Football: Goater's muscle lifts City

Manchester City 2 Stoke City 1
THE MOON is blue and they are singing of promotion, of a glorious new year down at Maine Road. Manchester City's slide seemed to have gathered an unstoppable momentum through these past months and seasons, but a 30,000 crowd dared to acclaim a change of fortune yesterday.

Their side recovered from familiar lapses, frustrations and a goal deficit to overwhelm Stoke City in the second half and deservedly take the points from a rousing encounter.

Long abused, tormented and even humiliated, Joe Royle's club have lifted themselves in the contest for a return to the First Division, the passion and commitment of those on and off the pitch compensating for obvious flaws in the playing ranks. Royle had the courage to throw on an extra striker, Shaun Goater, after the interval and the extra muscle pummelled Stoke into submission.

Stoke had gone ahead through Larus Sigurdsson, and with Graham Kavanagh and Kevin Keen controlling proceedings in midfield they appeared to have checked their recent tumble from the summit. But Michael Brown was to play a still more significant midfield role, while the sheer weight of the home side's attacks forced down Stoke's barricades.

The irrepressible Paul Dickov equalised early in the second half and six minutes from the end Gareth Taylor headed the winner.

Stoke had responded to City's early vigour with like, making more cunning use of the flanks and providing able support to the front man. The arrival of reinforcements ought to have brought them the lead after eight minutes, when Phil Robinson, unchallenged right of the goal, volleyed meekly at goalkeeper Nicky Weaver.

Three minutes later the ball was in Stoke's net only for a linesman's flag to frustrate Royle's players. Dickov's clever turn and cross created the danger and Taylor led the aerial assault to turn the ball past Carl Muggleton.

Dickov instigated City's next threat, his dummy clearing the way for Brown to dart towards the goal-line. His pull-back was cleared by Robinson, atoning for his miss.

That scare shook Stoke out of a period of lethargy and the probing of Kavanagh and Keen set up their goal after 31 minutes. Kavanagh was twice involved in the build-up and Keen delivered the chip for Sigurdsson to head beyond Weaver's right hand.

City found an unlikely source of desperately needed inspiration in Richard Edghill, who defied the derision of the gallery to play a splendid pass into the path of Dickov. The striker was uncharacteristically hesitant and his route to goal was blocked by Robinson.

Royle endeavoured to sharpen his side for the second half, introducing Goater in place of the ineffectual Ian Bishop. The gamble yielded an instant dividend. The physical presence of Goater and Taylor made the most of indecision in Stoke's defence and enabled Dickov to dispatch a simple 48th-minute equaliser with Muggleton stranded.

City were reborn, the faith of their followers restored. Maine Road reverberated to the frenzy and Stoke somehow resisted to launch a few salvos of their own. It produced an engrossing passage of play, worthy of the billing and full house.

Goater's next raid met with a more formidable obstacle and Brown's long- range shot fizzed wide of Stoke's left post.

Taylor was more accurate with his angled header to Dickov, but the little man's shot was half smothered. Dickov snatched at another, but redeemed himself after 84 minutes, swinging over the cross which invited Taylor to win the match. The striker duly obliged, judging his leap perfectly for his header to beat Muggleton.

Goals: Sigurdsson (31) 0-1; Dickov (48) 1-1; Taylor (84) 2-1.

Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Crooks, Wiekens, Vaughan; Edghill, Pollock, Bishop (Goater, h-t), Brown, Horlock; Dickov, Taylor. Substitutes not used: Russell, Tiatto.

Stoke City (3-5-2): Muggleton; Sigurdsson, Robinson, Woods; Petty, Oldfield, Kavanagh, Keen, Small; Thorne, Lightbourne (Sturridge, 67). Substitutes not used: Crowe, Heath.

Referee: A Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield).

Bookings: Manchester City Dickov, Crooks; Stoke Small, Keen, Petty, Robinson.

Man of the match: Brown.

Attendance: 30,478.