Two times eleven: Comparing '81 and '13

Posted by Simon Curtis

It gives me some pleasure to announce that my 100th article of the season should be a preparation piece for the grand old Football Association Cup Final featuring Manchester City, and that it should refer us back to the 100th FA Cup Final, which Manchester City also took part in back in 1981.

This is the kind of symmetry, the kind of tidy coincidence that can only lead to one conclusion surely? And, no, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Old Father Time, who decided Wednesday abruptly to clock off after 26 years and, in so doing, attempted one last time to steal City's thunder. I bade farewell to him as respectfully as my tired body could muster here.

-Yaya Toure fit for final

No, this is a celebration of the men who have brought City to two very different set piece occasions, in two very different years, in two very different Wembley Stadiums. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Heroic Men of '81 and their 2013 successors.

Joe Corrigan was voted man of the Final over the two matches in 1981 due to an unbelievably steadfast display, particularly in the replay when City ran out of steam and a rejuvenated Spurs ran through City's defence with increasing ease. Corrigan stood up to everything and performed typically well, as we had come to expect from him. Joe Hart cannot match Big Joe for bulk, but is an agile shot-stopper and, as England's national keeper, has leapfrogged the status Corrigan had as a player -- at least on international terms -- where Big Joe was frozen out by Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence, Ron Greenwood's blue-eyed boys.

At this stage of Hart's development, however, it could be said that while he lacks none of the confidence needed in this position, he does lack some of the finesse and experience that made Corrigan one of the best performers in a green shirt in the club's history.

City's defence in '81 was made up of three youngsters and one old hand. Right back was Ray Ranson. Nothing like Pablo Zabaleta in terms of ferocity in the tackle or positional acumen, he excelled going forward and it was his cross from the flank that set up Tommy Hutchison for the opener in the first final. On the other side, where Gael Clichy's pace brings him into the attack with some regularity, Bobby McDonald's heavy build and meaty thighs left him struggling to get anywhere near the front men in time to make a meaningful contribution.

Where McDonald did excel was at attacking corners, where he would often be part of a near-post routine that saw him flick on for a teammate to finish or a smaller player such as Kevin Reeves or Phil Boyer be stationed there and McDonald himself getting on the end of things. The craggy Scot was a regular scorer from set pieces.

The central duo of Nicky Reid and Tommy Caton paired a young guard dog with a powerfully built left-footer. Reid was more skilful, tougher in the tackle; Caton was the towering presence with the cannonball shot (Sadly Caton is the only one of that 1981 side no longer with us).

At the time it was the youngest centre-back partnership seen at a Cup final, but they grew to complement each other well, just as the tackling of swashbuckling captain Vincent Kompany and the deft left foot of Matija Nastasic does in today's side. As with this year's side, a more experienced central defender would just miss out. This year it is likely to be Joleon Lescott, while in 1981 old campaigner Tommy Booth also had to sit out the final games of the Cup run.

The midfield anchor role was occupied in 1981 by the inimitable Gerry Gow, a signing from Bristol City who looked little like a footballer and more like a butcher's runner, but played with a big heart and a willingness to tackle anything that moved. Gareth Barry carries out the Gow role in the modern-day side, but his jockeying and harrying game bears relatively little resemblance to the splat and thunder of the Gow experience.

Alongside Gow, City could count on the impressive physique and explosive finishing of Steve Mackenzie, whose effort against the post at 1-0 in the initial final still gives those in sky blue who were there absolute nightmares. He scored the best goal in FA Cup final history in the replay -- a superb arcing, racing volley that has been largely forgotten amid the hysteria surrounding Ricky Villa's winning dribble.

Mackenzie, built along the lines of a young Yaya Touré, played a vital role in that season's revival. The rest of the midfield was made up of players who liked to push wide and forward. In today's side that honour will go to David Silva and, more than likely, Samir Nasri. In '81 Paul Power and Tommy Hutchison roamed the flanks to great effect. Power's excellent engine and eye for goal had got him a score in every round up to the final, including the dramatic semi-final winner over Ipswich, while Hutchison, in the twilight of a long career, scored at both ends in the first game to categorically cement his place in Cup Final folklore.

Pushed slightly further forward, City had two athletic, slim-built attackers in the shape of David Bennett, the more successful of a pair of brothers who had come through the ranks at Maine Road, and Kevin Reeves, a big purchase from Norwich City. To compare them to Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero would be to say boiled ham is similar to barbecued Gaucho steaks. Manchester City in 1981 could not call on the stellar individuals that pack today's side. While home-grown Bennett and million-pound-man Reeves scored their share of the goals, the all-action, multifaceted attack City possess today might be streets ahead in ability and technique, but was matched in sweat and perseverance by the 1981 duo.

Reeves would put City ahead in the replay, after Bennett had been caught in a Paul Miller/Graham Roberts sandwich, but alas it came too early in the second half and gave Spurs time to regroup and come again.

The shape and the composition of the two sides do not differ too greatly. What has changed out of all proportion is the calibre of player occupying each position. Of the 1981 side, perhaps only Corrigan would be pushing for inclusion today. The fact that left back McDonald would later be sacked by the club for going out on the town -- in Blackpool of all places -- seems to underline the homespun nature of Manchester City's Class of '81.

What is not in question, however, is their place in the hearts of the City faithful. Their names roll off the tongues of the supporters 32 years since their big day as easily as the names of today's stars will in years to come. All have played their part in City's ongoing rich and varied history. All that is left is for City supporters to hope that today's side will be remembered for their swashbuckling success at Wembley's showpiece occasion, rather than their heroic failure.

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