Gerry Sweeney lined up in defence the last three times Bristol City have defeated Manchester United
Jose Mourinho is expected to name a strong side when he brings his Manchester United team to Ashton Gate on Wednesday
Striker Milan Djuric is set to have surgery on a groin problem which will rule him out of Bristol City’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Manchester United
Gerry Sweeney gives Bristol City more than an outside chance of upstaging Jose Mourinho and his star-studded team at Ashton Gate on Wednesday night.
And he should know! The Scot lined up in defence on each of the three occasions that the Robins have defeated Manchester United in the last 85 years.
Sweeney was part of the team who achieved a League double over the Old Trafford giants in the 1974-75 season, winning both games 1-0.
And Sweeney was also in the side which memorably won 3-1 at United in what is now the Premier League on October 21, 1978, thanks to a Kevin Mabbutt hat-trick.
Who better to assess if Lee Johnson’s men have what it takes to spring a major shock in the sell-out Carabao Cup quarter-final that has been the talk of Bristol football since the draw was made?
But first I asked Gerry for his memories of the victories over United, the first two of which happened after the Manchester giants had been relegated to the old Second Division in 1974.
Tommy Docherty’s squad, boasting the likes of Alex Stepney, Martin Buchan, Lou Macari, Sammy McIlroy, Stuart Pearson and Willie Morgan, were to climb straight back to the top flight as champions.
But they couldn’t manage a goal in two games against City, the first of which was settled by a first-half strike from midfielder John Emanuel and the second by a last minute Donnie Gillies goal.
Said Sweeney: “I remember after the second game, at Old Trafford, that Docherty insisted United would not go up that season because they didn’t score enough goals.
“As it turned out, he was wrong. But we went head-to-head with them and when we scored late to win the away game it was no more than we deserved because we were the better side in the second-half.”
By the 1978-79 season City had followed United into the old First Division, achieving creditable 1-1 draws against them at Ashton Gate in May 1977 and Old Trafford in February 1978. Sweeney played in both of those games, too.
But Alan Dicks’ team had to wait until that memorable night in the autumn of 1978 to gain their next, and last, victory over the Red Devils.
“I remember that in the days leading up to the game the boss had been working specifically with Joe Royle and Kevin Mabbutt, encouraging Kevin not to delay his runs and even to risk being offside when ‘Big’ Joe went up to head the ball on,” said Sweeney.
“It worked well for us on the night. Kevin ended up with three goals and we were good value for the points, even though we had to withstand a lot of pressure at times.”
John Shaw saved a penalty from Jimmy Greenhoff, who scored on 70 minutes to make it 2-1, before Mabbutt made certain of a City win by completing his treble with two minutes remaining.
Joe Jordan and Steve Coppell, both destined to become manager at Ashton Gate, were in the defeated United side in front of a partisan 47,211 crowd.
The Second Division wins by City in 1974-75 had drawn attendances of 28,104 to Ashton Gate and 47,118 to Old Trafford. Sweeney believes a full house on Wednesday night can help the current team succeed against all the odds.
“I always used to reckon a big crowd drew an extra ten per cent out of me,” he said.
“The first thing I thought of when we came to play United was how big the attendance would be and what an atmosphere it would produce.
“I was never overawed by the names in their team. The bigger the name, the more I wanted to go out and show what I could do against him.
“It is important that the Ashton Gate fans stay behind the team on Wednesday, even if there is the odd mistake or United have periods on top.
“But if the players give everything, which I am sure they will, the supporters will respond. I am certainly not saying we are favourites, but I have seen the team this season and I give them a good chance.
“In Bobby Reid they have someone capable of finding the net and in recent weeks they have been solid, even when not playing at their best.
“Every player will need to maintain concentration for 90 minutes because United have so many brilliant attackers. A combination of that and the team working hard to help each other out could spring a shock.”
One player certain to miss the match is Milan Djuric, who has been battling against a groin problem for some time and will have surgery before the quarter-final.
With Eros Pisano, Jens Hegeler, Gary O’Neil, Famara Diedhiou and Callam O’Dowda on the list of long-term absentees, Lee Johnson’s squad is severely stretched and he cannot afford more injuries.
Winning promotion from the Championship is clearly priority this season so it will be interesting to see his starting line-up on Wednesday.
For example, who will be in goal? Frank Fielding, the regular first choice, or Luke Steele, who has played in the two previous rounds against Stoke City and Crystal Palace.
Sweeney expects Mourinho to take few chances, saying: “United are not going to win the Premier League this season and he loves lifting trophies, so I would expect him to name a strong side.
“We must do the same. I know times have changed, but if the manager had wanted to rest me for a game like this I would have been furious.”
Like many, Gerry was unable to buy a ticket for the quarter-final and will be watching it on tv. “I expect us to play well and for it to be close,” he said.