 3-0 Sky Blues win at Sixfields in 2013-14. Prior to that City had won six out of seven home league games at Highfield Road, the exception being an amazing 5-1 defeat in 1982, one of the most embarrassing results in City's history. Before that City had not lost at home to the Magpies since 1951. Older fans will remember County being City's opponents on the opening day of the 1962-63 season when goals from Terry Bly and Hugh Barr gave City a 2-0 home win as City wore the new all Sky Blue kit for the first time in a competitive game.

At Meadow Lane City's record is very poor. They haven't won there in eight league visits since the last victory in August 1963 when George Hudson (2) and Willie Humphries gave City a comfortable 3-0 win. That was one of only two wins there, the other coming in 1950, 2-0 courtesy of Ken Chisholm and 'Plum' Warner, when 41,000 packed into Meadow Lane.

The full record of league games is:

Played W D L F - A
Home 19 9 3 7 33 - 25
Away 19 2 5 12 17 - 33

Notts County have been in the play-offs on four previous occasions and have reached the final three times. In 1987-88 they lost 2-4 on aggregate in the Division Three semis to Walsall but two years later they were back under the managership of the legendary Neil Warnock and beat Tranmere 2-0 at Wembley. Twelve months later they were back again to reach the top flight by beating Brighton 3-1. They remain the only club to win play-off finals in successive years. Their stay in the old Division One was brief – they were relegated the following season (and saved the Sky Blues on the final day by sending Luton Town down). They were back at Wembley in 1995-96 in the Division Two (tier 3) but lost 2-0 to Bradford City.

City will go into their first two-legged tie since 2013 this weekend. That was when City played Crewe in the JPT (Football League Trophy) Regional final and lost 3-2 on aggregate after a nightmare home first leg. Before that you have to go back to 2000 when the League Cup second round was reduced from two legs to one. In 22 seasons of two leg ties in that competition the Sky Blues were only defeated on four occasions (Everton, Walsall, Scarborough and Tranmere). I'm pretty sure City's first two-legged tie was in the FA Cup of 1945-46 when for one season only the Third round was played over two legs. City drew Aston Villa and won 2-1 at Highfield Road but lost the second leg 2-0 to exit the competition. They have played two leg games in the UEFA Fairs Cup in 1970-71 and then in the Texaco Cup for the following three seasons. That competition was hardly memorable with victory in only one tie (Falkirk in 1971) and three defeats (Motherwell (2) and Newcastle). Probably the most famous two leg ties were in the League Cup semi finals on 1981 and 1990. In 1981 West Ham were defeated 3-2 at Highfield Road but edged City out of a Wembley trip with a 2-0 win at Upton Park. Nine years later City controversially lost the first leg at the City Ground, Nottingham, 2-1, and Forest held on for a 0-0 at Highfield Road to go through.

I make that 32 two-legged ties with 20 wins and 12 defeats on aggregate. City have been at home in the first leg on 14 occasions and ended up progressing in only seven of those ties.

Finally, congratulations are in order for a good friend of mine, Geoff Moore, who, by watching City at Cheltenham two weeks ago, joined the '92 club'. He has now watched the Sky Blues play at all the current 92 league clubs in a first-class game. There are three current grounds where City have not played (the Etihad, West Ham's London Stadium and Huddersfield's Galpharm Stadium) but Geoff did see the Sky Blues play those clubs at Maine Road, Upton Park and Leeds Road respectively.

His first away ground was Swindon's County Ground for an FA Cup third round tie in 1966 and since then has seen City play on 118 different English grounds not including Wembley Stadium, Sutton United and Motherwell in Scotland where he attended a Texaco Cup game in the 1970s. If City are promoted via the play-offs he will miss out on the new league clubs (Macclesfield and possibly Boreham Wood) but I'm sure he will sacrifice that for football in a higher division.

Are there any other City fans who can match or better Geoff's record. I suspect Kevin Monks must be close!

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