Punches were thrown - we knew how much rested on it for Man City

Manchester City's famous win at Wembley 25 years ago is rightly seen as a critical moment in the history of the football club.

After a baptism in the third tier of English football that was trickier than expected, the Blues found themselves 2-0 down after 90 minutes in the one game that would save them another season in Division Two. Kevin Horlock got one back, Paul Dickov smashed in a last-gasp equaliser, and young goalkeeper Nicky Weaver came through in the penalty shootout to complete a remarkable transformation for a team that had struggled to arrest the slide of the club.

Within a year they were back in the Premier League, within three they moved into a new stadium and within a decade they had been bought by a super-rich Sheikh. As Pep Guardiola looks to secure a fifth straight top flight title, that stunning Wembley day from 25 years ago resonates even louder.

But it would never have happened if City had never got there in the first place, and a 2-1 defeat at York on December 19, 1998 left them 12th in the table and without a win in five games (draws with Bristol Rovers, Luton and Gillingham had followed a defeat to Wycombe Wanderers). Rounding off the year was Wrexham away on Boxing Day followed by a game against Stoke in front of a hostile home crowd two days later.

"We were talking the other day and the memories have faded quite a bit," said former City striker Gareth Taylor. "We were talking about key moments in the season – Boxing Day, going to Wrexham at the Racecourse and winning 1-0, Gerard Wiekens scoring on a bog of a pitch. It was almost called off, the game, because there were puddles on the pitch.

"We'd had a decent result at Wrexham but the pressure was on that season. The fans were really demanding. They didn't want to be in that league. They saw we had an opportunity to move up and the pressure was on. They let us know about it at half-time - they let us know about it most of the time. It was high pressure, a bit of a cauldron."

The fans let the Blues know at half-time against Stoke because they were 1-0 down to a team that had tumbled down a division with them the previous season.

Failure to win would have further dented their promotion hopes and meant no home victory since Colchester's visit on Halloween. Paul Dickov, who would go on to score the equaliser before Taylor bagged the winner, could not confirm whether he was one of the players in the thick of the dressing room action as the team decided that more than words were necessary to turn their fortunes around.

"We knew we had one of the best squads in the league but to be honest we found it really difficult the first few games of the season," he said.

"Everywhere we went - whether it was Wycombe, Colchester, York, Lincoln - it was their cup final, for their fans and their players. Then they came to Maine Road and there was the flip side of that. They were raising their game because there was 30,000 fans there.

"No disrespect to the clubs I'm taking about because we were on a level playing field with them then. But we did have a feeling we had the squad to do it. It just took a little bit of time to adjust to the division.

"We played Wrexham and Stoke at Christmas and New Year. We won 1-0 at Wrexham and the Stoke game was huge for us.

"We were one down at half time and we managed to turn it around, come back and win 2-1. I'd been lying to you if I said there wasn't a few things said at half time, a few things thrown, a few punches thrown as well.

"The point of it was that talk is cheap in this changing room now. We've all got the answers but we need to go out there and actually do it. We turned it around, won 2-1 and I think we only lost one or two games until the end of the season from there."

Thirteen wins, seven draws, and two defeats from the remaining 22 games were enough to secure a play-off semi-final against Wigan Athletic before the Wembley showpiece with Gillingham. If it was Weaver's gloves that secured the team's promotion from the third division, it was some stray fists that helped them turn the corner.

"I dread to think what might have happened [if we didn't go straight back up]," said Dickov. "If you believe what people were saying, the club would have really struggled. It's probably just as well we didn't realise how important it was [to go up] as it would have put more pressure on us.

"But then on the flip side, you can't moan about being down there because you're part of a team that put you down there as well. If anything there was a huge desire from everybody to get back up because we felt responsible for being there in the first place."