After just three seasons with Tisdale in charge, City suddenly found themselves in amongst the relatively big boys in the third tier of English Football. Having faced the likes of Tamworth, Grays and Stafford in the Conference years, the fixture computer gave City potentially their biggest ever Football League away day with a trip to Leeds. So, for the second time in a matter of months, over 2,500 fans headed to Yorkshire and watched as City, reduced to 10 men as debutant Barry Corr blotted his copybook by thumping an opponent, narrowly lost 2-1 to a last minute goal from Jermaine Beckford. As well as Corr, new signings over the summer included Richard Duffy, Scott Golbourne, James Dunne, the permanent arrival of loanee Troy Archibald-Henville and a season long loan for Stuart Fleetwood, while Dean Moxey left to join Derby. An initiative started by ardent City supporter Alan Crockford whereby fans pledge a monthly amount to put towards a player yielded James Norwood, the first “1931” player – Norwood, a goalscoring sensation in non-league with Eastbourne Town, made his debut from the bench at Leeds.
The big names kept coming – the first league visitors to the Park were Norwich, who left with a point, while City also played their first ever league fixture against near neighbours Yeovil, another 1-1 draw. City’s first win came at Carlisle, but it was clear City’s rapid ascent up the leagues had thrown them to the lions somewhat as wins became hard to come by. The turn of the year saw City’s form take a massive tumble, aside from a stunning Ryan Harley-inspired 2-0 win over Leeds, and by the time City lost 2-0 in an insipid display at fellow strugglers Brighton, all looked lost as City were firmly in the relegation zone. It took the return of a prodigal son on loan in George Friend to herald a magnificent run of just one defeat from their final 13 games, although with eight of those having been draws it went down firmly to the wire. City needed to win on the final day against high-flying and big-spending Huddersfield to preserve their status in League One. The signs were bad when Gary Roberts put Huddersfield ahead early on, although Matt Taylor equalised. With 82 minutes on the clock, Ryan Harley hit a stunning volley to give City a 2-1 lead which they clung on to, cue scenes of delirium on the last day once again. City certainly didn’t do things the boring way!
One blight on the previous season had been announced following a memorable 2-2 draw at Wycombe where Richard Logan scored a late equaliser to rescue a point. Adam Stansfield had looked strangely lethargic during the game and was withdrawn after an hour. It would turn out to be his last game for City as a few days later it was announced he’d been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Although he bore his illness with the determination that marked out his play, the tragic news of his death was released after City had lost in extra time to Ipswich in the League Cup. Although this cast a heavy shadow over the club, by the end of the season it could be argued this galvanised the squad as City would end the season in their joint highest ever position in the four division era. City had made a trio of eye-catching forward signings in John O’Flynn, Daniel Nardiello and Jamie Cureton, which clearly gave City an attacking edge as by the end of October City had only failed to score in three matches. In the meantime City were also making progress in the JPT, plus after around a decade there was finally the return of the Devon Derby – City took the honours in the JPT but lost in the league fixture at Home Park.
City’s JPT run took them all the way to the area final, sadly after a creditable 1-1 draw at Brentford City froze in front of the TV cameras and their home support with a 2-1 defeat. Long-serving goalkeeper Paul Jones departed for Peterborough with Ben Hamer coming in on loan, and after a 5-1 defeat to the referee, sorry, to Colchester, City ended the season in storming fashion with seven wins from their last eight to finish agonisingly short of the playoffs. Perhaps sweetest of all was the win in the penultimate game of the season, James Dunne scoring the only goal as City relegated Plymouth.
In five short years, Paul Tisdale had taken City from their lowest ever finish to their joint highest. Where to next? Sadly the next chapter may not make for such nostalgic reading…!