Football: Kinkladze earns Clark's approval

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Simon Turnbull

Sheffield United 1 Manchester City 1

Success has never come easily to Frank Clark throughout his football career. Right from the start, when he served an apprentice as a laboratory technician and played for Crook Town in the Northern League, the affable Geordie has been obliged to do it the hard way.

Even after making his name as a left-back fixture in the Newcastle team, at 32 he was destined for the scrap-heap at Doncaster until Brian Clough intervened and made him a European Cup winner at Nottingham Forest. Two years ago he had risen from the managerial depths of the Orient to a Uefa Cup quarter-final against Bayern Munich as Clough's successor.

At 54, though, Clark has found himself in the midst of his greatest challenge. Some would say Manchester City are a lost cause and for 25 minutes at Bramall Lane on Saturday nobody could have argued with them.

The City players might as well have had "Doomed," rather than "Brother," emblazoned across their shirts. They played like the third-raters they may yet become unless Clark can stir Manchester's comatose football giant back into sleeping mode.

Their sorry state was illustrated in the 20th minute. Two defenders, having both made a hash of routine clearance work, were sprawled across the ground as Brian Deane shot Sheffield United into the lead.

Had the Blades been at anything like their sharpest they would have finished off Clark's men long before the last minute counter-thrust which levelled the contest. Georgi Kinkladze jinked past two men on the right and cut the ball back for Kevin Horlock to score.

It was just about deserved, though, apart from two missed chances before the break, City had failed to breach a tightly-held back-line. Commitment in the last 65 minutes was their most impressive virtue on Saturday and they will need it in abundance in the weeks ahead if they are to survive.

Kinkladze stood out as much because of the skilfully challenged artisans around him as for the three or four inspired flashes he provided. "I thought he was excellent today," Clark said, "but his performance against Huddersfield last week was the worst I've seen from him at City."

Given his laboratory background, City's manager must know he will need more than just the one main element, and an unstable one at that, to make his Maine Road experiment work. It is still threatening to blow up in Frank Clark's face.

Goals: Deane (20) 1-0; Horlock (90).

Sheffield United (3-5-2): Tracey; Tiler, Marker, Holdsworth; Borbokis, Hutchison, Ward, Patterson (Nilsen, 65), Whitehouse; Taylor (Fjortoft, 70), Deane. Substitute not used: Marcello.

Manchester City (4-3-1-2): Margetson; Edghill, Symons, Wiekens, Vaughan; Brannan (Dickov, 73), McGoldrick, Horlock; Kinkladze; Creaney (Brown, 45), Russell. Substitute not used: Scully.

Referee: P Reijer (Tipton).

Bookings: City: Edghill, Wiekens.

Man of the match: Kinkladze.

Attendance: 23,850.