Football: Horton opts for safety first

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The Independent Online
Oldham Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Manchester City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 16,464

AFTER the wrongs of winter come the relegation rites of spring. And when two teams so often linked through trading players collide in seeking to avoid trading places near the bottom of the Premiership, the result can be messy and attritional.

So it proved at Boundary Park yesterday. Space was at a premium, making the pitch look small; control was nervous, accentuating its bare and bumpy surface. 'It was one of those English games when the ball was screaming,' the Oldham manager Joe Royle admitted.

The result that counted however, was the avoidance of defeat. With much energy yet to be expended and many hamstrings yet to be stretched over the next six weeks - and Oldham's survival by taking nine points in the last week of last season shows what is possible - both managers were relieved not to have been beaten at this stage.

Manchester City's Brian Horton should be the more pleased, despite his side failing to score for the sixth time in eight matches, only one of which has been won. After some initial apprehension, they at least showed a stomach for the struggle hard to discern in recent weeks.

Peter Beagrie added some promising touches after his pounds 1.1m move from Everton, Keith Curle shored up the defence after six games absent through injury, and Ian Brightwell's presence after 14 months allowed the industrious David Rocastle to move inside and support Steve McMahon.

Lack of spirit has never been Oldham's problem and indeed they already appear battle-hardened, though the glamorous distraction of an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on 10 April is a new factor. Oldham Arthritic, as City supporters call them, they were not.

Sadly yesterday, and unusually given a recent run of only one defeat in seven matches, they had little more to offer than frantic commitment, and a few long-range shots on target by Mike Milligan, Rick Holden and Nicky Henry were the sum of their attacking efforts.

The only results of their pressure were bookings for Curle and Tony Coton, who was fortunate not to suffer a more severe fate after laying a hand on a linesman, having been deemed to have failed to avert a corner. Steve Redmond's booking for a foul on Paul Walsh means he will miss the semi- final.

Gradually City asserted themselves and McMahon provided the odd telling pass - notably in feeding Beagrie for a shot which was just wide - and the typically lively and typically unproductive Walsh for two others, one woefully wide, one clutched by Jon Hallworth. Beagrie was also not far off target with a long-range, last- minute free-kick.

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