Football: Rocky road to heaven: Lee's perfect lift-off at Maine Road
Monday 07 February 1994
Ipswich Town . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
IT SEEMED to be tempting fate when Francis Lee entered Maine Road on what appeared to be a podium. Given Manchester City's past, you half expected the new chairman to crash through an unsecured trap door.
At the club of cock-ups, anything is possible. So, when an announcer introduced the 'man who will put the word great into Manchester City again', the mind pondered whether he was still referring to either Little or Large, the comedians pointed out to the 28,188 crowd immediately before. But no, Lee appeared, 10,000 blue and white balloons were released, and a new era was ushered noisily in.
With it came bravado, laced with a glass of champagne. 'We're certainties to stay up,' Lee, who had gained a controlling interest only in the early hours of Saturday morning, said. 'We're going to buy quality players, maybe two or three. There's no point in going for people who are not better than the ones we've got. The manager has a short- list . . . ooh, of about 74.'
All music to City ears, of course, and Lee could make his promises on the back of a victory, but he might also have been the chairman who took the club to the bottom. Had they lost, and there were grounds for fearing they might do, the results at Swindon and Oldham would have ensured a miserable start on the road to a new Blue Heaven.
That they did not was down largely to David Rocastle. This may seem unlikely to anyone at Leeds, but on Saturday he recalled the times when he was considered an integral part of England's future with an eye-catching performance.
When he arrived from Elland Road, he carried a spare tyre that would have done justice to a juggernaut but the pounds have been shed and his confidence rediscovered. His part in City's first goal was worthy, in Lee's words, of 'Brazilian football at its best'.
Rocastle was penned in on the right-hand touch-line by two defenders, yet a bewildering drag back with the sole of his feet left his minders kicking at air and his cross, low and hard into the six-yard box, allowed Carl Griffiths to get his fourth goal in nine full appearances.
That recovered a poise that City had discarded when Garry Flitcroft had passed back horribly to Ian Marshall for Ipswich's 18th-minute goal, and they just about clung on to it throughout the second half. Before Flitcroft made amends with his 73rd-minute winner, however, there was a suspicion that frustration was mounting and the visitors getting more dangerous.
'For 17 years I've watched football with equanimity, and suddenly today it was different,' Lee said. 'I was very tense. I was kicking every ball, going up for every header. I'll calm down in time, I'm sure.'
Peter Swales, the previous and unloved incumbent, might beg to differ.
Goals: Marshall (17) 0-1; Griffiths (31) 1-1; Flitcroft (72) 2-1.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Coton; Edghill, Curle, Vonk, Phelan; Lomas, Rocastle, Flitcroft; Shutt, Griffiths, Sheron. Substitutes not used: Quigley, D Brightwell, Dibble (gk).
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Forrest; Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Thompson; Slater (Palmer, 66), Youds, Williams, Johnson; Marshall, Genchev (Kiwomya, 69). Substitute not used: Baker (gk).
Referee: A Hart (Darlington).
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