After 86 minutes of this Second Division play-off final City were losing 2-0 and seemingly beaten by the underdogs from Kent, while their fans were making like Best and streaming out of Wembley. Sadly for them, they were to miss an unlikely and unforgettable finish that was to eventually lead to promotion to the First Division.
Gillingham had scored their goals after 81 and 86 minutes and City were looking down the barrel of another season in the Second Division, but the game was transformed in the 89th minute - as good a time as any to score, as all United fans will agree - when Kevin Horlock drove in a low shot from 18 yards to make it 2-1. It just seemed like a consolation goal and the supporters continued to leave but would come to regret it. To give City further heart, the fourth official then held up his board indicating there would be four minutes of stoppage time.
Much like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's winning effort in Barcelona, the goal that Paul Dickov scored to make it 2-2 was no classic but was priceless in the circumstances that surrounded it. In the final minute of added time, and with pandemonium in the Gillingham penalty area, Dickov stabbed the ball in from close range, forcing extra-time and causing understandably wild scenes on the pitch and in the City dug-out. After such drama two drained teams played out a goalless extra half-hour, but when it came to the penalty shoot-out Gillingham crumbled.
The relieved City manager, Joe Royle, found the breath to comment: "My team never gives up. United did the same in Barcelona and now we have shown there's another team in Manchester that won't give in."
When the City goalkeeper, Nicky Weaver, saved Guy Butters' penalty it sealed promotion, a feat that had seemed impossible barely 30 minutes earlier. Just ask those City fans who left early.
CONRAD LEACHReuse content