Football: Hero Horlock balances City's books

Sheffield United 1 Deane 21 Manchester City 1 Horlock 90 Atte ndance: 23,780
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ACCORDING to the team-sheet at Bramall Lane yesterday, Sheffield United were playing Tranmere Rovers. Until the penultimate kick of the game, the 5,000 Maine Road die-hards in attendance must have been wishing they were. The third men of Merseyside football, one of the 21 teams above Manchester City in the Nationwide League First Division table, might have made a better job of launching the rescue mission required to save the poor relations of Manchester from the beckoning ignominy of third-class football status. They played like third-raters for 20 minutes but ultimately salvaged a point of consolation, Kevin Horlock equalising Brian Deane's first-half goal with sufficient time remaining just for one more touch from the fleeting re-start.

"A turning point?" it was suggested to Frank Clark. "Just a point," the City manager replied. "We've got to string a run of good results together." City, indeed, remain at the lowest ebb in their 110 years of triumph and turmoil - in a relegation place, third from the foot of the table. Clark, who was guiding Nottingham Forest to the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup two years ago, clearly has much managerial surgery to perform to avert the real threat of a league derby with Macclesfield Town at Maine Road next season.

The vote of confidence the City manager was obliged to solicit on behalf of his backroom team last Monday can hardly have made yesterday's cross- Pennine trip much of a joyride for the troubled party from Moss Side. At least, at the end of it, Clark could call upon what, in effect, amounted to a new strike-force. But for 20 minutes the rest of the boys in laser blue were unable to get the ball to Craig Russell, signed from Sunderland in exchange for Nicky Summerbee, and Gerry Creaney, recalled after eight goals in nine games on loan to Burnley.

The spectating duo could only look back, more in frustration than anger, at the mess unfolding behind them. City were shambolic, bereft of shape or cohesion. Had the Blades been at their sharpest, they would have been cut to shreds. As it was, Nigel Spackman's promotion contenders flashed wide a succession of clear chances before Deane supplied a cutting edge. With two defenders prostrate in front of him, the Taylor-made England international buried the second chance that came his way, driving a right- foot shot low and hard into the left corner of the net.

It was City's good fortune that the hosts then sat back, allowing Georgi Kinkladze to get them into the game. Twice in two minutes, as half-time approached, the Georgian was granted sufficient space to pierce the home guard, finding openings that Horlock and Russell failed to exploit. It was only a fortnight ago that Kinkladze had 36 stitches inserted in the back wound he suffered while wrecking his Ferrari. A possible Schumacher in the making, he was shifted to a front-seat role for the second half yesterday.

Clark withdrew Creaney and placed his danger man closer to the point of potential vulnerability. City duly probed with greater collective purpose but the game would have been beyond their grasp had the diving Martyn Margetson not clutched a goal-bound Deane drive on the hour mark. Only 15 seconds remained when City finally broke through. Kinkladze wove past two men on the right and cut the ball back for Horlock to deliver the point-saving shot.