Football: Cooke serves up Royle treat

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The Independent Online
Gillingham 0

Manchester City 2

Cooke 31, Horlock 64

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 10,400

IT MUST be something in the water. Another wonder-goal from a product of the Old Trafford youth scheme settled an important match, this time yesterday's Second Division promotion tussle at Priestfield. Terry Cooke celebrated his pounds 600,000 transfer this week from Manchester United, after a spell on loan at Maine Road, with a fine strike, the first-ever goal in league matches between the two teams.

It completed a notable week for Cooke, as his girlfriend gave birth to a boy on Friday. Manchester City's manager, Joe Royle, claimed afterwards that Cooke Snr had made the right decision and, in light of yesterday's result, it was hard to disagree. "He's come to the club, not the division," Royle stressed. "We all hope we'll be out of the division next season."

City's prospects do indeed look bright after this significant victory, which keeps the club in third place. As Royle said: "It just puts the pressure on Walsall: they have to keep winning."

Kevin Horlock's goal secured the victory, but it was Gillingham, with promotion ambitions of their own, who should have opened the scoring in the first 10 minutes. A corner from the debutant Kenny Brown was met with a strong header from an unmarked Robert Taylor, whose effort was turned over by the goalkeeper Nick Weaver. It was a clear chance from which a downward header would have given the home side the lead.

Carl Asaba squandered Gillingham's next opportunity after a mix-up in the visitors' defence between Weaver and his disoriented defenders, but the Kent club's leading scorer saw his lobbed shot towards an open goal bounce wide.

Asaba was again put through by Andy Hessenthaler but he was unlucky on two counts: his shot touched the top of the bar and he was ruled offside. Paul Smith squandered their next chance. After nudging Gerard Wiekens off the ball in the area, the defender's near-post shot was again saved well by Weaver.

City opened the first half passively. If they were attempting to contain opponents positioned below them in the table, it was a dangerous game to play. Asaba was put through once again when the ball rebounded to him but a poor final ball to Paul Smith allowed Weaver to collect.

Such profligacy was punished by Cooke on the half-hour mark. The ball was only half cleared by a Gillingham head and his sweetly struck right- footed volley from the edge of the area whizzed past a bemused Vince Bartram in the Gillingham goal.

Gillingham responded by opening the second half brightly. Mark Patterson was put through by Asaba but, pushed wide, he was unable to pull the ball back for a meaningful shot on target.

Then came City's second goal in the 64th minute. Following a foul by Guy Butters on Paul Dickov, Horlock struck a fine left-footed free-kick around the Gillingham wall, one which, in retrospect, they might have assembled a yard in the direction of Bartram's far post.

Still Gillingham refused to surrender to their illustrious visitors and Mark Saunders had a clear late chance to score but his close-range volley was well saved by Weaver. It was one of a number of fine saves by the Manchester City keeper and took Weaver's total of clean sheets for the season to 21, equalling the record of Alex Williams, now the club's football in the community officer.