LIFTING THE LID: Ahead of the eagerly anticipated Manchester Derby this Saturday, we chatted to former City player Kevin Horlock to relive his memories from the memorable final derby at Maine Road.

When Manchester United and Manchester City walk out of the Old Trafford tunnel on Saturday for the latest instalment of the Manchester derby, it will be Pep Guardiola’s reigning Premier League champions that will start the game as the heavy favourites. Yet it hasn’t always been this way in Manchester.

Rewind to 19 years ago, and it had been 16 games and 13 long years since City had last beaten their arch-rivals. The blue side of Manchester were still looking for their first derby win in the Premier League. “It was our cup final back then and we had nothing to lose,” ex-City midfielder Kevin Horlock tells BETDAQ. “If we lost, we were expected to and if we won, Blues fans were happy and we were idolised.”

Heading into the first Manchester derby of the 2002/03 season on November 9, 2002, United had been the dominant force in the country and were champions of Europe just a few years earlier, while City had been up and down the divisions, dropping as low as England’s third tier. In fact, during the 1998/99 season in which United would go on to win the Treble, including the Champions League, City were scrapping it out for promotion from the old Second Division.

“We weren’t in a great place at the time, obviously we’d had a number of tough years,” says Horlock, who played for City between 1997 and 2003 across three different divisions. “Blues supporters had it really tough. We’d dropped down the leagues, but we managed to get back to the Premier League, which was where the club deserved to be.

“We were back in the Premier League but Manchester United were the team to beat, there was no getting away from that. Even as a Blue, you had to hold your hands up and admit they were an unbelievable team. They had won a number of trophies on a regular basis, similar to what City are doing now.”

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Heading into the 2002/03 campaign, excitement was building at City, who had just returned to the Premier League under Kevin Keegan after waltzing to the First Division title after amassing 99 points and 108 goals. The likes of Nicolas Anelka, Peter Schmeichel and Marc-Vivien Foé were all brought in by Keegan that summer for the step-up to the top flight. The 2002/03 campaign was also due to be the club’s last at Maine Road, with the far more modern and grander City of Manchester Stadium set to be their new home from the following season – ensuring the November meeting with United carried extra weight and significance as the last ever Manchester derby at Maine Road.

“Being the last one at Maine Road made it that extra bit special, knowing the new ground was happening and Maine Road was going to be no more,” Horlock says. “It was a special season, though it was a sad time for everyone involved too to be leaving our home.” Horlock added: “But the atmosphere against United that day was electric. The stadium was always full but this time it was full a lot earlier, there was just a buzz about the place. Maine Road was a really special place, but that day it was extra special – you could feel the tension building. And what a day it turned out to be for the blue side of Manchester…”

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The 127th Manchester derby couldn’t have started much better for City, who opened the scoring with their first attack on five minutes as Anelka pounced on a Fabien Barthez parry to poke home. “We got off to a really good start,” Horlock recalls. “Nicolas Anelka scored inside five minutes so that settled the nerves and maybe gave us the belief that these guys were beatable. We can beat them, so let’s do it and get it done. Let’s give something back to all the Manchester City fans that have stuck by us thick and thin.”

“It was a game they desperately wanted to win and do well in, and it was the game they cared about the most. And as players you felt that,” Horlock added. “You knew as players how much it meant to the supporters. It was their everything – whether they could go into work the next day with their head held high or hang it in shame.” Yet just three minutes later and United were level as current Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer swept home Ryan Giggs’ cross for the equaliser.

On 26 minutes, however, United had handed the advantage back to their rivals as Gary Neville’s scuffed pass to Barthez was stolen by Shaun Goater who cut inside to find the bottom corner, much to the delight of the City fans and to the despair of Neville, who would later be substituted. “Feed The Goat! The famous goal, the one that everyone remembers from that day,” Horlock says. “I’ve watched it back a number of times and I’m not 100% sure what Gary Neville was trying to do, if he initially thought the ball would run out of play? Shaun is the most honest player you’ll ever play with, he’ll chase anything down, and he did exactly that and did the rest with aplomb.”

Five minutes after the restart and City were in dreamland as Eyal Berkovic played in Goater, who clipped the ball past Barthez with a fine finish to make it 3-1. The City legend had scored his 100th goal for the side in Maine Road’s last ever Manchester derby – an iconic moment in the history of the club. “I’m not sure we knew it was his 100th goal at the time, but I’m sure Shaun will have told us afterwards! There’s no doubt about that,” Horlock says. “We were made up for him because his initial time at Manchester City wasn’t great, he didn’t get off to a flying start. But he stuck by it and he worked his socks off. And when the goals did start going in, they started flying in.

“The second goal in that derby was probably one of the best goals I’ve seen him score. I used to joke with him, he scored a lot of goals for City and a lot of important ones, but they were never clean. He was just one of those goalscorers who could hit it into the ground and it would go in, or it might come off his shin or knee. So the second goal, to be his 100th for City, was special – it was cute, it was clever, it was composed. It was a proper goalscorer’s goal. No-one deserves it more than The Goat, he’s a special person and special player in Manchester City’s history.”

Despite having most of the second half to turn things around, United were unable to get themselves back into the match and Horlock was brought on by Keegan for Danny Tiatto in the 88th minute to help City see out the game and secure a famous victory. “I came on at 3-1,” Horlock recalls. “It was one of those where, as a substitute, the lads are flying and it does cross your mind, you’re thinking, ‘I hope I don’t ruin this for everyone, I hope I don’t make a mistake which gives them a chance to get back in it’.

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“Luckily there weren’t many chances for United after that, other than the one I always remember… I was on the post for a corner and John O’Shea should have scored, I don’t know how he didn’t. He was about two yards out and he’s headed it down into the ground and it just went wide of the post that I was stood on. So, it was a good game to come on to, but the nerves were still there.”

Soon after O’Shea’s miss and the final whistle had blown. Manchester City had finally beaten their great rivals in the Premier League and for the first time in 13 years at the last ever Manchester derby at Maine Road. “To see the game out and win the match was a big moment,” Horlock says. “I wish I could have said I played more, I wish I could say I had a starring role in it, but I didn’t. But I got on the pitch so it’s something I can always tell the grandchildren: I played in a game against Manchester United and won.