Football: City refuse to employ crisis tactics

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The Independent Online
An encouraging feature of the Premiership presently is that none of the threatened clubs favour an ugly method. From the bottom upwards they are all trying to pass their way out of trouble. "It wouldn't make any sense to give up on things we have been urging all season," Alan Ball, the Manchester City manager, said after a 4-2 defeat at West Ham increased the threat of relegation.

Ball was standing in a corridor at Upton Park, reflecting on lapses in concentration that resulted in West Ham scoring twice from corner kicks. "The players involved have no explanation for why they were caught out of position," he said ruefully. "That's the hard part. You go over things time and time again and just when you think they have become second nature, someone forgets and the job becomes even more difficult."

Not enough, however, to persuade Ball that there is now a case for abandoning principles that were central to his upbringing. "No, I won't be changing the way we play," he said. Crisis brings the temptation of directness over quality, but Ball fends it off bluntly. "Give up on a passing game when you have a player of Kinkladze's class in the team? I couldn't begin to think about it," he said.

As the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, put it, Georgi Kinkladze alone is worth the price of admission, the Georgian's touch, vision, imagination and the weight of his passes an example to every aspiring footballer. "I could watch him all day," Redknapp said. "He reminds me of that kid we all came across in the playground at school. Wants the ball, wants to do something with it. Alive and always thinking."

Safe now, West Ham comfortable in mid-table, Redknapp draws encouragement from attitudes in the Premiership's nether region. "In the past couple of seasons, there has been a big change in approach," he said. "I think we've seen the last of that long-ball rubbish that became fashionable. We've still got a way to go, but some of the best-worked goals I've seen recently have been scored by teams in serious trouble. Bolton scored a beauty the other night on television, as good as you are likely to see from any of the top teams. If they get out of trouble, and it's not out of the question, it will be through trying to play the game properly."

For City, it is still very much a grind, every match difficult; Bolton next, then a Manchester derby at Maine Road. "There is still a lot of football left to play," Ball said, "and we are good enough to be in a much better position." Before the match he was confident but then Uwe Rosler missed chances, emphasising that City's failings in front of goal - only 26 scored - remains Ball's most urgent problem.

Neat and persistent in midfield, Kinkladze creative, Steve Lomas thrusting forward in possession, City more or less ran the game until Iain Dowie punished hesitant defending at a corner.

With goals so hard to come by, City could not afford Keith Curle's missed penalty following a foul on Kinkladze shortly before half-time, nor the woeful marking that enabled Dowie to put West Ham further ahead from another badly defended corner.

There were 10 foreign players in the two squads, until City reduced their complement of Germans, introducing Niall Quinn and Scott Hiley for Rosler and Michael Frontzeck.

A change came over the proceedings almost immediately. Quinn's ariel threat troubled even Slaven Bilic, who is proving to be one of the most effective imports this season, and he scored after Ludek Miklosko fumbled a centre.

It looked then as if City would get a point, but Julian Dicks spoilt their plans, scoring spectacularly from 25 yards to complete an outstanding personal performance. In psychotic mode, Dicks has got himself into all sorts of trouble. That Redknapp made him captain in the absence of Steve Potts who was left out for the first time this season indicates a vast improvement in behaviour.

A neat goal by West Ham's substitute, Dani, before Quinn scored thrillingly on the stroke of time put a glum look on Ball's still cherubic features. At 51, he has been a long time in the game, known its ups and downs, a World Cup winner, an abundance of England caps, but yet to make a real impact in management.

Professionally, we go back a long way, 30 years and more. "Keep at it," I said. "I will," he replied.

Goals: Dowie (21) 1-0; Dowie (54) 2-0; Quinn (75) 2-1; Dicks (83) 3-1; Dani (84) 4-1; Quinn (90) 4-2.

West Ham (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Bilic, Rieper, Dicks; Rowland, Hughes, Williamson, Bishop; Dumitrescu (Dani, 69), Dowie. Substitutes not used: Potts, Sealey (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-1-1): Immel; Summerbee, (Mazzarelli, 72), Curle, Symons, Frontzeck (Hiley, 57); Lomas, Kinkladze, Brown, Brightwell; Clough; Rosler (Quinn, 57).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Bookings: West Ham Rieper, Williamson.

Sending off: Manchester City Lomas.

Man of the match: Dicks.

Attendance: 24,017.