Football: Wiekens seals the points for City

Stoke City 0 Manchester City 1
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The Independent Online
CONSISTENCY HAS been an alien concept to Manchester City in recent years - at least in a positive sense - but last night's victory over fourth- placed Stoke was their fourth in an unbeaten surge of six matches that has lifted them to the brink of the Second Division play-off zone.

Stoke, who have won only once in seven starts since November, were already trailing to a rare goal by City's Dutch centre-back, Gerard Wiekens, when a wildly irresponsible challenge by their captain, Phil Robinson, left them to face 52 minutes against a superior side with 10 men.

Like the clubs' last meeting at the Britannia Stadium, which ended with a 5-2 away win and both being relegated, the evening was marred by crowd disturbances both during and after the match. Since Joe Royle's team had also won the interim encounter over Christmas, it was perhaps unsurprising when they seized a 20th-minute lead. From as corner, swung in by Terry Cooke, the ball broke off Larus Sigurdsson for Wiekens to volley high into the net.

Stoke created their best two opportunities before falling behind. Only a fine tackle by Wiekens stopped Graeme Kavanagh scoring, while Richard Forsyth also fired wide. However, the more clear-cut openings came at the opposite end. A cross by Cooke saw Taylor balloon a simple chance horribly high and away from goal.

Stoke were indebted to the first of several agile saves by Carl Muggleton from Shaun Goater before an eventful 38th minute. No sooner had Brian Little taken a tactical gamble, sending on two combative players to bolster his overrun midfield, than Robinson sent Michael Brown flying with with a two-footed jump tackle and was sent off.

Stoke's spasmodic attacks invariably involved Dean Crowe - a City supporter as a boy - although Royle was not exaggerating when he observed afterwards that his keeper, Nicky Weaver, did not need to make a genuine save.

Another rush of blood by a Stoke defender, Sigurdsson, might have further depleted their ranks. The Icelander scythed down Cooke and then became embroiled in an altercation when the City player took offence.

Sigurdsson escaped with a yellow card, and the Stoke goal also got off lightly twice in the ensuing minutes. Muggleton made another outstanding stop to keep out Richard Edghill's diagonal drive, while Sigurdsson redeemed himself with a last-gasp tackle on Taylor.

Little later admitted that Robinson had been "a bit rash", a view he may regard as an understatement after studying the video, and argued that Stoke need luck and confidence if they are to regain their early-season momentum.

Royle, while not wishing to tempt fate, suggested City might actually be timing their run nicely. As for the red-card incident, he quipped: "If he'd stayed on, Brown's lawyers would have been in touch."

Stoke City (3-5-2): Muggleton; Sigurdsson, Robinson, Woods; Heath, Keen, Kavanagh (Oldfield, 38), Forsyth (Wallace, 38), Small; Lightbourne, Crowe. Substitute not used: Petty.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Crooks (Bishop, 54), Wiekens, Vaughan, Edghill; Cooke (Jim Whitley, 78), Brown, Pollock (Dickov, 78), Horlock; Goater, Taylor.

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).