Having taken up residence in the Premier League’s top four for a few months in the early stages of the 1999-2000 season, we’d – very prematurely – run out of steam after Christmas.
A run of 12 games without a win, which started with a 5-0 hammering at a Don Hutchison-inspired Everton, was only ended by a Phillips stunner in the reverse fixture when we were well into spring.
We’d slipped from a high of second to a still-very-respectable ninth, and the win over Everton prompted a late-season burst of form.
During this bad run, there were no calls were made for ‘Streaky Reid’ to go. We were on the crest of a wave, this was a minor dip, and to be fair to Reidy he had plenty of credit in the bank.
Nightmare on Elm Park
Looking back, if Reidy’s time in charge had been played out today rather than 20 years hence, it’s likely he’d have been sacked way before we headed to White Hart Lane. The ‘Nightmare on Elm Park’ would have seen off many – 12 games without a win would have done for the rest.
Fortunately, Bob Murray wasn’t as trigger happy as it turned out some of his successors were.
That Reading defeat is often recalled as the watershed moment for Reid – folklore goes he immediately changed the defence, threw in the kids and away we went.
The truth is somewhat different – a good dollop of fate was mixed with that managerial acumen.
After the Reading game, Martin Scott was ruled out for the rest of the season through injury. Mickey Gray quickly went to left-back – where he’d played only a handful of times before, making that position his own. In turn, that opened up an Allan Johnston-shaped vacancy on the left-wing, which the Scot – previously deployed exclusively on the right – filled with aplomb.
Andy Melville was dropped immediately in favour of Jody Craddock, however, Richard Ord and Chris Makin both played the next two games – a home win over Huddersfield and a draw at home to Swindon – before injury ruled them out for a spell.
Holloway and Williams came in, and both Ord and Makin struggled to get back into the team after their return to fitness, as the team was on a roll.
Makin, who only made another 11 league starts that season, was a substitute at Wembley for the play-off final, scoring a penalty in the process after replacing the injured Holloway at half time, but missed the start of the following season due to injury. Darren Williams – displaced at centre-half by Paul Butler – taking his place.
Established regular – rare goalscorer
By the end of September 1998, Makin was fit and was an ever-present for the remainder of the campaign as the team surged to the title. The consistent defence of Makin, Melville, Butler and Gray, with new signing Thomas Sorensen behind them, was the rock-solid and regular foundation on which a promotion campaign is built.
Makin maintained his first-choice status as we took on all comers during the 1999-2000 campaign – the superb Steve Bould taking the place of Melville (who’d rejected a one-year offer to stay at the club). The explosive Gray-Johnston partnership on the left had been broken up after Johnston rejected a new contract in favour of joining Rangers on a Bosman at the end of the following campaign.
Despite the strong start, injury to Bould in January ruled him out for the majority of the season, and results took a turn for the worst – until our late flurry of five wins in nine.
On that final day, we were in seventh place, level on points with sixth-placed Villa, with an inferior goal difference.
Makin, captaining the side on the day, equalised Darren Anderton’s 11th-minute penalty with a neat finish for his only goal for the club.
The scores remained level going into the final 20 minutes, however, goals from Tim Sherwood and a beautiful chip from Stephen Carr, gave the away-shirt clad Tottenham the win – sub Alex Rae saw red in the last minute for an elbow to the face of David Ginola.
In truth, Rae’s elbow probably wasn’t as hard as the pie that Ginola had taken in the face from the Main Stand paddocks four years earlier. He needed his free L’Oreal that night, I can tell you.
The 90 minutes at White Hart Lane also marked Nicky Summerbee’s last game in the red and white, and less than a year later Makin had also played his last game – unexpectedly sold to Ipswich, who were flying high in the Premier League.
From that dazzling 1998-99 team, the critical partnerships were quickly – and in some instances unnecessarily – broken up, and a series of short-term fixing began. (Hello, Tore Andre Flo – still our third-highest record signing.)
But it was great while it lasted – and every time Makin subsequently got the ball in the opponent’s half, a cry of ‘shoooooooooot’ went round the Stadium of Light.
We’re nothing if not original.