Ball puts faith in Kinkladze magic

Football: Manchester City 1 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online

Manchester City 1 Aston Villa 0

Candid interviews are becoming all the rage. After weeks spent parrying questions about his marriage - to Manchester City, that is - amid stories of a dressing-room in revolt and doubts raised about his ability to do the job, Alan Ball had clearly been waiting for the moment to be frank.

And, thrilled though he was with the best performance of his 15 games in charge, this was it. "People don't quite understand me," he said, and you knew something was coming. Suddenly, the post-match press conference was Ball's Panorama.

"I have had a tough two or three months," he said. "When I came here, the players did not like what I wanted. They did not like this new manager coming in, the way he wanted to change things around. 'What's going on?' they were asking. 'What right has he got to come and spoil the nice little life I've got here?'

"Invariably, things get worse before they can get better, before you can get over exactly what you want. And it takes a lot of self-belief, a lot of guts, a lot of standing by your principles and not panicking and not going under.

"But I stuck by what I believed in and the players knew that. And I think I've got over to them now exactly what I want and they are now producing football such as you've seen today, to match a team near the top of the League in every department."

And the symbol of this "coming together of people", as Ball put it, is the 22-year-old Georgian midfield player, Georgi Kinkladze, for whom the club's chairman, Francis Lee, paid Dynamo Tblisi pounds 2m in the summer. Dribbling, passing or shooting, he was the best player on view, his performance finished with a clever and decisive goal, his first in England, after he ran on to Niall Quinn's back-heeled return pass with six minutes left. Just as well, too, after Keith Curle's first-half penalty miss had threatened to prove costly.

"He was bewildered to start with," Ball said. "He spoke very little English and it was foreign to him to tackle and scrap and fight like you do in England. But the boy's got an immense talent... We knew that if you got him the ball in the right areas he would blossom. I think I've got that across and what you've seen is the one, two-touch football that I believe in, orchestrated by the little fellow."

Whether Ball is wise to congratulate himself so soon is another matter - on paper all he has achieved so far is to lift City to fourth from bottom, just the position Villa were in when, a year ago, they sacked Ron Atkinson. But City did look good and the transformation in their fortunes - 10 points from four matches after just two from the first 11 - is startling.

Villa had their moments, indeed, Kit Symons cleared off his line from Tommy Johnson in the opening minute, but Brian Little, celebrating his 42nd birthday, could not complain that his anniversary was spoiled and did not.

Goal: Kinkladze (84) 1-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Immel; I Brightwell, Symons, Curle, Edghill; Summerbee, Kinkladze, Flitcroft, Lomas; Rosler, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Creaney, Coton (gk), Kernaghan.

Aston Villa (5-2-3): Bosnich; Charles, Ehiogu, McGrath, Southgate, Wright; Taylor (Staunton, 67), Draper; Johnson, Milosevic (Scimeca, 79), Yorke. Substitute not used: Spink (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).