Goals can often be tough to come by for central defenders. For every Steve Bruce who knew where the net is, there’s another player who perhaps bags one per season.
In 1975/76, Leicester City’s seventh-highest goalscorer was a central defender who had two goals, both coming in a single game. Remarkably, he never played for the Foxes. Here’s the story of Aston Villa defender Chris Nicholl’s record-breaking March afternoon.
On March 13th, Nicholl scored an unfortunate own goal as his Villa side were thrashed 5-2 by Spurs. Elsewhere in the division, Leicester City were beating Middlesbrough 1-0, with Stuart Boam netting an own goal. In some stories, that is referred to as foreshadowing.
The following week, the two teams came together at Filbert Street, with the home side still hunting a place in the UEFA Cup. Relegation was a concern at Villa but not a serious danger. The game felt like it might be unremarkable, not the subject of an article on an EFL site 47 years later.
Villa made a strong start and were desperately unlucky in the 14th minute to go behind. Brian Alderson’s shot didn’t look to be troubling John Burridge, but a wicked deflection from Nicholl’s midriff left the keeper stranded, and the ball rolled into the net. Nicholl must have felt desperately unlucky to have scored own goals in successive matches.
Nicholl made amends for his own goal five minutes before the break. Brian Little’s header came back off the bar, and the centre-half struck a rising shot from the edge of the area that beat Mark Wallington in the Foxes’ goal.
Things stayed level for nine minutes of the second half, before Leicester took the lead. Steve Whitworth lifted a cross into the area, and Frank Worthington nodded across goal. As Bob Lee came in, Nicholl looked to head clear, but, instead, diverted it past Burridge and into the back of the net.
Three own goals in a week? Two in a game? Lesser players might have crumbled, but not Nicholl. The future Northern Ireland international was made of sterner stuff, and he wrote his name alongside Sam Wynne in the history. He kept hanging on the edge of the area, and on 86 minutes, he got his reward.
Ian ‘Chico’ Hamilton whipped in a corner, and Leicester couldn’t clear it sufficiently. It fell to Nicholl, who smashed a shot goalwards. It kept rising, up and into the back of Wallington’s net to give Villa a share of the spoils. “Just put it down to my natural balance as a goalscorer,” joked Nicholl. “All I know is the lads threatened to kick me up in the air in the dressing room at half time.”
A point was neither useful nor a hindrance for either team – Leicester finished eight points shy of the European slots, Villa nine points above the bottom three.
Nicholl later proved how adept he was as a goalscorer, captaining Villa to a League Cup in 1977, scoring a 35-yard screamer in the replay, which his side won 3-2. He later played for Southampton, racking up six years as a player and later managing at the Dell in the era of Le Tissier, Danny Wallace, and Alan Shearer.