Leicester City vs Aston Villa, Division One, 1976. Chris Nicholl, the centre back, had quite the day scoring all four goals in a match that ended 2-2
Chris Nicholl was an excellent centre back. Good enough to don the green jersey of Northern Ireland 51 times.
That and the 210 appearances for Aston Villa in his prime, followed by 228 more for Southampton.
Occasionally he could venture forward and find the net as well. He scored three times for Northern Ireland, and netted 11 for Aston Villa. Generally preferring his head in those goal-scoring forays, Nicholl is also remembered for a long-range left-footer that has gone down as one of the greatest goals scored in the history of Aston Villa. That came in the second League Cup final replay against Everton, when as captain he led the side to victory. His forty-yard effort boomed into the Everton goal and took the match into extra time, and finally Aston Villa triumphed 3-2.
However, in the 1976 Division One game against Leicester City, Nicholl went on a remarkable goal scoring spree that pitch-forked him into the record books – although in a slightly dubious manner.
The match was at Filbert Street, and ended in a tense 2-2 draw. And Nicholl ended up scoring all the four goals.
Yes, you read that right. Nichol did score all four goals. Two with his head and two with his feet.
That was the first year for Aston Villa back in Division One, and they were having a tough time in away matches. The showdown at Leicester was the 18th of 21 away games that they failed to win that season.
The previous week had given some indication that something macabre was in the offing. Against Tottenham Hostpur, Nicholl had deflected a Ralph Coates strike past custodian John Burridge. On the very same day, Leicester had overcome Middlesbrough, the only goal of the match coming by virtue of an own goal by central defender Stuart Boam.
Now, the two teams came down to Leicester and history was made.
15 minutes into the match, Leicester City’s Brian Alderson sent in a high chip and the hard working Nicholl sent it into his own net with a crisp header.
The next 25 minutes obviously involved quite a lot of soul searching for the defender. He seemed to have redeemed himself when, in the 40th minute, he took advantage of a confusion over Brian Little’s header in the Leicester penalty area and hooked in an equaliser.
The teams went into half-time 1-1, both goals by Nicholl.
The craziness did not stop at that.
Eight minutes into the second half, home team’s Frank Worthington lobbed a cross into the penalty area. Forward Bob Lee jumped for the header, closely marked by Nicholl. In the end, it was the Irishman who got to the ball, sending in another delectable header which beat a by-now bemused Burridge and sailed into the back of the net.
Leicester City now led 2-1 and Nicholl had performed some sort of a hat-trick. The tussle continued, and the hosts held on to the lead till just about four minutes were left in the game. With Aston Villa pressing hard, a corner was earned. Chico Hamilton floated the kick into the goal-mouth and a scramble ensued. In the commotion, Nicholl booted the ball in once again to make it 2-2. That was the final score-line.
There had been two headers for Leicester City, two kicks that netted for Aston Villa. The symmetry was remarkable.
In the course of the match, Nicholl did one better than the feat managed by Sam Wynne of Oldham Athletic in 1923. Wynne, who tragically died while playing for Bury against Sheffield United in 1927, scored four goals in Oldham’s match against Manchester United. But there were differences. Wynne did score twice for each side, but his goals for Oldham came from a free kick and a penalty kick. Nicholl had to do without such contrivances. Besides, Oldham won the match 3-2. In the case of Nicholl they were the only goals in the game.
Unfortunately for Nicholl, his attempt at getting the ball of this historic match was rendered futile. Apparently the referee was officiating in his final game and wanted to hold on to it as souvenir.