Football: Blue Moon on the rise again

Royle's men the Maine attraction despite their new life among the down-trodden of the Second Division
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Manchester City 3 Goater 26, Bradbury 62, Tskhadadze 79 Blackpool 0

Attendance: 32,134LAST season they were defiantly bellowing the anthem "Blue Moon" as their heroes sank into the Second Division. Yesterday the song rang vibrantly round a packed Maine Road from a sell-out crowd of more than 32,000 as an accompaniment to a blessed, and ultimately well-merited, victory. This might be the Second Division but what the hell, three goals is the occasion for a knees-up at this club.

Supporting City is beyond dispute one of life's bleaker sporting pursuits, but there was no shortage of takers on yesterday's evidence. The shifty touts were patrolling Maine Road's environs before the match muttering "Who's got tickets to spare?"

Not many, apparently.

The occasion was a sell-out and inside the stadium the blue-shirted punters were happily piling into pints and pies, clearly oblivious to their chairman's warning, issued yesterday, that more people were on their way out of the club and nobody was coming in.

"At least another 10 players will have to go to reduce our squad to below 30," announced David Bernstein as a less than fulsome welcome to the new season. "We had 54 in the first-team squad in March and now that is down to 39."

But no player would leave City, Bernstein insisted, if the manager, Joe Royle, wanted him to stay. "There will definitely be no significant signings at the moment," the chairman added. "Joe signed four players towards the end of last season and that has given him the additional ammunition he needs."

The home fans had all the ammunition they needed for a great afternoon's kick-off: warm, sunny weather, a full house and the festival atmosphere of a side which had ended last season by collecting a championship rather than being hit with relegation. City were welcomed, for heaven's sake, with a standing ovation. No wonder Bernstein paid tribute yesterday to the club's "magnificent supporters".

City's captain Jamie Pollock, "a new, slimmer version" according to the programme after shedding a stone over the summer, was always prodding his men forward from midfield and never hesitated to have a dip himself whenever the opportunity arose. With a quarter of an hour gone he muscled his way through after a partly cleared corner to hit a left-footer straight at Steven Banks.

In their all-tangerine outfits Blackpool looked fetching but rarely rose above the purposeful, though that proved sufficient for a long time against a City side which persisted in weaving unproductive patterns despite the admirable industry of the diminutive Paul Dickov up front.

When the first goal came, in the 26th minute, Dickov was inevitably its source. Blackpool pulled up, thinking a free-kick had been awarded near their by line, but Dickov's insistence in playing on was encouraged by the referee. The ball was slipped low to Shaun Goater, whose close-range effort was clawed back by Banks, but the linesman indicated the ball had crossed the line.

Goater might have had two more but first he was beaten to Gary Mason's excellent cross and then, when Banks dropped a looping ball, the City man could not force it home.

Blackpool's best, and virtually only, chance fell to Phil Clarkson, who held his head in dismay after hitting the top of the bar from six yards.

Another standing ovation greeted City's half-time exit but reality, if any of the fans chose to take notice, intruded with the announcement of the first half-time score of relevance in their new division: Bournemouth 2 Lincoln 0.

Blackpool, who cannot have played in front of such a crowd since the days of Matthews and Mortensen, were forced on to the defensive for most of the second half as Dickov, running wide to both wings, produced the openings to prise apart their defence.

City made the match secure just past the hour with a superb second goal. Mason began it with a fine ball out of defence which sent Dickov away inside his own half. He sprinted as far as the edge of Blackpool's penalty area before releasing the ball to his right for Lee Bradbury to drive it left-footed just inside Banks's right-hand post.

It was Dickov who produced the cross for City's third, 11 minutes from the end. The ball bounced around in a tangle of tangerine and blue shirts until it was seized and driven home emphatically by the Georgian Kakhaber Tskhadadze, whose strike was far simpler than his name. This new division is easy stuff. Now bring on Wrexham.

Even Royle seems a bit bewildered by the new setting. "It seems rather strange asking how teams like Walsall have gone on," he said. "But this is a hard division, I know that. We can play better and we will, but 3- 0 for starters will do."