Bolton Wanderers 0
HOWEVER long Alan Ball survives as Manchester City's manager, he will at least have seen a victory celebration. In the 12th match of the Premiership season, with two points in the previous 11, City broke their duck. At the close Ball, a boyhood Bolton fan, courteously shook the hand of his opposite number, though he probably felt more like dancing a jig before embracing Nicky Summerbee, who scored the decisive 12th-minute goal. It was City's first Premiership goal since 16 September.
Niall Quinn launched the move in his own half, took the ball around David Lee near the left touchline and released Georgi Kinkladze with an astute pass through the middle. Kinkladze spotted Summerbee to his right and the winger kept his nerve, to beat Keith Branagan's dive from the edge of the penalty area.
"If the goal does not win Goal of the Month, Yeboah will have to come up with something special," Ball said. "I'm delighted for the fans but for Nicky, too."
Though pleased for his own sake, too, Ball confessed that the shift in the balance in the second half had made him fret. City failed to make the most of several chances, Garry Flitcroft missing twice from good positions, although it took an alert Branagan to tip over a dipper from 35 yards from Kinkladze.
Bolton, having wasted their one chance during the opening, reorganised effectively just before half-time, switching from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1. The change offered more flexibility, with more men behind the ball, and City, so sure in the first half, were reduced to foraging on the break.
Even so, Ball pointed out that Bolton "had possession but posed little threat". Indeed, only once did they look like avoiding their sixth away defeat - Lee shooting too close to Eike Immel after Sasa Curcic, replacing Jason McAteer in midfield, had created an inviting opening.
"We felt we might have retrieved something in the second half," remarked Colin Todd, Bolton's assistant manager, "but we lost in the first half, and were fortunate to concede only one goal. We lacked the passion which should have been there."
Even in the second half Bolton owed much to Branagan, the goalkeeper adding to his first-half save with a point-blank block against Quinn and a finger-tip thwarting of Steve Lomas. Even so, the main pressure was at the other end, and rarely, for Ball, can a final whistle have shrilled so sweetly.