MManchester City will be clear favorites to beat Peterborough United when the sides meet in the FA Cup fifth round this week. Even though there is only one division between the clubs, they exist in different worlds. Three divisions separated the clubs when they last met – their only previous encounter, which was also in the fifth round of the FA Cup – but City fans weren’t as confident as they traveled to London Road on the day of Valentine’s Day in 1981.
“There’s no way Manchester City can afford to be complacent,” said Peterborough manager Peter Morris. That may sound optimistic for a manager working in the fourth tier, but City had been humiliated by lower league opponents Shrewsbury and Halifax in the previous two seasons and they had sacked Malcolm Allison a few months earlier. Things were looking up under new boss John Bond, but the 8,000 City supporters who made the trip to Peterborough must have been worried. Barry Davies and the Match of the Day cameras also made the trip, clearly hoping for a shock.
The FA Cup draw had produced some interesting encounters for Bond. In the third round, his side had beaten a Crystal Palace side led by Allison. In the next round he had secured a victory over his former club Norwich, with his son playing for the club he had left behind.
Peterborough’s draw also had a link to the City manager’s past, pitting him against Morris, whom he had signed seven years earlier. “I have a close connection with John,” said Peterborough boss Morris. “He signed me for Norwich for £70,000 when I was 31 and then encouraged me to become a manager at Mansfield. John’s cut this season has been for a reunion of some sort or another and they have been happy so far. Hopefully we can change that.
Peterborough had joined the Football League in 1960 and had bounced between the third and fourth tier since then. Morris took over in 1979 as the team had fallen back to the Fourth Division, but the 1980–81 season brought encouragement in the league and cup. They were hosting a promotion challenge and had already beaten Northampton, Barnet, Chesterfield and Notts County in the FA Cup, evoking memories of their memorable run to the quarter-finals in the 1964-65 season.
The team was an ideal mix of youth and experience. Micky Gynn (19) and Trevor Quow (20) have provided energy in midfield, while centre-back Trevor Slack (18) is said to be on the radar of a number of top-flight clubs. Skipper Billy Kellock (26) has had a fine season, earning a place in the PFA Team of the Year, with winger Tommy Robson (36) and Alan Slough (33) skillfully supporting the young players, the latter having reached the final with Fulham in 1975.
But it was centre-forward Robbie Cooke who created a lot of hype ahead of the draw with City. The 23-year-old previously played for Morris at Mansfield before leaving the Football League. His prolific form at Grantham Town earned him a £12,000 move to Peterborough, and his 21 goals so far this season have caught him in the media spotlight.
Peterborough took advantage of cup fever, raising ticket prices and bringing in receipts which are said to have topped £40,000. For a club that had lost £3,000 a week the previous year, the cup race provided a boost – although many journalists were unimpressed by the rise in entry prices.
One man who would not be present in London Road was Bond. Suffering from the flu, the city manager was forced to hand over the reins to assistant John Benson. City’s selection dilemmas centered on choices between youth and experience: Tommy Caton or Tommy Booth at full-back, Dave Bennett or Dennis Tueart in midfield. In the end, one of each was chosen – Booth and Bennett – with the former proving the winner of the match. But for long stretches of the first half City faced a storm that threatened to overwhelm them at times.
Unfortunately for Peterborough, Cooke and Kellock – who had scored 32 goals between them that season – suffered an offside day in front of goal. Robson was a constant threat throughout the first half, providing a chance for Cooke to head wide. Kellock mistimed a header from another Robson cross, before Cooke missed a chance to steal Peterborough in front. Gynn was sharp and almost scored on a miss.
City scored the game’s only goal in the 40th minute, Booth firing home after a Paul Power shot was blocked. The man who played in the 1969 final – the last time City went beyond the fifth round – celebrated to an ecstatic away ending. Peterborough fans must have felt bad after missing so many chances and their mood couldn’t have been improved when Kellock missed a glorious chance minutes after City scored. With that misfire and the half-time whistle, all the wind seemed to disappear from Peterborough’s sails.
The second half was quiet. City handled the game well and it became clear that there would be no surprise defeats this year. But the 27,780 present had seen Peterborough scare them. “As the outings went on, this one must have been particularly infuriating, as in the first half the home side genuinely outplayed their formidable opponents,” wrote Julie Welch in the Guardian. Welch didn’t hold back his criticism of City in the first 35 minutes: “For the most part, in fact, they played like well-disciplined workhorses.”
Morris added to City’s condemnation. “I thought City sucked,” said the Peterborough manager. “They didn’t do anything. But we were scared because we couldn’t believe we could play so well. We had them at our mercy, but we didn’t take our chances.
“We were lucky not to be down two or three at halftime,” admitted Benson. Still, it was hard to be too scathing about City’s performance. Peterborough’s poor finish disappointed them. Ultimately, they would finish fifth in the league and also miss out on promotion.
City’s season was going the other way. Their momentum has only grown under Bond and they have seen Everton and Ipswich Town en route to reaching the FA Cup final. The final did not go as planned for Bond and his players. City and Spurs played out a 1-1 draw on May 9 before returning to Wembley five days later for the replay. Spurs won it 3-2, with Ricky Villa scoring one of the greatest goals ever in the competition. It wasn’t to be for City, but at least they had avoided another loss to a lower league side. Expectations have certainly changed.