City miss chance to mortify Bassett

Manchester City 1 Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Online
You can never be sure with Manchester City managers and when Frank Clark took to the field before this match with both hands raised, the worry was he was surrendering. It was a false alarm. He was saying hello, not goodbye... It was just that the temptation to go was stronger later.

The day had been primed to be Clark's. A new man, a new era, never mind we have been down this road four times before. City were welcoming manager number five this season and just to add piquancy the opposing boss was Dave Bassett, who had turned down the job in September. To rub his nose in the Mancunian mud would have been delicious but things did not work out that way.

A doleful match City might have won, ended in two points lost and the club's hopes of taking a step forward from the first division's relegation zone had become a chance missed and a step back. The script had an ominously familiar feel to it. Welcome to the job, Frank.

At least the new man attempting to defy gravity by making the dead weights rise did not make the Alan Ballsian mistake (local vernacular makes that balls up) of putting a rose tint on proceedings. "You don't end up fourth from bottom after 25 games without a lot of problems," he said. "There's a lot of things to work on."

Fitness for a start. Clark wants to play high tempo but his new charges lack the strength and mentally they are as battered as Tony Bullimore's yacht. Ideally these things would be solved in the summer not mid-season, but when were things last ideal for a City boss? In Tony Book's time you might reply, although not in the precincts of Maine Road where the treatment of their former manager is causing seat-squirming embarrassment.

As, indeed, did much of the play on Saturday. City fielded six internationals at various times and had the added adrenalin of trying to impress a new boss but still laboured against a Palace team who, despite their lofty position, are essentially young and learning and, anyway, had several men missing. As Clark pointed out with just a hint of exasperation: "Surely we can pass better than that with the players we had out there."

Indeed Palace scored both the goals and Bassett would have been purring about the quality of his side's heading if David Tuttle had thumped the ball as emphatically past City's Martyn Margetson as he did beyond his own Chris Day after 63 minutes. That was left to George Ndah, who was inexplicably ignored by the home defence as he met Andy Roberts' free- kick seven minutes from time.

City had blown it again and Bassett was viewing the proceedings with a "but for the grace of God" sort of air. His wife had never been to Maine Road before and when she saw the splendid, nearly full, stands she turned to him and asked why on earth he had turned down the job. If he did not tell her, he certainly tried hard for the press.

"I can't put my finger on it but there was something about the job that wasn't right," he said. "My heart told me to accept but my head was saying no. I went to Watford on emotion and that didn't work out, so wherever I go now, everything has to be just right."

Which is something City has not been accused of for a long time and Bassett's reason probably revealed itself as he was leaving. "What has gone on at Manchester City is a disgrace," he said. "Whether that's down to the management or the board of directors I don't know, but a club this size should be in the Premiership."

Should be, might be. The words ought to be inserted into the Maine Road motto.

Goal: Tuttle og (63) 1-0; Ndah (83) 1-1.

Manchester City (3-4-1-2): Margetson; Brightwell, Symons, Ingram (Crooks, 88); Summerbee, Lomas, McGoldrick, Heaney; Kinkladze (Kavelashvili, 78); Rosler, Creaney (Whitley, 72).

Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Day; Tuttle, Roberts, Gordon; Edworthy, Hopkins (McKenzie, 77), Veart, Ndah, Cyrus (Anderson, 69); Dyer, Shipperley. Substitute not used: Mullins.

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).

Bookings: Manchester City McGoldrick; Crystal Palace Edworthy.

Man of the match: Dyer.

Attendance: 27,395