Football: Phelan fulfils City's forward thinking

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THERE was a flurry of activity at the Ladbrokes counter when the news came through that Terry Phelan would play further forward, but he was still priced at 50-1 to score the first goal of the match.

Phelan only let his backers down by three minutes. An equaliser that was invaluable in preventing City slipping further towards the bottom three was also a pay-off for Brian Horton's enforced reshuffle. 'We were short of forwards, so I pushed Michel Vonk up front and gave Terry a bit more scope going forward,' the City manager said.

Phelan's goal came in the 29th minute when Richard Edghill's cross went through the six-yard box. The former Wimbledon full- back, unsettled at Maine Road of late, drove it back through a forest of legs to score.

The goal 180 seconds earlier that denied half of the main stand a handsome pay-out showed the debit side of moving as competent a player as Phelan from his normal left-back position.

David Brightwell, one of four natural centre-backs in the City side, gave Jeff Kenna too much room and a precise centre was headed in powerfully by Iain Dowie for his second goal in two days after a drought stretching from August.

Southampton, boosted by their victory over Chelsea the previous day, had visions of a second Christmas win. But after the swift City equaliser, only the occasional flash from an otherwise lethargic Matthew Le Tissier threatened a winner.

City were the more positive looking side and, after their postponement at Villa on Monday, understandably the fresher. Brightwell's header was tipped on to the bar by Dave Beasant and, 12 minutes from time, a lovely back-heel by Mike Sheron produced a chance for Vonk which brought an even better save from Beasant.

Three points would have started to put a little daylight between City and the trapdoor, but Horton is still able to laugh through the continuing uncertainty at Maine Road. 'Unbeaten over Christmas,' he said. 'That's my best run since I came here.'

Manchester City (4-4-2): Coton; Edghill, Kernaghan, Curle, Brightwell; Sheron, Rocastle, Lomas (Ingebrigtsen, 75), Phelan; Vonk, Griffiths (Simpson, h/t). Substitute not used: Dibble (gk).

Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Kenna, Wood, Moore, Benali; Allen, Maddison, Widdrington, Adams; Dowie, Le Tissier (Bennett, 80). Substitutes not used: Hurlock, Andrews (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).