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BANTAMS NOSTALGIA: When City turned tables on leaders Norwich

NEW Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom played 104 times for City without scoring.

A reliable left back, Heckingbottom was a regular in the last Bantams side to play in the second tier.

And Stuart McCall, now his assistant manager at the Blades, brought him back for City’s first two seasons back in League Two.

They were not particularly successful – although Heckingbottom was voted player of the year by the fans in the 2004 relegation campaign.

“That’s a sign that we’ve had a difficult season,” he said at the time. “If we had been up there near the top and banging in the goals, then you would expect the centre forward or a midfielder to win it.”

To say the 2003-2004 campaign was difficult was a bit of an understatement as the club were plunged into more financial chaos when they went back into administration for the second time in two years.

The drop was inevitable – as was Bryan Robson’s departure after just six months at the helm.

But there were a few bright spots before the wheels fell off for good.

Arguably the biggest of those was an unexpected win at leaders Norwich to kick off 2004 – a particularly sweet success for former Canary Heckingbottom and the man who scored the City winner.

Alun Armstrong had been brought in from Ipswich as one of the loan cavalry that Robson called upon to bolster a small and injury-hit squad.

Heading into the third game of his short stay, the striker knew he was going to get dog’s abuse because of the bitter local rivalry.

He had even stoked it up ahead of kick-off by saying: “I love all the boos. It will just make me try even harder to win there.”

A gap of 32 points separated the high-flying Canaries and second-from-bottom City, who had won just five of their 26 games – one more than Norwich had lost.

The pre-match bravado from Robson and his players seemed optimistic to put it mildly. They needed more than Captain Marvel’s fighting spirit to upset the odds so dramatically.

And the day before, chairman Gordon Gibb suddenly stepped down – an indicator of the growing ructions in the Valley Parade boardroom.

But what followed was a fully-deserved victory from the best team performance of the Robson reign.

The Canaries expectedly made the running for most of the first half with strikers Darren Huckerby and Leon McKenzie guilty of missing good chances.

Rob Green saved Andy Gray’s header but opposite number Alan Combe was the busier keeper – and had David Wetherall to thank for denying McKenzie on the line.

But then two minutes into stoppage time, Carrow Road was stunned as the Bantams grabbed the lead.

Simon Francis got forward to cross from the right and Armstrong buried a first-time volley past Green.

The scorer certainly enjoyed that and City were almost celebrating again after the break when Green pulled off a fine save to thwart Paul Evans.

Norwich predictably turned up the heat as Heckingbottom and Co had their hands full keeping it tight at the back.

Paul McVeigh, whose new contract had been publicly announced before the game, almost marked the deal with a goal but his 25-yard volley cleared the bar.

As things became even more frantic, City survived two scrambles in their own goal-mouth.

But gaps were appearing at the other end and sub Ben Muirhead used his pace to create two efforts on the break that were denied by Green.

Damien Francis came off the Norwich for the closing stages and created one more decent chance but his header was kept out by Combe to seal City’s clean sheet and the shock result of the day.

The victory lifted them within five points of safety and should have been a catalyst.

“We're just putting that little bit more pressure on the other teams now,” said a confident Robson. “This has given the lads hope for the rest of the season.”

But the fightback failed to materialise as the Bantams slumped to five successive defeats.

A run of three wins in four going into March gave them a glimmer of a chance again of the greatest of escapes. But then the rug was pulled from under the club as Robson lost all his loan signings in the mire of administration.

They would finish with only Wimbledon below them in the same league position they had been going to Carrow Road four months previously. Norwich were crowned champions on 94 points.

Heckingbottom moved on to Sheffield Wednesday that summer but would return three years later and two divisions below.

NORWICH: Green, Edworthy, McKay, Fleming, Drury, Henderson (Rivers 45), Holt, Mulryne (D Francis 75), McVeigh (Roberts 69), McKenzie, Huckerby.

CITY: Combe, Atherton, Wetherall, Gavin, Heckingbottom, Summerbee (Muirhead 60), S Francis, Farrelly (Evans 51), Gray, Cadamarteri, Armstrong.

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