City and Newcastle like two peas in a pod

Posted by Simon Curtis

Numbers.

There have been a lot of them around recently.

Fours, fives, sixes and a seven. City are piling in the goals as if they are going out of fashion. The team seems in such a hurry to get to a hundred for the season that it is already taxing us to remember even half of them in the mind's eye. All those volleys and headers, far post dinks and placed free kicks are beginning to meld into one huge collage of rippling nets and doubled-up keepers.

The statistics from this half-completed season are already beginning to build up to eye-watering totals. Manchester City, bless their little sky blue cotton socks, are already Europe's top scorers.

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The next opponent due to face up to the rampant Blues is Newcastle United, a match that is a longtime favourite for City fans. Newcastle have been slump-shouldered blood brothers in the disaster stakes for longer than either set of supporters cares to remember. Trouble is, these days, any follower of City sympathising with the Geordies' lumpen form risks being labelled arrogant and patronising, as one talks in condescending tones of how it used to be us in constant pain, how it used to be us stumbling blindly from one pitfall to another. Where Newcastle now tread, Manchester City fans have walked barefoot year after year. So there remains a willingness to remember, to respect, to sympathise.

There have been darker times than now on the Tyne, as there often were for City. The clubs met in the second tier on various occasions, and when they failed to meet in the top flight, it was always because one or the other had fallen through the relegation trapdoor once again. In those days, having fallen headlong into the deepest ravine of despair, you could always guarantee that, just around the next corner, was a bigger, odiously smelly black hole.

But now things are different. The glittering palace of the Premier League has thrust both sides into the spotlight. City sit pretty, buoyed by the funds from Sheikh Mansour, while Newcastle list to one side, Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear bringing an air of stale incompetence to the club's efforts to prosper.

City's season-long goal spree urges the mind to find images of similarly goal-soaked occasions shared with the Magpies in the past, and this fixture has seen its fair share in recent times. Two games involving five-goal wins stand out: City's best-ever home win over the Geordies (5-1) and Newcastle's best-ever home win over City (5-0) at St James' Park.

In 1975, City's Dennis Tueart, the "King of All Geordies," notched a hat trick in the 5-1 romp at Maine Road. Particularly delicious was the fact that this win came just a week after Newcastle had dumped City out of the FA Cup in the infamous away tie played at home -- a punishment for Newcastle fans' attempt to get their FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest the previous season abandoned by sending thousands of parka-clad youngsters on the pitch at the same time so Forest couldn't see the ball. 1970s football, for any of you who did not have the pleasure of partaking, was a delightfully disorganised place.

The second game, in the more sobering surroundings of 1984, featured the Three Kings of the Tyne (Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle) and City arriving from afar with gifts aplenty. 5-0 to the Toon in a season when Newcastle would drive confidently and comfortably up the highway to promotion and City would reverse off down a side road with a puncture and a fractured front windscreen.

There have been other high-scoring days, one of which landed City the League title up on Tyneside in 1968 on a day of typically swashbuckling football from both sides, as Bell, Lee and Summerbee traded blows with Moncur and his men on one of City's most famous occasions.

In 2005, Newcastle returned the favour, hitting four in a seven-goal thriller, with future City forward Craig Bellamy featuring for the black and whites. Like many encounters between the two sides, this was a clash of vibrant attacking football pitted against haphazard, bungling defending.

Perhaps the most famous of all the games in the past 20 years came at Maine Road in 1996, yet another relegation year for City and one that holds little comfort for Newcastle as they threw away a 12-point lead to Manchester United at the top of the Premier League. The sides met one freezing February afternoon and played out the most rumbustious 3-3 draw imaginable, with Georgi Kinkladze in utterly mesmerising form for City and Tino Asprilla at his knockout best for the visitors.

The festival of goals ended with Asprilla head-butting City captain Keith Curle inches in front of the referee, escaping a red card through an act of God rather than one of mercy. It epitomised the scrapes and thrills that these two clubs have served up to their supporters down the years.

This weekend, we await the next installment and feel free to presume that there will be plenty of action, plenty of scrapes and plenty of goals.

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