Clearly Ciy’s first team squad required strengthening if the Foxes were to stand any chance of survival in the upper echelon, but that proved to be surprisingly difficult to achieve for Brian Little. By the time the opening Premier League fixture came round, only two new men were found wearing obligatory squad numbers.
Nicky Mohan had been captured from Middlesbrough to bolster the defense, whilst a substantially upped new club record of £1.25 million was paid to Notts County for the services of midfielder Mark Draper. On the debit side, Tony James, City’s savior of just three years earlier was released to join Hereford United. David Speedie was sidelined with a career ending injury and the club also said farewell to club secretary Alan Bennett after 15 years of service.
The opening game a 1-3 reverse to Newcastle United at Filbert Street, kicking off at a 4.00 on a Sunday for the benefit of Sky Sports, was an early taste of just how tough life at the top was set to become. Draper showing plenty of confidence, stepped forward totake a spot.kick when City wre just a goal in arrears, missed, an the first lesson in having to take chances at hey arose was harshly learned. More would follow although easier to get used to were to further innovations the 15 minute half time break, and the potential for using three substitutes including a goalkeeper.
As City began living down to their pre-season status as relegation favorites, another series of injuries exacerbated their problems. Steve Walsh required a cartilage operation and would play only five times all season, while Julian Joachim was also sidelined for the bulk of the campaign, though not before he had represented England’s Under-21 side at Filbert Street against Portugal.
The story otherwise was fairly consistent in the early months with decent performances earning no reward as the team were punished for virtually every odd error at the back. Even Wembley hero Jimmy Willis suffered the misfortune of recording own goals in successive games at one stage as City failed to keep a clean sheet until mid December by that time, though, events off this field had comprehensively taken over the headlines.
A serial of managerial changes in early November soon led to rife speculations linking Brian Little with the vacancy at Aston Villa. Little claimed to be content at Leicester but a live televised Sunday afternoon game against Manchester City had all the pundits talking in therms of “when” rather than “if” the boss would return to the club he’s spent his playing career serving.
A day later after an Everton win in the Merseyside derby. City plunged to the bottom of the table for the first time, and a day after that came the news that Little had resigned as manager for personal reasons. Wednesday morning saw coach John Gregory relinquish his duties, leaving Allan Evans to prepare the team for the visit to Arsenal that evening. Incredibly, the team produced one of their best performances of the season to win 2-1 and climb to the 20th position.
Ian Ormondroyd later suffered the indignity of having what would have been his only Premier League strike for City ruled out by the newly installed Premiership Panel, who were convened to adjudicate on deflected goals, and whose verdicts meant that there were to be official goalscorers for the first time in over a century of league football.
Events continued apace with Evans resigning on the Friday and Little being appointed as the new Villa boss the same day. Youth team coaches Tony McAndrew and Kevin MacDonald were temporarily handed the duty of selecting the senior side. Meanwhile the City board failed to convince young Wycombe manager Martin O’Neill to abandon the Chairboys.
Ironically, the next Filbert Street fixture was to bring Villa to town. The crowd reaction ware severely hostile with banners reading “Judas” and “Liar” leaving the former manager in no doubt as to how the supporters felt about the desertion.
As the manager hunt continued early speculations had Sheffield United’s Dave Bassett as a target for the City post, but it was Mark McGhee of Reading who soon emerged as the popular favorite. McGhee’s appointment was confirmed in mid-December though only after he’d had an overnight change of mind to accept City’s offer. McGhee’s first game in charge was against league leader Blackburn Rovers, and a more organised defensive performance was rewarded with that first clean sheet at last.
But there was to be no magic wand, alas, and the team continued to look just out of it’s depth. It also continued to spurn penalty opportunities, with David Oldfield miss in the Cup tie against non-league Enfield being the fourth successive failure from twelve yards.
Steve Walsh, it was announced, would require a second operation, though new faces arrived in the shape of Jamie Lawrence from Doncaster and, for £1m, Mark Robins from Norwich City. Robins had his debut at home to Leeds postponed due to a midday downpour. So it was the following Wednesday night, on a Maine Road pitch that looked far worse than Filbert Street had done days of previously that Robins finally wore a City shirt.
Atrocious weather meant that some supporter coaches only arrived twenty minutes before the final whistle, whilst several did not make it to Manchester at all. By then Robins had headed the only goal of the game from a Lawrence cross, much to the joy of the drenched souls occupying an unroofed under development Kippax side.
These latter witnesses to City’s only Premiership away win of the term were later rewarded for their endurance when the club issued a limited edition T-shirt, offered free to all those who’d eventually dried out their ticket stubs from teh fixture.
In truth, there was little else to get excited about as the remainder of the season unfolded and relegation became a reality. Loan signing Mike Galloway added some steel to midfield and became a real favorite with the fans, while negotiations with Villa over compensation for Little and his coaches were finally concluded in a complex deal which saw Franz Carr move to the West Midlands and Garry Parker join the Foxes. One brief moment of relief then came in the return fixture with Little’s new charges, as City bulled back a 1-4 deficit with 13 minutes remaining to snatch a point.
A run of three games unbeaten proved irrelevant, with City as early as mid-April were mathematically doomed. By then, an unknown striker from the youth team had been pressed into service in a much depleted side at Loftus Road. He’d not uprooted any trees, but Emile Heskey looked like he might soon be able to, as the sign were that he’d become a big lad once he grew up!
League Cup embarrassment added to the overall gloom, with Second Division Brighton winning both legs in Round Two, though progress to the last sixteen of the FA Cup, for the first time since 1985, raised a few whispers that the club might emulate it’s 1969 double of relegation and Wembley. Former City striker David Kelly put paid to that sort of speculation with the winner at Molineux on the day Parker made his City bow, and when the Foxes first utilised a substitute goalie.