Nobody would pretend that it had been a satisfactory start to the season as Huddersfield Town prepared to make the short journey to Maine Road, Manchester on the morning of November 7, 1987.
Indeed, just a week previously, the Terriers had recorded only their first victory of the autumn, a 2-1 home win over Millwall with Ian Banks and former Arsenal apprentice David Cork bagging the goals in front of a miserable attendance of 5,504 at Leeds Road.
That victory came after a run of six defeats on the spin and the warning signs had been there from as early as August when, after a relatively sprightly 2-2 opening day draw with Crystal Palace, the club tumbled to a 6-1 hammering at Plymouth.
A scrappy draw at home to rivals Leeds, themselves in the serious doldrums, did provide evidence of some heart and Scotsman Duncan Shearer, a consistent goal scorer over a career that was to last more than a decade longer – fans of both Swindon and Aberdeen will remember him fondly – had forced the odd ripple in the onion bag.
But a tie with a powder-puff Leeds team would only paper over the cracks and as October arrived, the ability to occasionally cling on to a draw gave way to a portentous run of defeats – boss Steve Smith finally losing his job and being replaced by a big name manager in Malcolm Macdonald, a promising helmsman indeed in an earlier spell at Fulham, previously chronicled in these pages.
Nothing would prepare Town fans for that trip to Moss Side, however. City had actually started the year relatively mediocrely, pegging some big wins but losing quite a bit too – indeed, they were to finish the campaign in a near unacceptable ninth place.
That belied the emergence of an exciting young team under Mel Machin however. Paul Lake, Paul Simpson, Steve Redmond, Andy Hinchcliffe, Paul Stewart and David White would all go on to make a serious mark in the game and an early sign of that flourishing would be there for all those paying the £3.50 to enter the big old sky blue hulk of a stadium that November afternoon.
Neil McNab, a grizzled veteran and a man I remembered from my Panini sticker books of the previous decade – his spell at another big club Tottenham also coinciding with a stint below the top tier – opened the scoring and from then on the floodgates were to resemble the Dawlish water front of winter 2014.
Three men were to score hat-tricks – Paul Stewart, later to fail badly at Liverpool, but irresistible in City blue, rapid wing man and future chubster David White and Tony Adcock, a curious acquisition from Colchester United who marked the occasion with his first three City goals.
At 9-0, ex-Citizen Andy May pulled a goal back from the penalty spot after Cork was felled, gamely stretching an arm aloft in celebration before City made it 10-1. Other clubs have come back from such apocalyptic results – Crystal Palace’s later FA Cup semi-final revenge over Liverpool after a 9-0 dousing in the League is probably the most famous example, but how could Terriers get back on track?
Quite honestly, they couldn’t, finishing the year 19 points adrift of the relegation cut off point and 14 behind second bottom Reading, another struggling team destined for relegation and whom I had the misfortune to see in action quite a lot that year.
The immediate aftermath of the Maine Road meltdown wasn’t that bad, with back-to-back victories recorded over Bournemouth and Leicester but as proceedings wore on, the poor results continued to pile up – the club conceded 4 goals on three more occasions – at Swindon, Hull and eventual Champions Millwall, the earlier victory over the Lions one of those oddities that any given season will throw up.
Personnel-wise, it perhaps shouldn’t have been like this. Shearer was already proving himself to be an effective poacher, scoring 10 in the League and 4 in the League Cup, midfielder Mark Barham was an England international, albeit on something of a joke shop tour of Australia a few years previously, Malcolm Shotton had been Cotswold stone indeed under Jim Smith in Oxford United’s rise up the divisions and the man he replaced, Simon Webster, was to go on to enjoy a successful career as a centre back at Sheffield United.
Webster did make a terrible mistake which led to Adcock completing his hat-trick though and the loss of club stalwart Malcom Brown, in his second spell after some time at Newcastle, another centre half in Graham Mitchell and others led to poorer and poorer outcomes as Macdonald inevitably felt forced to tinker with the team.
Amazingly and almost inevitably, there were to be two City related footnotes. First, the reverse fixture was won; the Citizens’ young squad crumbling as 19 year old trainee Carl Madrick bagged the winner, while in the FA Cup, the Terriers took the Mancunians to a second replay before finally succumbing 3-0.
At the time, I was an admirer of Macdonald’s articulate style and I had memories of his 100 metre prowess in Superstars, leaving me with the nagging feeling that this was a wrong move which saw his managerial career written off early and unfairly. Town fans might beg to differ of course and results are hard to disagree with.
..and I haven’t even mentioned the yellow and black checked shirts and red shorts of that away kit…