Football: Goater steals in to set the City banners flying

Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 0 Man City win 2-1 on agg
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The Independent Online
THEY ALLOWED flags at Maine Road for the first time in four years last night and for once they were waving not drowning. Manchester City, who have hardly known anything but a sinking feeling for the last decade, are one match away from being promoted to the First Division. In front of a 31,305 crowd, who by numbers alone surely deserve a higher rung of football, Shaun Goater got his 21st goal of the season to take City to the Second Division play-off final at Wembley in 10 days time.

The ground rang out to Blue Moon, and while that was in the ascendant Wigan left knowing their new ground will not be welcomed with First Division football next season. They worked ferociously, but until Graeme Jones hit the crossbar with seven minutes remaining they did not force a save out of Nick Weaver.

City's capacity for whipping out both barrels to shoot themselves in the foot was amply demonstrated on Saturday when Weaver and Gerard Wiekens added to a long line of clangers by leaving the ball to each other to allow Stuart Barlow to score after 19 seconds. In the circumstances a 1-1 draw was satisfactory.

That result meant City had the cushion of knowing a 0-0 scoreline last night would ultimately take them through, although they showed no inclination to be defensive. Paul Dickov, the scorer of the equaliser in the first leg, dived full length to test Roy Carroll after five minutes and Michael Brown fired just wide.

Wigan had what looked like a legitimate claim for a penalty rejected when Wiekens upended Kevin Sharp, but the flow was Sky Blue and it was not a surprise when City took the lead after 26 minutes.

Brown, a non-stop force in midfield, fired over a cross from the right that eluded the Wigan rearguard but bounced uncomfortably for Goater. The City striker had few options but made the most he had, chesting the ball to the far post where Carroll's despairing dive merely took it into the net.

Wigan, who had attacked only sporadically until this point, came out of their shells and the match was more even. Goater had to clear his lines with a spectacular kick after 39 minutes and two minutes later Barlow squirted a shot wide after David Lowe had headed on.

The City manager, Joe Royle, had also noted Wigan's improvement because the home team started the second half as if words had been exchanged concerning the need for a quick kill. It almost arrived within a minute when Dickov's header gave Goater the glimmer of a chance. He could not turn and shoot quickly enough, however, and Colin Greenall cleared.

If that was heart-stopping, there was an even closer shave after 53 minutes when Kevin Horlock threaded a delightful pass through the Wigan defence. Dickov had left his marker but also lost track of the pace of the ball, and as he turned to shoot with only Carroll to beat it slid away from him.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Crooks, Wiekens, Vaughan, Edghill; Cooke (Pollock, 75), Brown, Jeff Whitley, Horlock; Goater (Taylor, 72), Dickov. Substitute not used: Allsopp.

Wigan Athletic (3-5-2): Carroll; McGibbon, Greenall, Balmer; Green (Kilford, 65), Liddell, Bradshaw, Porter (Lee, 74), Sharp; Lowe (Jones, 53), Barlow.

Referee: T Heilbron (Newton Aycliffe).