Beleaguered Ball will stick with his principles

Guy Hodgson looks ahead to the weekend's Premiership action
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The Independent Online
It would have seemed impossible 18 months ago when Peter Swales bowed to supporter power and surrendered control of Manchester City but currently the previous regime is taking on the guise of a halcyon period.

One win from six matches and "Forward with Franny", the slogan that accompanied Francis Lee's emergence as the new chairman, is being regarded with the same jaundiced eye as general election promises. No one is likely to be shouting "Swales In" if City lose at home to Middlebrough today but there could be a serious outbreak of discontent.

City have been booed off the field in their last two matches which is not exactly encouraging for the new manager, Alan Ball, who is hoping to avoid a physical approach. He prefers his team to play their way off the bottom of the Premiership. "I want to do it my way, playing football," Ball said, "and eventually I'm certain we'll win through that way. But if we're still struggling in a month's time I'll have to consider changing tactics and do what Joe Royle did at Everton."

Ball is toying with the idea of playing three strikers today, to remove Boro's numerical advantage at centre-back when they employ a sweeper, and one of them might be Georgiou Kinkladze. The Georgian is obviously skilful but in a struggling team he can become part of the periphery instead of the core.

"He's got bags of talent but bedding him in is all part of the reasons why we haven't done so well," Ball said. "We need to find out the best way of using Georgiou and how to build things round him. One of the ways might be to push him forward just behind the front two."

While Ball is chained to the bottom of the table, City's neighbours, United, have exceeded expectations by becoming joint leaders. Alex Ferguson had hoped to be in touch with the top when Eric Cantona returned from his suspension and, with eight days to go until the Frenchman is eligible again, they will have achieved that even if they lose at Sheffield Wednesday.

There has been just one real hiccup so far, the 3-0 midweek defeat at Old Trafford by York, but Ferguson anticipates that will have a beneficial effect. "It'll keep the youngsters' feet on the ground," he said. "I haven't talked about the York match since, I said my piece on the night. There are too many tomorrows to think about the yesterdays."

Blackburn would love that luxury only their poor start has had people looking with nostalgia to their championship season. Only Alan Shearer has been functioning the way he was 12 months ago and if he scores his seventh goal of the season against Coventry today it will be his 100th for the club in 133 matches. "A lot of my success is down to the other players," he said. "They supply the ammunition and I get the praise. Without the rest I would be nothing."

Liverpool will give some indication of their long-term selection policy for the home game with Bolton. Roy Evans has to perm two strikers from Stan Collymore, Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler while he also has to choose between John Barnes and pounds 4.5m Jason McAteer in midfield.

Manchester City would love that problem.