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Football: `No panic' is Royle's response to reverse

Manchester City falter against key contenders. Dave Hadfield reports
MANCHESTER CITY failed the third paper of their demanding mid- term exam, but not in a way that made the club doubt its qualifications to graduate at the end of the season. A well-worked headed goal early in the second half from Chris Beech left City washed-up at Maine Road, the tide of their recent victories over two other promotion contenders, Charlton and Barnsley, turned by a third.

The 1-0 defeat by Huddersfield was the end of a 10-match unbeaten run and the first time since the opening Saturday of the season that City had lost at home, so there was no need, in the humble opinion of their manager, Joe Royle, for panic. They would, he could argue with some conviction, play worse than that and win plenty of games.

It was significant, though, that Royle's other pre-occupation, after preventing any doom and gloom setting in, was to complete the signing of a new striker, Gillingham's Robert Taylor, before Friday's game at Wolves. Taylor watched his prospective new team fire a blank for the first time since September and, although Royle professed himself satisfied with the scoring record of his front two, he is conscious of the need for another option.

It was depth of squad that won City promotion last season and Royle believes that will be the key factor again.

Asked whether Taylor was "one for the future" he was justified in pointing out that, at pounds 1.5m and - although he did not say it - 28 years of age, he had better be one for the present. Even allowing for Shaun Goater's niggling groin injury, his partnership with the other Taylor - Gareth - suffered by comparison with Huddersfield's equivalent, the most productive in the First Division.

Neither Marcus Stewart nor Clyde Wijnhard found the target at Maine Road, although both had their chances. They did, however, look sharp and dangerous throughout, the reasons behind their 23 goals so far this season all too apparent in the crisp assurance of much of their work.

They have no doubt been helped by the quality of what is going on behind them. Beech's goal was his sixth of the season, underlining his contribution to the cause for the division's top scorers, Kenny Irons is the prototypical First Division engine-room man and the Dutchman, Dean Gorre, showed flashes of outstanding ability.

Their manager, Steve Bruce, also had a special and justified word of praise for his centre backs, Ken Monkou and Kevin Gray, who were models of stability and reassurance when City applied the pressure.

In all, Huddersfield looked a thoroughly well-organised and enterprising side and it will be no surprise, on this showing, to see them still heavily involved in the promotion shake-down next spring.

His five months there so far have been largely devoted to getting his players to believe in that possibility and the evidence from this game is that Bruce, who has still to be involved with a side that has lost at Maine Road, is winning that battle.

City remain the promotion favourites and, even in defeat, there were good, solid reasons why this should be the case. Their recent good results have been achieved without three of their most influential players, Andy Morrison, Ian Bishop and Mark Kennedy, and, as they will demonstrate again this week, City are prepared to get out the cheque book if that is what Royle requires.

There is a good crop of young talent coming through and, perhaps most significantly of all, they have 30,000 or so at Maine Road for every home game, willing them onwards and upwards.

One run has ended. In the longer term, they can still prove to be the best-equipped to win the race. That was the message of the unconcerned way in which they accepted this defeat and its relatively minor interruption to their progress.

Goal: Beech (51) 0-1.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Edghill, Wiekens, Jobson, Granville; Jeff Whitley, Pollock, Horlock, Tiatto (Cooke h-t); Taylor (Peacock, 59), Goater. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Crooks, Bishop.

Huddersfield Town (4-4-2): Vaesen; Jenkins, Monkou, Gray, Vincent; Gorre (Sellars, 89), Beech, Irons, Thornley; Wijnhard, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Margetson (gk), Armstrong, Edwards, Schofield.

Referee: K Leach (Codsall).

Man of the match: Irons.

Attendance: 32,936.