Tuesday, 22 May 2012

"...Walking in an Ndlovu wonderland..."

The summer of 1997 bid farewell to one of the most unique talents seen in recent years at Highfield Road. After 197 appearances and 41 goals over six seasons, City's 24 year-old Zimbabwean international, equally at home on the wing or up front, journeyed up the A45 to join Birmingham City. Not many players score a league hat-trick at Anfield or weave through the Villa defence to slam home an unstoppable shot on their full home debut but Peter Ndlovu did just that.

A regular under Bobby Gould, Phil Neal and ‘Big Ron’ the ‘Bulawayo Bullet’ eventually fell out of favour with Atkinson and Gordon Strachan but not before he had entertained the terraces with his dancing feet and electric pace. On his fifth appearance he scored the winner at Highbury, three weeks later at Highfield Road one of his best ever strikes sank the Villa 1-0 before The Hawthorns witnessed him in his prime in the FA Cup: (forward to 1:45 mins)

Peter Ndlovu at his very best

On a scorching day at Selhurst Park (Wimbledon) in 1996 two goals from 'Nuddy' helped maintain City’s top flight status, a year after his treble against David James in front of the Kop. He may well have peaked that March 1995 night as knee injuries soon began to reduce his match time and hamper the pace which made him such a threat to opposition defences. Gordon Strachan explained the decision to sell Ndlovu in Rick Gekoski's 'Staying Up' written during season 1997/98. He thought Ndlovu needed a new challenge and had gone backwards at City, a fact demonstrated by just ten league starts in his final campaign. Birmingham, then in the second tier, signed him on a pay-as-you-play deal for four seasons before he moved to Sheffield United where he played until the summer of 2004.

City's first season post-Premiership saw the return of Ndlovu to Highfield Road. Midway through the second-half Blades' boss Neil Warnock substituted him which necessitated a jog from the Sky Blue Stand over to the dugouts. Sky Blues' supporters accompanied this with strains of "Walking along, singing a song, walking in an Ndlovu wonderland", a warm tribute acknowledged by the player who lit up Highfield Road and provided some great moments. City supporters always deliver when a former favourite returns, 4-0 down at home to Watford and John Eustace still received warm applause as he was replaced, as has Dele Adebola on his frequent returns. Since 2001 the majority have been sold rather than submitted transfer requests so the goodwill is there. Craig Bellamy will remain our record signing for many years to come, there was such hope when he arrived, 12 months later few tears were shed upon his departure.

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