Goals: MC: Simpson (86). NC: Cureton (82)
Line up: Coton, Summerbee, Phelan, Kernaghan, Curle, Vonk (Griffiths), Flitcroft, I. Brightwell, Gaudino (Hill), Simpson, Walsh, Quinn
Report by: Paul Howarth
This has widely been described as a dour match which had nothing going for it until the last ten minutes. Well it wasn't a classic but I've seen far worse games than this. The afternoon started well enough when we arrived after a long journey to East Anglia to find the weather bright and sunny. With reports of heavy snowfall in the south and east of England, another late postponement was still a possibility when we departed. Arriving about 45 minutes before kick- off, we squeezed into the Clarence Harbour pub, close to the away fans' entrance. As usual the main bar was packed with City fans but fortunately the lounge bar was relatively empty and it was possible to buy a drink and still have time to drink it before leaving in time for kick-off. Some fans had no such concerns, streaming in up to quarter of an hour after the match had started.
The only change from the side that played so well against Leeds last week was the return of Paul Walsh in place of Andy Hill. This also meant a change of formation, City playing a 5-3-2 with the full-backs encouraged to get forward whenever possible. The first half was quite even in terms of possession but the best chances came City's way, Norwich being restricted mainly to long-range efforts. On 13 minutes Quinn broke clear but waited for support instead of shooting himself. Norwich's unsuccessful attempts to play the offside trap looked like it might cost them a goal when another Quinn run beat the back line but once again it came to nothing. As the half wore on, the home defence got itself more organised and looked less likely to be breached, though a wayward back-header was very nearly caught by Dino on 35 minutes, Marshall just beating him to it on the edge of his area.
Towards the end of the first half, referee Dermot Gallagher made three contentious decisions which angered the travelling fans. Firstly he gave a goal kick after the ball clearly came off a Norwich defender. Then Quinn appeared to be pulled back after chesting a ball down close to the penalty spot and finally he waved play on when Marshall picked up the ball right in front of his goal after a Walsh cross had been intercepted by a defender. I thought the last of these decisions was correct but couldn't see how the first two had gone against us.
Norwich came out for the second half looking much more determined and they immediately put City under pressure. On 53 minutes Coton made a brilliant save, tipping Milligan's 15-yard volley over the bar. Dino made a great run from his own half, taking on and beating most of the Norwich defence before he was finally crowded out 10 yards from goal. The ball ran free to Simpson, whose shot was superbly saved by Marshall, Simpson blasting the rebound wide.
With twenty minutes to go, Norwich brought on substitute Mike Sheron who was warmly applauded by the City fans, though there were a few "City Reject" chants too. Soon afterwards, Quinn evaded a defender on the right touchline and broke into the penalty area but his shot was more akin to a back-pass. Within a minute, Buzzer made an excellent run down the right flank, taking on and beating his man for a change before crossing to the far post where Quinn's looping header back across goal flew just wide of the far post. The next chance came at the other end from a Norwich corner, a powerful header going just over the bar.
At about this time, the Norwich fans began to get quite excited and it soon became apparent why. They borrowed the tune of "Blue Moon" and sang "8-0, the scum are losing 8-0!" We weren't mis-hearing either. Ipswich were indeed losing 8-0 at Old Trafford. We'd met a contingent of Ipswich fans at Corley services (near Coventry) and we all wished each other good luck for the afternoon's matches. There seemed to be little ambition or optimism from them though, judging by comments such as "I think we'll need it [luck]" and "I think we're just going to see what the stadium looks like." Strangely enough, this was pretty well the first occasion I can remember the visitors outnumbering the northbound United fans at Corley.
This all seemed to spur Norwich on and they put City under sustained pressure in the last ten minutes. Former City player Ashley Ward broke free in the inside left position and burst into the penalty area, holding the ball up, waiting for support. He threaded the ball through to Jamie Cureton who hit a hard, low shot from just inside the box to Coton's right and into the net. Pity he couldn't carry forward his form of last week, where he missed two sitters late in the game at Ewood Park. With only 8 minutes to go that looked to be it for City. Indeed, it was Norwich who looked more likely to score again, going close twice in the space of a couple of minutes.
Considering the two clubs' league positions, it was imperative that we didn't lose so Griffiths came on in place of Vonk as City desperately looked for an equaliser. Vonk certainly wasn't happy about being taken off but Griffiths got stuck in straight away, staking his claim for a first team place. City pushed more players forward and, much to our relief, it paid off. Kernaghan lobbed the ball forward into the box, Quinn held off two defenders and knocked the ball down off his shoulder, right in front of Simpson. The ball bounced once before Simmo volleyed it home with his left foot from 19 yards. Goalkeeper Marshall was unsighted by a number of players and the ball appeared to go between his outstretched arms. I think he'll be very disappointed to concede the goal but Simmo must be delighted with his second goal in only his second start of the season.
With the score levelled, Dino made way for Andy Hill as City tried to make sure of the point. With both sides anxious to avoid defeat, the last couple of minutes were played out uneventfully. A draw was a fair result but it leaves both sides perilously close to the relegation zone. Star performers for City were Kernaghan and Simpson, who must be quite confident of retaining his place when Rösler and Beagrie are free from suspension next week. However, we played better last week and that is the sort of form we must reproduce in the next few games before the really testing climax to the season.
Goals: MC: Gaudino (4). C: Stein (6, 80)
Line up: Coton, I.Brightwell, Phelan, Kernaghan, Curle, Gaudino, Simpson, Summerbee (Quinn), Walsh, Rösler, Beagrie
Report by: Paul Howarth
Looking at City's run-in, wondering where the points will come from that will keep us in the Premiership, this one had to be regarded as a "must win" match. With both clubs on the same number of points (Chelsea having a game in hand and much better goal difference though) and City's good form in the last couple of home games, a win looked quite a likely prospect too.
City got off to a great start when Beagrie's cross was flicked on by Rösler to the unmarked Gaudino, who struck home a sweet half-volley in only the fourth minute. However, within 2 minutes Chelsea were level when Andy Myers raced past Summerbee at the edge of the City area and hit a hard, low cross in; Stein reached the ball first and hit it into the roof of the net from 10 yards, possibly taking a slight deflection. Chelsea's neat, short passing in and around the box caused City a lot of problems, and Stein missed two glorious chances to put the visitors into the lead before half time. The first time, on 29 minutes, he shot straight at TC. The second chance came from a penalty in the 4th minute of first-half injury time after Curle brought down Paul Furlong; Stein crashed his shot against the bar and referee David Ellery then blew to end the half. I thought for a fleeting moment that he was going to order the kick to be re-taken. In the meantime, Hitchcock in the Chelsea goal was having a blinder, making excellent saves from Rösler, Walsh and Beagrie.
In the second half City missed a procession of good chances, Hitchcock pulling off more superb saves from Rösler, Gaudino, Beagrie, Walsh and Kernaghan. It has to be said that he shouldn't have been given a chance to make a save in many of these cases though. Still more chances were lost with off-target shooting. Despite the chances coming City's way, this was still a evenly-matched game in which both sides looked likely to score again. Chelsea came close when Erland Johnson struck a free kick from at least 30 yards out (it was so far out that City didn't bother with a wall) against the angle of post and crossbar. Mark Stein should have scored again in the 78th minute when he put a free header wide from 10 yards when it looked easier to score.
Desperate for the win, Quinn came on to replace the very ineffective Summerbee. Within a minute, Chelsea scored again. A neat move between Steve Clarke and Gavin Peacock set Stein free behind Kernaghan and he made no mistake this time, slipping the ball past Coton from virtually the same place that he'd missed the header minutes earlier. The rest of the game was an onslaught as City peppered the Chelsea goal with shots. A superb long-range effort by Simpson was tipped past the post by Hitchcock deep into injury time; the equaliser just wouldn't come.
Brian Horton said after the game "If you don't take your chances you don't win games. Chelsea have hit the bar and missed a penalty but we could have won the game 6-4. There were so many chances for us, so I can't bee too critical.". However, this desperately bad result for City now makes next week's match at Goodison Park doubly important. If the strikers can hit the same sort of form as Simpson and Gaudino in midfield, somebody's going to take a hammering; let's hope it's Everton.
Final Score: City 1 Chelsea 2
Goals: MC: Gaudino (26). E: Unsworth (80)
Line up: Coton, I.Brightwell, Phelan, Vonk, Curle, Gaudino, Simpson, Walsh, Quinn, Rösler (Foster), Beagrie
Report by: Paul Howarth
This was a match neither side could afford to lose; Everton were hovering just above the bottom four, facing the prospect of playing their next 4 matches without the services of star striker Duncan Ferguson as a result of his (unlucky) sending-off at Leicester. City were two points ahead and with a game in hand but facing a far more difficult-looking run-in to the end of the season. Everton had won their last 7 home matches, their last dropped home points being a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day. City's recent form was far from impressive, winning only two league games since the start of December, both against Ipswich Town, so it looked like a draw would be a good result for the light blues.
It was a cold evening with blustery winds and the occasional heavy shower of rain, so when we arrived nearly two hours before kick-off we headed for the comfort of the Royal Oak, a couple of minutes' walk from the ground. The main topic of discussion with the locals was whether Beagrie would be playing; their opinion of his replacement at Everton, Anders Limpar, was not exactly complimentary. He had improved recently and was now just s**t.
Once in the ground, in the Bullens Road Stand for the first time since the redevelopment of the Park End, we saw that the pitch appeared to be in better condition that it had been over the weekend in the FA Cup match against Newcastle. I'd been expecting City to play a long-ball game with a five-man defence to try to counteract the threat of Ferguson but Brian Horton's team selection showed that he had something else in mind. Ian Brightwell and Terry Phelan were the full-backs, with Vonk and Curle in the middle. Simpson and Gaudino continued in centre midfield, with Beagrie on the left, Walsh on the right and Quinn and Rösler up front. So, Nicky Summerbee was dropped for the first time this season, probably due to his current poor form, and Alan Kernaghan was replaced by Michel Vonk. I think this was just a one-off tactical manoeuvre to have Vonk, our best defender in the air, man-marking Ferguson.
In the space of the first few minutes, Everton had two chances to take the lead. Firstly, Limpar beat Brightwell and hit in a low cross which was flicked towards goal by Barlow, forcing TC to save smartly to his left. The second fell to Ferguson, who volleyed over the bar from about 12 yards. After the initial scares, the threat from Limpar seemed to diminish somewhat and City started to look more comfortable. Vonk was actually winning about half the balls played up towards Ferguson, and other City defenders around him were picking up most of the flick-ons that he did manage to make. City's first chance came to Quinn who raced onto a through ball, held off the defender well but screwed his shot just past the post. Another move, with a slower build-up through midfield, ended up with the ball bouncing towards Gaudino, close to the right-hand corner of the penalty area. As anybody who has seen him warming up will know, volleying is a speciality of his and he hit the ball first time into the bottom far corner of the net - 1-0 to City!
Everton pushed forward and managed to create a number of half-chances but they were all either comfortably saved by Coton or off-target. Ferguson and Barlow worked well around the edge of the box but couldn't find the finish to deliver an equaliser. Indeed, City could have increased their lead when Rösler broke free down the left flank but his cross was poor, going behind both Quinn and Walsh in the middle. Everton came on strong with runners from midfield and Coton had to save bravely at the feet of Ebbrell. Terry Phelan was booked for a blatant bit of time-wasting; he waited ages before taking a free-kick for offside close to his own corner-flag and then decided Curle could come back from midfield and take it instead. A totally unnecessary and thoroughly deserved booking. Everton had a couple more chances in first-half injury time but City went in at half-time looking good with their unexpected lead.
As expected, Everton came out for the second half fired up, throwing everything they had at City. I think City should have seen from the first half that Everton weren't anything out of the ordinary and were there for the taking. Gaudino was showing some exquisite touches and flicks to set up counter-attacks but they floundered all too often without even testing Southall. City paid Everton too much respect and seemed happy just to hook the ball clear at every opportunity, giving the ball straight back to them rather than looking to break out constructively and extend the lead. With the strong winds, the high clearances were moving about a lot in the air which was an advantage to the defenders, as at least they could see where the ball was going to come down. Beagrie was having a very poor game, not getting in a noteworthy cross in the whole game, the only plus point being a good, low shot towards the end which Southall scrambled away for a corner.
The crucial incident which probably cost us the game came in the 62nd minute. The referee blew for a free-kick halfway into the City half, near the touch-line but Phelan hoofed the ball high into the Everton half. It's possible that he didn't hear the whistle but it looked to me like a really stupid thing to do and sure enough, he got his second yellow card and was sent off. City were already playing a containing game with a massed defence and after this they seemed to defend even more desperately, like at QPR when we were two men down. Five minutes later, Rösler was replaced by Foster to provide more cover at the back. The only positive thing about City's play was that we left two players upfield for a corner, taking two Everton players with them. Why do we ever pull everybody back for corners?
More chances came Everton's way through high balls, balls to feet from midfield, various crosses from the wings (Limpar and Barrett combined fairly effectively down our left side, getting in plenty of crosses between them), corners and free-kicks, menacingly taken by former Blue, Andy Hinchcliffe. Fortunately, their finishing continued to let them down, Ferguson heading over the bar a number of times where he might have scored in other games. With a little under 15 minutes to go, Everton took off defender Gary Ablett and brought on forward Graham Stuart as they sought to take advantage of their man over. Just when it seemed we might hold on, or even get a second, killer goal on a break, Everton were awarded a penalty. As it was at the opposite corner of the pitch and I haven't had the benefit of a TV replay, all I'll say is that it was for a foul by Vonk on Limpar. Admittedly, it was a risky challenge to make, in a similar position on the edge of the area, to the penalty conceded by the same player at Ipswich last season. Vonk was distraught, his error (if it was one) spoiling a very good performance. Unsworth, a rock at the back for Everton, took the penalty, sending Coton the wrong way and calmly slotting the ball home.
With ten minutes to go, I expected City to crumble under an Everton onslaught; it wasn't to be. Everton continued to press, creating the same half-chances that they'd been missing throughout the match, but they didn't look to be able to carve us apart as United had done, nor totally dominate us, penning us into our own penalty area as Newcastle had done. City seemed to lack the desire to go out and win the game, just holding on for a draw, though they did this quite competently. When the final whistle came, I felt a sense of relief that we hadn't been beaten but also disappointment that we hadn't won a game that looked to be there to be won.
Everton have acquired a reputation for being a very physical and even dirty side; there was no evidence of that on this showing. There seemed to be remarkably few fouls given away by either side and there were no nasty challenges at all. Joe Royle may well have sorted out the discipline problem at Everton but questions must be asked of Terry Phelan's behaviour: what did he think he was doing? We'll now have to go into at least one more crucial match struggling to find a half-decent left-back. Let's hope his indiscretions don't cost us more than just these two dropped points. Let's also hope that Sheffield Wednesday, in a poor run of form themselves recently, aren't shown the same excessive respect on Saturday.
Final score: 1-1
Goals: MC: Rösler (37, 85), Walsh (52). SW: Whittingham (14), Hyde (21)
Line up: Coton, Summerbee, Phelan, Vonk, Curle, Gaudino, Flitcroft, Simpson, Walsh, Rösler, Beagrie
Report by: Martin Ford
City for once managed to get some luck, which in recent matches has been sorely missed. Although they had to work hard to get the result, City eventually came up trumps and now stand at the heady heights of 12th in the league (although in a cautionary note one defeat could plunge City back down).
This was a game that had to be won by City, but City just frustrated us the fans for the first half. As early as the second minute the alarm bell should have been ringing, when Whittingham reacted first to a cross and his shot was only saved by TC face. City's whole set-up seemed incohesive and lacked fight, which allowed Wednesday to walk all over City. Even with the early scare City still didn't help themselves. Whittingham had a goal ruled out after Bright had collided with TC. Whittingham eventually did score in the 13th minute latching onto a through ball he beat TC from just inside the box. This didn't have any effects on City, they still allowed Wednesday too much time and even when City did get the ball they just gave it away. City just went from bad to worse and Wednesday took a two goal advantage. Waddle's cross was only half cleared and Hyde thumped the ball home. At that point I thought City were staring defeat in the face, they just lacked any commitment and desire to win. Some of the crowd booed and jeered, but the rest just sat there in stunned silence, obviously unable to believe what was happening. City finally managed to get going after the second goal but it really felt pointless. Uwe came closest, he was inches away from Gaudino's cross and then was blocked as he was lining upto shoot.
City got a lifeline in the game after 38 minutes, when Rösler headed home a knock back by Vonk from a Beagrie corner. Even though City scored there still seemed a despondent atmosphere around the ground. With the score back at 2-1 City almost threw the game away in the final minute of the first half. Summerbee delayed on the ball and Bart-Williams stole the ball off him, fortunately TC managed to save the shot and keep City in the game. City went in 2-1 down and unless some drastic action was taken by Horton, City were staring at another defeat.
The magic of Horton's boot rubbed off on the players and they started the second half with alot more comittment and fight. City took the game to Wednesday and didn't allow them too much time on the ball. City managed to get an equaliser through Walsh. He back-headed a Beagrie cross into the goal, although there was a suspicion of an own goal. City were pretty fired up and at last responding to the challenge. Although they rode there luck at the other end. TC had to make a couple of good saves. Phelan cleared off the line just when it started to look rocky for the blues. They weather the storm and came back a little stronger. The comeback was completed in the 83 minute when a great through ball from Simpson was controlled by Rösler before despatching a low shot passed Pressman, so the remarkable comeback was complete in fine style. The feelings or despair had turned into euphoria with the win, but why had City put us through so much heart-ache?
City must realise that they can't allow the opposition time to build attacks, they've got to get involved quicker and fight for the ball. I just hope this win doesn't make the players over-confident, they've got to build on this win to secure Premier survival.
Goals: W: Thorn (59), Elkins (76)
Line up: Coton, Foster, Phelan, Vonk, Curle, Gaudino (Quinn), Flitcroft, Simpson (Summerbee), Walsh, Rösler, Beagrie
Report by: Paul Howarth
Another important, "winnable" match for City who were looking to ease their relegation worries with another 3 points. For once we were going into a game on a high after the glorious comeback from 2 goals down on Saturday. Wimbledon would be missing England defender Warren Barton and Alan Kimble, so we travelled south in confident mood. Arriving at a near-deserted ground at about 6:30pm, we went to the Prince George pub where there was no trouble getting in this time, unlike our previous visit to Selhurst for the ill-fated Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final. On returning to the ground, there still weren't that many people around but once inside, it was clear that a reasonably large contingent of Blues had turned up, probably about 1,000 given that the attendance was just over 5,000. There was no significant change in the state of the under-construction Holmesdale Stand since our last visit; this must surely be the slowest rate of construction at any ground in the country!
John Foster replaced the suspended Ian Brightwell at right-back in an otherwise unchanged City side, with Niall Quinn and Nicky Summerbee on the bench. The first 15 minutes saw both sides hoist long balls into their opponents' penalty area, which were comfortably dealt with by both defences. There was a modicum of excitement as a loose ball in the City area looked like falling to a Wimbledon player but TC dived in bravely at his feet to gather the ball. After this period, City started to play a bit more football, keeping possession with short passes in midfield. The Dons seemed content to concede the midfield to City, defending deeply just outside their own penalty area. City's first chance of the game came halfway through the first half, when Beagrie's run ended with a shot to the near post, which was saved by Sullivan in the Dons' goal. For all the possession City had in the midfield, they never looked like penetrating a solid Dons defence which had only conceded 1 goal in the last 3 games. Their tactics may result in them conceding very few goals but they won't score many either. The main threat came from long throws by Vinny Jones, usually aimed at the head of Marcus Gayle to flick on into the 6-yard box. One of these eluded TC but thankfully dropped wide of the far post.
All in all a pretty dire first half; those who thought the Norwich and Everton games were poor would have been lost for words about this "performance". The main point of interest was that 3 balls had been lost during the first half, one over each of the two sides and another into the building site at the Holmesdale End! Referee Rodger Gifford had seemed particularly whistle-happy during the match but hadn't bothered booking anybody so the fouls just carried on. It was nothing dirty, just niggly fouls, some of which I hadn't even noticed. Wimbledon's defence looked very solid and I couldn't see us scoring a goal; a nil-nil draw looked to be on the cards and to be honest, I could live with that.
The home side came out with much more ambition for the second half and started to get on top. A good run down the left flank resulted in the ball being pulled back to Jones at the edge of the City area who contrived to miss an open goal. It was only a brief respite, as four minutes later the Dons took the lead. After having 2 corners headed behind by Vonk (who was winning just about everything in the air), the third corner resulted in a goalmouth scramble where several shots were blocked before defender Andy Thorn smacked the ball into the roof of the net from 8 yards for his first goal of the season.
City were clearly getting nothing from midfield, with neither Simpson, Flitcroft nor Gaudino managing to impose themselves at all. On 63 minutes, Summerbee replaced Simpson, giving City two wide players. This did make a slight improvement, the extra width in City's play causing the Dons a few problems although no notable chances came City's way. In a bid to change this, Quinn came on for Gaudino in the 72nd minute; this improved things again and we actually started to carve out a few half-chances. Unfortunately, it was Wimbledon who managed to convert one, Elkins hitting in a glorious shot from the corner of the City area after a Jones long throw.
City pressed to get back into the game, aiming at Quinn from all angles. A Summerbee cross reached him 6 yards out in front of goal but his flicked header was just past the far post. Curle's long balls down the middle were almost invariably intercepted by Jones, who had an excellent game in a filter role just in front of the Dons' back four. City looked most like scoring on the break, when the home defence was stretched. Unfortunately, whenever the ball was played forward, it was held up, giving time for the defence to regain its compact, effective form. City's only other decent opportunity came when Quinn and Rösler were 2 against 2 but Quinn chose to have a go from 25 yards rather than pass. City were booed off at the end of another dismal performance in London, although the crowd had tried their best to get behind them throughout the match.
After the game, Brian Horton declined to attend the press conference for the first time in his 19-month reign at City. There is a board meeting on Thursday at which his future may well be discussed. I overheard a conversation involving City's fan-on-the-board, Dave Wallace, in which he was asked "when are they going to get rid of him then?" He replied that he didn't think anything would be done this season unless we get into a really dire position, although the big test would be the next game, again at Selhurst Park, against Crystal Palace. From that comment, I don't think he knows any more than the rest of us, but his personal view was fairly clear when he followed up with "but the bastard always seems to win the big ones."
Highlight of a dreary evening was watching "The Commitments" again on the coach on the way home!