Ball craves goals as City slide

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The Independent Online
Since collecting his manager of the month award in November, Alan Ball has seen the rich vein of form that saw his Manchester City side record four wins and a draw dissipate as the year itself ebbs away.

City may now be playing the sort of stylish, attack-minded football that seemed beyond them at the start of the campaign, when they reached the end of October with only two points. However, City's progress has faltered alarmingly since Ball's accolade. Tuesday's 2-0 defeat at Blackburn leaves only Bolton and Coventry below them in the Premiership.

Again at Ewood Park, their excellent approach play was not converted into goals and, to enhance their seasonal misery, their defeat was confirmed by David Batty's first goal in 35 months.

A strike-rate of 10 goals from 20 games - the worst by far in the country - is beginning to sap the players' confidence. "Tuesday just summed up what's been happening," Ball said. "We had chances but didn't hit the back of the net, and we haven't all season.

"We missed three sitters at the start against Chelsea, but it seems that I'm talking about chances, chances, chances every game now. We are missing them in the six-yard box, snatching at them, hitting the post and if you're not scoring the players have nothing to fight for, to hold on for."

While Uwe Rosler is City's top scorer with just three goals in the Premiership, Alan Shearer's opener on Boxing Day was his 16th in 10 home League matches this season, and 24th in all.

"He's got double the total for my team, but I believe it is just a fraction away for us," Ball added. "We haven't scored from a free-kick or a corner all season. I really believe it must change for us, but people will start to doubt it the longer it carries on.

"There comes a stage when people don't care how you win, how you get something. That win it anyway approach is against all my principles."

City are back in the mire, but Blackburn's performance again highlighted their poor away form. They have dropped just five points from 10 games at Ewood Park, but have collected only three on their travels, although Ray Harford, the manager, says in mitigation that their only defeat in seven games was the 5-0 mauling at Coventry.

On Saturday, Tottenham's visit will vigorously test the fortress Ewood ethos: Spurs boast the Premiership's only unbeaten away record.

Tim Sherwood, praised by Harford, is ruled out by suspension and the manager described Chris Sutton as "touch and go for Saturday, more likely for Monday," when they travel to Leeds.

Harford saw Batty break his scoring drought and joked the midfielder would receive the match ball as his reward. Batty's fulminating 25-yard strike five minutes after the break secured the points after Shearer had put Rovers ahead with his 99th goal in the Premiership. It ensured that Manchester City would go into the final weekend of 1995 in the bottom three.

If only City could acquire such a formidable goal scorer, it would be far greatly received by Ball than all the baubles bestowed on his managerial prowess.