Football: All smiles now in the life of Brian

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The Independent Online
Manchester City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

THE chant was tentative at first, as if the people starting it were not sure if they were doing the right thing. Then it gained in volume as the swelling number of voices gave it confidence. 'One Brian Horton . . .'

There have been times this season when the Kippax would have been more likely to have broken into spontaneous applause for Mark Hughes so, for Horton, this was a bolt from the blue hordes. He had an unaccustomed-as-I-am air about him as he gave the thumbs up in response and then revealed a slightly embarrassed grin to his colleagues on the bench. Acceptance is a wonderful thing.

'Everyone is smiling,' said Horton, whose own face threatened to challenge a Cheshire cat at the final whistle. 'You get a sense that the players believe in themselves again. If we get everyone fit we are as good as anyone in the Premiership.'

Horton then went into rhapsodies about nearly every department of his team but even if you felt the need to say 'steady on, Brian' you could understand his enthusiasm. It is not every day, after all, that you escape from football's death row.

Horton has been living with a sentence hanging over his head ever since Francis Lee took over at Maine Road two months ago. 'He will be judged on his results,' the new chairman said on his arrival, and after one defeat in 10 matches and three successive victories that have pushed City away from relegation and towards mid-table, the verdict will be favourable.

It was not so much that City won on Saturday, it was the verve and resilience they displayed as they did it. Going a goal down to a team of Newcastle's capabilities would have been the prelude to raising a white flag rather than a Blue Moon not so long ago but this time they turned back the black and white tide and, by the end, dominated proceedings.

Scott Sellars had put the visitors ahead after 18 minutes, scoring at the back post from Mike Jeffrey's cross and they could have been 3-1 up at the interval.

Even through this period City had their moments and, as Uwe Rosler, Steffen Karl, Peter Beagrie and Paul Walsh began to get on first name terms with each other, their football gained an identity too. A refreshing one as well, a distant relative to the obdurate backs-to-the- wall stuff.

Walsh squared the match with a header from Beagrie's cross after 33 minutes and David Brightwell's thumping shot from the left-hand edge of the area won it.

'I think they wanted it more than us,' Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said. 'Which is not meant as a criticism of my team because I was pleased with their commitment, it's meant as a compliment to City. They were fighting for their Premiership lives, and it showed.'

Are Newcastle stuttering? 'After one defeat in nine matches that have also included six wins, I hope we stutter again next season,' he replied. 'That sort of stutter wins championships.'

Goals: Sellars (18 min) 0-1; Walsh (33) 1-1; D Brightwell (49) 2-1.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Dibble; Hill, Vonk, Curle, D Brightwell; Karl (Lomas, 81), McMahon, Rocastle, Beagrie; Rosler, Walsh. Substitutes not used: Phelan, Margetson (gk).

Newcastle United (4-5-1): Srnicek; Robinson, Venison, Peacock, Neilson; Fox, Jeffrey (Mathie, 82), Beardsley, Lee, Sellars; Cole. Substitutes not used: Reid, Hooper (gk).

Referee: J Borrett (Great Yarmouth).