Football: Horton relieved as war turns to peace: City manager looks forward to his fans' 'cup final' against Manchester rivals today. Guy Hodgson reports

FOR Brian Horton the situation is strange. No one is suggesting he will lose his job if Manchester City are beaten today and relegation, which has stared him in the face unrelentingly since he arrived at Maine Road, has moved on to fix its glare on someone else. It should be a tranquil time.

Or at least it would be if City were playing almost any other team today. A derby against neighbours United is never designed to get the blood pressure falling, even for a manager who has been enjoying his first moments' peace since he left the relative calm of Oxford United.

Local pride, a tint of jealousy and decades of derision from the red side of Manchester is an ever-present and potent cocktail for City supporters but this derby offers an extra ingredient. Not only would a win all but banish any fears of dropping from the Premiership but it would land a vicious blow to United's hopes of retaining the championship. The prospect is almost too exquisite.

'As far as City supporters are concerned it's our cup final,' Horton said. 'If we can beat United it will make their season, particularly after the problems we've had.'

The problems Horton has had would have turned some people's hair white. Arriving as 'Brian Who?' four matches into the season he has had to overcome an injury list that extended to 12 first-team squad players at one stage, a takeover of the club by Francis Lee, and more reports of his impending redundancy than anyone in the mining industry. Reports of his death have not just been exaggerated, they have gone on and on like an Ariston advert.

Through it all, he has mainatined the same line: 'I'll be judged on results. The fate of my job is in my own hands.' The results - unbeaten in seven games - have been favourable and so has the judgement. An announcement is impending about his future and no one expects it to lie elsewhere.

'I've never worried, even as a player,' Horton said of the months of uncertainty and rumour. 'I've always been single-minded and strong enough. I've always been a confident person when it comes to my own ability. Anyway, if you started to think about everything people said you'd never sleep. You'd be a nervous wreck.

'With me it's a switch-on, switch- off situation. In the week I'm calm but for 90 minutes, yes, I do go a bit berserk. But at 5pm I change again and people think I'm quiet and shy, which is totally untrue for anyone who knows me. That's one thing the press have got completely wrong. They say I'm quiet but I'm not.'

There have been quite a few misconceptions since Horton arrived at Maine Road. City supporters had hoped for a high-profile manager like Joe Royle or Steve Coppell and when a relative unknown arrived from the Manor Ground there was widespread bemusement. On Horton's CV, however, was the promotion of Hull to the Second Division and the maintenance of Oxford's First Division status despite the upheaval brought about by the fall of the Maxwell empire.

'I saw some of the headlines and heard what people were saying on the television and radio,' he said soon after his appointment, 'and at first I thought it was hilarious. But then I looked back at what I'd achieved and thought the reaction was pathetic.'

To cap that his close friend, John Maddock, soon stepped down as chief executive and then the man who had employed him originally, Peter Swales, was bought out by a consortium led by Lee. He appeared to be without allies and worse, given the injury and boardroom situations, a manager without luck.

Lee has stuck by the previous incumbent's man, however, and backed his judgement to the tune of nearly pounds 2m by allowing the purchase of Peter Beagrie and Paul Walsh and the loan signings of Uwe Rosler and Steffen Karl. Their impact has been profound and City have cast off the ragged appearance of a club heading for the drop and replaced it with optimism for next season.

'We're playing some attractive stuff,' Horton said. 'Which is a bit of a surprise because it's not very often you bring four or five players in and they gell straight away. We've beaten Newcastle and had the better of a game against Norwich over the last couple of weeks and they're two teams who can play a bit. We outplayed them. We're looking a very good side.'

He concedes he will also be playing a good side today, and one who inflicted damage on the City psyche last November. United had reeled back from Turkey after being knocked out of the European Cup by Galatasaray and their confidence was set back further when City took a 2-0 lead into half-time at Maine Road. Forty-five minutes later and the Eric Cantona-inspired visitors had won 3-2.

'Frustrating is not the right word,' Horton said. 'I don't think there's a word strong enough to describe how we felt that evening. I know it took the players a long while to get over it; for myself, Tony Book and the other staff it took longer.'

He does not subscribe to the suggestion that City live and breathe in green when it comes to their more glamorous neighbours. 'Not envy. No, I've never felt that from anyone in the club. Obviously they are doing something right and they represent a standard for us to aim at. But our squad, when everyone is fit, is comparable with United's. There's no need to be envious.'

Indeed, Old Trafford probably covets a whiff of the optimistic air sweeping Maine Road. 'People say it's always been a happy club here,' he said. 'Gordon Smith, who I played with, and Paul Simpson, who I bought, both rang when I got the job here and told me I won't find a friendlier club anywhere. That's how it's proved.'

They will be happier still this evening if they have inflicted a defeat on the old enemy.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'