Football: Taylor double spoils Ball's return

Manchester City 4 Portsmouth 2

ALAN BALL'S return to Maine Road, three years after his ignominious exit, produced a result that was a relative rarity during his managerial term: a Manchester City victory. Some things never change, however, and City twice trailed Ball's Portsmouth side before Mark Kennedy sparked a fifth successive win which re-established their six-point lead in the First Division.

Ball eschewed his customary place in the dug-out for the sanctuary of the directors' box. This merely ensured that he had a better view of the two Gareth Taylor headers, both following Kennedy crosses from the left, which turned the contest in City's favour midway through the second half. It also meant he was surrounded by baying Mancunians as Jamie Pollock's stoppage-time goal gave the scoreline a flattering sheen for Joe Royle's team.

Ball had seen Portsmouth take an early lead through Lee Bradbury, who also received a hostile reception on his reappearance in Moss Side. Even though City equalised after half-time, with Kennedy playing a predictably prominent part, Thomas Thorgersen wrested the initiative back for Pompey. Then the Kennedy-Taylor combination took over, and as Ball said: "We didn't handle Kennedy at all. He was massive for City."

Royle, who described City's first-half display as "languid and insipid", also singled out his pounds 1m winger from Wimbledon for praise. "Kennedy's been on fire all season," he said. "The highest compliment I can pay him is that I'd love to have played with him."

The City manager's plea for tolerance towards his former England colleague in the match programme predictably fell on deaf ears. But no sooner had the first chorus of abuse against Ball subsided than Portsmouth were celebrating a sixth-minute lead.

Bradbury, whose strike-rate for City after Frank Clark signed him for pounds 3m was so poor that he was nicknamed "Bad Buy", was sent clear by Steve Claridge. Nicky Weaver elected to dash 40 yards from his line, only for Bradbury to round him and stroke the ball in to an unguarded net.

City drew level 54 seconds into the second half. Andy Petterson could not hold Kennedy's drive and Jeff Whitley pounced to convert the rebound. The decibel levels soared, yet Portsmouth who responded better and quickly nosed back in front.

After a shot by Claridge was charged down by Danny Granville, Thorgersen seized on the loose ball and powered into the City penalty area before angling a low shot past Weaver.

Kennedy's special service finally produced the requisite response in the 65th minute, when Taylor rose to meet the Irishman's centre. The visitors were undone by a near-identical goal with 21 minutes remaining, and Pollock's late flourish, after good work by Terry Cooke, guaranteed that those who had spent the evening baiting Ball ended on a more wholesome note. "The force was with us," Royle said, but Ball departed with his dignity intact.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Edghill, Wiekens (Cooke, h-t), Jobson, Granville; Jeff Whitley, Bishop (Pollock, 60), Horlock, Kennedy; Taylor, Wright-Phillips (Tiatto, 76). Substitutes not used: Allsopp, Wright (gk).

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Pettersen; Crowe (Igoe, 66), Whitbread, Awford (Berntsen, 75), Robinson; Panopoulos, Thorgersen, McLoughlin, Simpson; Bradbury, Claridge (Whittingham, 81). Substitutes not used: Vlachos, Flahavan (gk).

Referee: A Hall (Birmingham).

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