Horlock top and tails the Mariners

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The Independent Football

Two points appeared to be slipping from Manchester City's grasp until the injury-time intervention of Kevin Horlock strengthened their position at the top of the First Division yesterday. Until the Irishman's second goal of the afternoon, City were struggling to overcome Grimsby but Horlock's return to the side after serving a one-match suspension proved timely indeed, particularly since his manager, Joe Royle, nearly did not select him to play.

Two points appeared to be slipping from Manchester City's grasp until the injury-time intervention of Kevin Horlock strengthened their position at the top of the First Division yesterday. Until the Irishman's second goal of the afternoon, City were struggling to overcome Grimsby but Horlock's return to the side after serving a one-match suspension proved timely indeed, particularly since his manager, Joe Royle, nearly did not select him to play.

"Originally I decided to play with the side that won at West Brom on Sunday and it was only at 2pm that I decided to bring back Kevin," Royle said. "I felt he was more likely to score a goal as we were playing at home. I don't think he knows how close he was to not playing."

City made a perfect start, taking only five minutes to breach the First Division's most porous defence, as Horlock opened the scoring. A precise through ball from Ian Bishop dissected the Mariners' back-line, enabling Horlock to run through the middle and strike an unstoppable drive from 25 yards, low to the right of the goalkeeper Danny Coyne.

They might even have taken an earlier lead, when Danny Tiatto, replacing the injured Mark Kennedy, set up Shaun Goater, who shot straight at Coyne. Goater, City's leading scorer with 14 goals, went closer after seven minutes, striking the outside of the post with an angled shot from the right side of the penalty area.

Yet Royle's side, so in command early in the match, were stunned after 27 minutes when Grimsby equalised. The goal stemmed from a poorly taken City free-kick, from Richard Edghill, as Jack Lester set up Stacy Coldicott. He placed a shot low to the right of Nicky Weaver from just inside the penalty area.

So it was back to the starting blocks for City and, towards the end of the half, Lee Peacock and Richard Jobson both squandered chances.

Royle sent on the striker Paul Dickov 10 minutes after the restart and the substitution almost paid immediate dividends when his cross from the left almost crept in past Coyne. The lively Dickov, who has only recently recovered from a serious knee injury, also saw a well-struck drive from 25 yards dip over the crossbar.

City dominated the later stages with another substitute, Tony Grant, forcing Coyne to make a save low to his left, but they failed to make a breakthrough until injury time. The winner was set up by Danny Granville, who crossed from the left for Horlock to rifle home the winner from 14 yards, high to the right of Coyne.

Royle was not surprised to see his side claim the points so late in the match. "It's been a great year for late goals and it is the sort of thing that never used to happen for us," he said. "They tend to go in when you are doing well and up at the top, but when you are down at the bottom you don't get breaks like that. It is a great end to a great year, one in which we find ourselves 35 places higher than we were 12 months ago."

His Grimsby counterpart, Alan Buckley, thought his side were unfortunate not to take anything from the match. "I thought we were worth a point," he lamented.

Goals: Horlock (5) 1-0; Coldicott (27) 1-1; Horlock (90) 2-1.

Manchester City: Weaver; Edghill, Granville, Wiekens, Jobson, Tiatto (Dickov, 55), Bishop (Crooks, 90), Horlock, Pollock, Goater, Peacock (Grant, 78). Substitutes not used: Whitley, Wright (gk).

Grimsby Town: Coyne; McDermott, Gallimore, Livingstone, Lever, Buckley (Black, h-t), Coldicott, Groves, Donovan, Ashcroft, Lester, Black (Allen, 90). Substitutes not used: Butterfield, Pouton, Croudson (gk).

Referee: D Pugh (Bebington).

Man of the match: Bishop.

Attendance: 32,607.

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