Goals: MC: Rösler (57). CP: Armstrong (33), Patterson (64)
Line up: Coton, Foster, D.Brightwell, Kernaghan, Curle, Vonk (Summerbee), Flitcroft, Gaudino, Rösler, Walsh, Beagrie
Report by: Paul Howarth
Selhurst Park has not been a happy hunting ground for City in the last couple of seasons and that was to be the case again for this vital relegation battle with Crystal Palace. Recent defeats by Chelsea and Wimbledon made it essential that we didn't lose this game, so it would have been with this in mind (as well as the four- goal hammering in the Coca-Cola Cup in January) that City elected to play with a five man defence, Simpson dropping out of the midfield and Kernaghan returning to the defence. The other change to the side was the return of David Brightwell in place of the suspended Terry Phelan at left-back. For Palace, Ray Houghton was making his debut but Iain Dowie was suspended.
The first 15 minutes were all Palace, who forced a series of corners and exploited a shambolic City defence that seemed to have a complete lack of organisation. City were constantly caught out by quickly- taken free-kicks and the marking, particularly down the left side, was virtually non-existent. The first chance of note came to Chris Armstrong when a deep corner was headed towards him at the corner of the six yard box but his powerful header towards goal went straight at Coton. City gradually began to find their feet, a good run by Walsh down the right flank setting Dino up for a shot on goal from 18 yards but his well-directed left foot drive lacked the necessary power to beat Martyn, who diverted it past the post. Both sets of forwards were getting little protection from the referee, Shaw repeatedly coming through the back of Rösler and being punished only by free-kicks, with similar incidents at the other end.
Palace continued to press forward, City's hurried clearances usually going straight back to the opposition. There seemd to be no thought behind City's play and the midfield looked very ineffective. It came as no surprise when Palace took the lead, nor was there any surprise as to where the goal came from. Some neat interplay in midfield gave Armstrong a chase down the right flank against Kernaghan. There was only going to be one winner there and I still haven't figured out where left-back David Brightwell was. Curle came across from the middle to cut Armstrong out but he was too late; the Palace striker hit a hard, low shot towards the near post. Coton spread himself but the ball went through his legs, hitting one of them before bobbling into the net.
Many Palace fans thought their lead had doubled when an excellent long shot from Houghton hit the side netting; they were in good voice, starting chants of "If you hate Man United clap your hands" as well as the usual "Eagles ..." [repeat ad infinitum]. Anti-Cantona feeling is clearly running high at the club and with the fans; there was a T-shirt available listing the Frenchman's many "crimes" and there was an article in the programme bemoaning the levity of his sentence (still 2 weeks prison at the time it was printed). City fans chanted "there's only one Matthew Simmons", which didn't seem to go down badly. There was more work for TC to do before half-time, two fine saves from positions similar to where Armstrong had scored keeping City in the game. City were booed off at half time after a very poor showing indeed.
City reverted to a flat back four at half time, Summerbee replacing Vonk. This, and the bollocking they must have had during the break, made quite an improvement. Suddenly we were causing Palace problems, with decent crosses coming in from both sides. Summerbee played as if he had something to prove, and linked well with Foster. A long pass from Kernaghan gave Dino a chance in the Palace area; he turned and hit a first-time shot just wide of the far post and was clearly annoyed with himself at missing the target. It wasn't all one-way traffic but City were well on top during this period. Uwe got on the end of a corner, powering in a great header that Martyn saved impressively. However, a clearance from the resulting corner was intercepted by Foster, who hit in a superb cross which was met by a glorious flying header by Rösler to equalise. The City fans went wild and I honestly thought at this stage that we'd go on to win the game.
How wrong I could be. The goal seemed to shake Palace out of their slumbers and they started to get back into the game. Within five minutes they were back in front, Salako's viciously-swinging corner being flicked in at the near post by Darren Patterson for his first goal for Palace. Two minutes later, from an almost identical corner, Coleman hit the far post. Walsh and Rösler managed to create a couple of openings for themselves later on but couldn't apply the final, killer touch. At the final whistle the team were booed off again, though not as loudly as at half-time. There was also a short burst of "we want Horton out" from a significant minority of fans, the first time I can recall this happening despite the poor run of results this year. It was a better performance than against Wimbledon, but only for that 15-minute period after half-time.
The midfield did very little throughout; Flitcroft just held up the ball but didn't do anything to hurt Palace with it and Dino, sporting a new haircut, got on the end of a couple of moves but was otherwise pretty inconspicious. City's lack of goals away from home must be at least partly due to the lack of support our front players get from midfield. They always have to do it all themselves, without the help of any other players to at least distract the defenders. Indeed, when we can get forward in numbers, we do score goals, as witnessed at QPR and Southampton for instance. Neither does the midfield seem to provide a comfortable outlet for the defence. Hurried clearances just go straight to the opposition who then re-apply the pressure. Flitcroft and Gaudino simply aren't working as a midfield partnership for us. When Dino plays well, so do City - or is it the other way around? We're missing the battlers in midfield, Lomas and McMahon; we need to solve this problem as well as the disorganised defence if we're to eke out the 6 or 7 points we'll need to stay up. I'm already thinking of reasons why relegation might not be so bad; more games, probably more wins, not giving 6 points to United etc. However, financially, relegation would be an unmitigated disaster. I just wish I could see how we'll avoid it.
Goals: MC: Rösler (49). T: Howells (53), Klinsmann (86)
Line up: Coton, Foster, Phelan, Curle, Hill, Summerbee, Flitcroft, Gaudino (Quinn), Rösler, Walsh, Edghill
Action shot: Curlywurly
Report by: Paul Howarth
And so the much-rearranged match against Spurs was finally played, two days after their FA Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Everton. How would this result affect them? Would they be despondent, having fallen at the last hurdle on the route to Wembley, or would they be fired up to claim the points that would edge them closer to a UEFA Cup spot for next season? Unfortunately for us it was the latter. Talking to some Spurs fans in the pub before the game, it was widely believed that their goalscoring hero Jürgen Klinsmann would leave if the club failed to qualify for Europe. I think it's very likely that our German duo, Gaudino and Rösler will also be on their way if (when?) we are relegated.
We were accommodated in the new South Stand at White Hart Lane, a vast improvement on the old version even though it's not quite finished yet. The new stand is a two-tier cantilever, curving round at the corners to meet the East and West Stands. I believe a similar structure will be erected at the opposite (Paxton Road) end next season.
City lined up with a pacy back four, Edghill and Phelan as full-backs and Curle and Foster in the centre. Andy Hill played in front of the back four but behind the midfield of Summerbee, Gaudino and Flitcroft. As usual, Rösler and Walsh were the striking partnership. Much to my relief, Tony Coton passed a fitness test and was to keep City in the game with some excellent saves.
The first half was virtually all Spurs, who found far more time and space in midfield than they had done on Sunday. The first chance came to Barmby, whose close-range flick from a low cross bobbled between Coton's legs before the goalkeeper managed to grab hold of it. Calderwood hit a powerful header virtually unchallenged from a corner but fortunately it was straight at TC.
Despite the amount of possession Spurs had, which wasn't helped by some shocking passing by City, they didn't create as many chances as might have been expected and couldn't get behind the City back four. At the other end there were half-chances for Walsh (who shot over the bar) and a Rösler header from a Summerbee cross flew wide. City's main outlet was Summerbee on the right wing but he wasn't having much joy against Spurs' left back Justin Edinburgh. Gaudino showed some good touches but once again there seemed to be nobody else on the same wavelength as him. So, at half time Spurs had had much more of the game but we went in level after a goalless first half; a point would do nicely if we could keep them out for another 45 minutes.
City came out for the second half attacking our end, which livened up the atmosphere a little. It livened up a lot more after 49 minutes when Mabbutt, Calderwood and Walker all left a Popescu back-pass to each other, allowing Rösler to sneak between them and poke the ball through Walker's legs, putting City into an unexpected lead. Maybe we'd stay up after all? It was sure to be a long 41 minutes to the final whistle - could we hold on? To nobody's great surprise, the answer was no. The lead lasted for four minutes, when a neat passing move at the edge of the City area let in Howells, who stroked the ball low into the corner, giving Coton no chance. We now had a match on our hands. Both sides were playing better than they had in the first half and both sides looked capable of scoring. Walker (who I think will succeed Tim Flowers as the England 'keeper) made a fine save to keep out a Flitcroft drive that was heading for the top corner, whilst at the other end TC kept out several close-range efforts.
Now I'm not normally one to moan about referees but I'll have to make an exception for Alan Wilkie after this performance. He was making some seemingly inexplicable decisions, particularly regarding the tussle between Summerbee and Edinburgh. With City attacking our end, I could now see why Buzzer was having so much difficulty getting past the left back. Edinburgh was constantly using his arm to hold the City player back and on the occasional time when this wasn't enough, a foul was given against Summerbee. Another point was his inconsistent attitude towards injuries; he insisted that Phelan left the pitch when he was injured, forcing City to play on with 10 men but did no such thing for two injured Spurs players. Admittedly, Phelan was much closer to the touchline when he got injured and the full amount of injury time was played but I thought that the attitude to injuries shown by referees in the World Cup finals was just about the only good thing to come out of FIFA's recent tinkering with the rules, and I was hoping to see it applied consistently in the Premier League this season. For us but not Spurs on this occasion. It wasn't just me either. It came to the point where there was loud ironic cheering whenever a decision went our way. That's life when you're at the bottom I suppose.
With about 20 minutes to go, Quinn replaced the ineffective Gaudino and immediately made an impression. Spurs couldn't handle him and he won virtually every ball flung towards him, including a number of near-post flick-ons from long throws. Unfortunately, nobody could take advantage as some desperate defending by Spurs managed to block all of our efforts. Quinn got in a good downward header from a corner that seemed destined for goal but once again Walker pulled off a fine save. There was much more threat from City's play now but then disaster struck. A free-kick near the corner flag was sent over to the far post, and Klinsmann rose above whoever was meant to be challenging him to head the ball in. There were 88 minutes on the scoreboard clock but another 5 minutes of injury time gave City a chance of getting an equaliser. No longer in a position of having a point to show for their efforts, City started to show some passion and piled on the pressure. The Spurs fans whistled for the referee to end the game, a blatantly time-wasting substitution was made (can't say I blame them though) and still City carved out a couple more half-chances. Rösler headed wide from one and then made a chance out of nothing just outside the six-yard box but his volley went over.
City need to show the passion with which they ended this game for a whole 90 minutes and on more than one occasion if we're to be returning to White Hart Lane next season. It's still possible but it's looking distinctly unlikely now. Although the late winner cruelly came during one of City's best periods of the game, when a point looked to be on the cards, it can't be denied that the home side were the better side and deserved the points. Come on City, pull your fingers out and save yourselves.
Final score: Spurs 2 City 1
Goals: MC: Summerbee (18), Gaudino (73). L: McManaman (21)
Line up: Coton, Edghill, Phelan (Kernaghan), Curle, Foster, Gaudino, Flitcroft, Summerbee, Walsh (Beagrie), Quinn, Rösler
Report by: Martin Ford
Coming into this game I was still concerned about where the vital points would come from to save City from relegation. City haven't exactly had a recent good run of results against our Merseyside neighbours, so I couldn't see City getting anywhere in this game. City started unusually (?) well and could have scored in the first few minutes when Gaudino controlled the ball, beat a couple of defenders and then tried to chip James from about 8 yards out. Unfortunately the ball cleared the bar, I think a straight forward shot would have been better. Although City showed some fight they once again gave Liverpool far too much time on the ball, which with the likes of Barnes and McManaman could have been fatal.
City got the upper hand after 18 minutes, when Gaudino played a through ball for Summerbee, he ran into the box and hit a low hard shot passed James into the far corner. So City had deservedly gone 1- 0 up, now would the defence manage to keep them in it. It was only a matter of minutes before Liverpool responded. McManaman got the ball on the left and as the City defence stood off him, he played a 1-2 with Fowler on the edge of the box, before picking his spot in the far corner. So City had managed to stay infront for all of three minutes. When will City learn, the defence seems as useful as a chocolate teapot sometimes? So half-time came and the scores were level. Although City had shown the better determination, I still felt that Liverpool would come out and do their usual job of beating City, especially if they were given as much time and room on the ball.
Another of Horton's half-time talks was evident as City set apart beating Liverpool, who in all honesty didn't seem to have the heart for the game. The game turned into a procession of chances for City whilst Liverpool didn't get to bother TC. David James was commanding his box and came for nearly every cross City threw into the box. He pulled off two superb saves. The first was from a Foster header following a corner, the ball was heading for the bottom corner until James somehow managed to fingertip the ball away. The second chance came from a Flipper volley which he managed to turn over the bar.
In between these chances Rösler had missed a glorious chance to extend City's lead when he headed wide, whilst unmarked from a Walsh cross. It just looked like City would never score. Then the German connection worked. Rösler picked the ball up on the right, ran into the box and crossed into the middle, his cross was met by Gaudino and his header flew into the top corner giving James no chance. So would City manage to hang on to this lead, especially with 17 minutes left. Although Liverpool played some neat football they never really tested City, so City managed to hang onto the win for some much needed points.
Although City won 2-1 and showed some fight and determination, they still looked shaky in the attack. The defence needs to stiffen up or else better teams will take them apart. City won, basically because Liverpool never really looked that interested in the game, I'm sure any other season would have seen Liverpool beat City quite comfortably.
Final score 2-1
Goals: MC: Curle (32 pen), Rösler (57), Walsh (70). BR: Shearer (7), Hendry (39)
Line-up: Coton, Foster, Edghill, Curle, Kernaghan, Summerbee, Simpson, Flitcroft, Walsh (Beagrie), Rösler, Quinn
Report by: Paul Howarth
After an encouraging victory against a lethargic Liverpool side on Good Friday, around 5,000 Blues made the journey to a windswept Ewood Park with the possibility of maximum points from the Easter campaign still on, as it had been in last season's relegation battle. However, with the champions-elect 5 points clear at the top of the league, it was more in hope than expectation that the hordes of Blues took up their seats in the lower tier of the Darwen End stand (after all, the game was live on BSkyB too!), certainly the best facilities for away fans in the league.
With Terry Phelan suffering from a hamstring strain, Richard Edghill was switched to left back and John Foster moved out to the right. Curle and Kernaghan were the central partnership in a four-man defence. In midfield were Summerbee, Flitcroft, Simpson and Walsh; Simpson replaced Gaudino, apparently suffering from a stomach bug - I don't really think he'd have played on this heavy surface anyway (it had been raining all afternoon) and I thought the inclusion of the tigerish Simpson was a good move. Up front were Quinn and Rösler. Colin Hendry got a warm reception from the City fans, as might be expected. Before the game there was a well-observed minute's silence in memory of Mick Heaton, who died in a road accident a few miles away earlier this week. There was also the presentation of the players' Player of the Year trophy to Alan Shearer, who was applauded by both sets of fans.
City took the game to Rovers straight away, clearly not intimidated by their impressive home record, the only league defeat being the Rags' controversial 4-2 victory back in October. The home side had hardly been in the City half when they took the lead in the 7th minute courtesy of a horrific mistake from Tony Coton. Under no pressure, he mis-kicked a clearance straight to Alan Shearer who hit the ball straight back and into the far corner of the net, just out of TC's reach. Had it fallen to anybody else, or if he'd taken a touch to control the ball first, there probably wouldn't have been a goal. A superb strike, and just the start City didn't need.
The heads didn't drop though, and City poured on the pressure looking for an equaliser. Flowers made a good save and a header from the resulting corner was cleared off the line by a defender. There was passion in City's play and we were winning many 50-50 chances in midfield - most unusual! Foster, Summerbee and Quinn were combining well down the right flank and it was from here that City's equaliser came. Summerbee floated over a cross towards Quinn, whose shirt was pulled by Pearce. It wasn't too evident on TV but clear as day from behind the goal and from where referee Keith Cooper was. Nevertheless, Quinn didn't seem to be affected by the challenge and Flowers picked out the cross; to his horror a penalty had been given (he was right to give it but most referees wouldn't have done). Hendry had a word with Flowers whilst Keith Curle tried to find the penalty spot within the mud bath that was the penalty area. Fortunately Curle managed to keep his footing and sent the 'keeper the wrong way as he stroked the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. How long would it be before Rovers regained the lead, we wondered cynically?
The answer was 7 minutes this time. Rovers came more into the game and had their best spell, with Sutton going close a couple of times. The goal came from a corner which was flicked on by a City defender to the unmarked Hendry at the edge of the area. He volleyed the ball goalwards but TC got down well to block it. Unfortunately, the ball seemed to ricochet off his elbow, under his body and into the net. Colin was very pleased. City once again strove to get back on terms, Simpson excelling in midfield but we went in a goal down at half time. The first half performance was City's best for ages and a repeat of it in the second half (without the give-away) would surely bring us a point? We ducked as a low-flying pig passed overhead.
City continued to play well and take the game to the home side in the second half. Curle and Kernaghan weren't giving Shearer a sniff (which is all he needs) and City were creating a fair number of chances at the other end. City's second equaliser again came from a Summerbee cross towards Quinn. This time Hendry headed it out but the clearance fell at the feet of Rösler, who stroked the ball into the net from 22 yards, a brilliant finish from his first chance of the game. Summerbee continued to supply chances from the right flank but Simpson, Walsh and then Summerbee himself were unable to convert. Rösler made a good turn and sent Flitcroft through but his low shot which was heading for the bottom corner was turned away by Flowers.
City's 3rd goal again came from the right flank; Quinn controlled a ball well by the touchline, holding it up well before releasing Summerbee into space with a neat square pass. Buzzer took the ball into the penalty area and hit a shot towards the far post which was palmed out by Flowers' outstretched arm. Unfortunately for him, Walsh beat the defender to the rebound and knocked the ball in at the far post - our wildest dreams were coming true! City now seem to recognise that they're useless at defending, so they continued to attack. Walsh was sent crashing into the advertising hoardings by Atkins, the referee played on, Quinn knocked the ball down to Flitcroft who hit a shot just like Rösler's goal into the net. The goal didn't count though because Quinn had pushed Hendry before the knock-down. City continued with 10 men as Blackburn pressed for an equaliser; Curle was now sent crashing into the hoardings behind the goal, leaving City with only 9 men. Fortunately the referee stopped play and Beagrie came on to replace Walsh.
Blackburn brought on Batty (returning from a long-term injury) to bolster their midfield and began to apply some sustained pressure. Still it was City who threatened most on the break though. Curle returned to the field of play and ran off his injury; Flitcroft had another goal disallowed - this time he'd been just about a nose offside when Beagrie's cross came in to the near post for him to head in. At the other end City were getting bodies in the way of everything, including a free kick from just outside the box, like the one from which Le Saux scored at Maine Road. Rösler raced clear of both central defenders, chipped the goalkeeper from 30 yards only to see his effort cannon back off the crossbar and straight into Flowers' hands. It was an anxious last few minutes but City defended well and held the ball in the Blackburn half rather than just clearing the ball upfield aimlessly. The whistles came from the City fans to encourage the referee to look at his watch but the second half had started late and play continued on. At last he blew, though with a second half of just over 47 minutes, I'd expected a little more injury time. Still, I wasn't complaining.
The players came over to the City fans who'd been magnificent throughout and bowed in a line. We stayed behind singing for quite a while but my voice was completely wrecked by now. This was the best performance City have put in for a few seasons, certainly better than anything this season or last. Brian Horton has his critics, particularly regarding his tactical abilities and motivational qualities but there was nothing wrong tonight. Only TC will be disappointed with his performance, despite holding everything on a greasy surface in the second half. In the middle, the much-maligned Summerbee and Simpson were both excellent (Simpson in particular was singled out by a Blackburn fan I was talking to after the game) and City's finishing was superb. Even Kenny Dalglish admitted that City deserved the win; what more can I say? I was there and I won't forget it for a very long time indeed.
Final score: Rovers 2 City 3.
Incidentally, Rovers are now only 5-1 on to win the league. I hope they get back on track with a win against Palace on Thursday, albeit without the suspended Hendry and Sherwood.
Line-up: Coton (Burridge), Edghill, Phelan, Curle, Kernaghan, Summerbee, Simpson (Gaudino), Flitcroft, Quinn, Walsh (Beagrie), Rösler.
Report by: Kevin Duckworth
The day started well when some of the MCIVTA 'penpals" met in the pub before the game, although can I finally and officially state that my name is not Kevin the Pervert or Kevin, a woman in every port Duckworth( I wish). My reputation died when it was confirmed that Lynne, the wife and the girlfriend are one and the same. After two or three pints we strolled to the ground and got in just as the teams came onto the field. This was unfortunate as saturday was the 25th anniversary of City winning the Cup Winners Cup. I am not sure who was introduced to the crowd, but a friend who got there early described a Pole- can anyone confirm if it was Lubanski?
City's biggest crowd of the season witnessed a poor game of football, although on the positive side, it would have classed as a good City performance 2 years ago. Newcastle played the better passing game, although it was all sideways. Beardsley played nearly every position on the field. I understand freedom of the park, but centre half? Half time came and Coton had just one shot to save, where he promptly injured himself and was replaced by Burridge at half time who, at 43 became the oldest player to appear in the Premier League. He got a rowsing reception from both supporters, although the Geordies then started singing 'Hello, Hello, dodgie goalie.-All in fun. Budgie didn't have a save all afternoon until Ruel Fox beat him to a header and hit the inside of the post. This would have been an injustice as City had the clearer chances. Gillespie gave Edgehill a hiding until switching over to the right wing to try, without success against Phelan.
Rösler who was trying to impress the German management, would not have been happy with the service he received from the rest of the team and Quinn who ran his bollocks off was clearly tired from the mid week international. Again my man of the match was Kernaghan who won almost everything, and when he didn't Curle was there to clean up. Not the best game, but at least a point which I think will be enough.