The trouble with rollercoasters, as Kevin Keegan is quickly finding out, is that at some point you want to get off. With 50 goals recorded in the 11 games they have contested so far this season, Manchester City games may soon be prefaced by a safety instruction and warnings about feeble hearts.
The effect Keegan has had has gripped Maine Road, but after a rude awakening in the shape of a 4-0 home drubbing by Wimbledon 10 days ago, the former England coach knows it is high time to review the situation.
"We're very much a team in transition at the moment," he said. "A lot of good things, but obviously some things that need putting right and need putting right quickly. I like certain types of players and allow my teams to play certain types of ways. Not many of my sides have ever gone out and not created chances. I've not had many teams that go out and play for a 0-0 draw, it's just not my style. To be honest the board and the fans at Manchester City know that, I don't think that's a secret."
Nor is it a secret that Keegan sees City's Worthington Cup tie tonight, against Birmingham at Maine Road, as very important in demonstrating his side's ability to bounce back. Last month Birmingham arrived at Maine Road in a rich vein of form but were out-played as City ran out comfortable 3-0 victors.
However, with his old friend Trevor Francis, the Midlanders' manager, under pressure again after a poor run, Keegan admits it could be a much closer game. "I respect Trevor, I think he's done a very good job at Birmingham," he said. "A month ago they came to us with six straight wins; now they come to us with five games without a win. Trevor and I are in a similar situation – we both would like a result."
Birmingham last year came as close as possible to winning the competition, eventually losing on penalties to Liverpool in the final, and Keegan appreciates the nature of the tournament which means he must take it seriously. He said: "As Liverpool showed last year it's a trophy worth winning, and it opens doors for you, so we'll do everything we can to win it and I'll be putting my strongest side out."
City's reversal at the hands of Wimbledon has hardly given support to Keegan's attempts to turn Maine Road into a "fortress". But the former Newcastle and Fulham manager said: "I'd like a fortress but making it a fortress is not going to happen overnight. We started off well and you think this could be a tough place for people to come, but Wimbledon have blown that apart. If we're going to get out of this Division, we're going to need a really good home record.
"We've gone back to basics and said 'right, we've got to win more headers and we've got to win more tackles'. We've also worked a lot on shape, which are things we'd normally do – we've just probably worked a little bit harder."
Meanwhile, Eyal Berkovic and Alfie Haaland are back in training for the Birmingham match. The Israeli playmaker Berkovic has "a real chance" of playing tonight, although a full 90-minute appearance is unlikely, while Haaland is still not match fit and would therefore probably not figure.
Francis takes his team to Maine Road without Tommy Mooney and Darren Purse. Mooney, the former Watford forward, was given an injection in his ankle tendon to reduce swelling which occurred after the Crewe game. The defender Purse, who had pencilled in the cup game as a comeback target, has still not recovered sufficiently from a broken wrist.
Long-term injury victims, Jon McCarthy and Dele Adebola, are still out of action but are making progress with their respective injuries. Francis is expected to pair Michael Johnson and David Holdsworth at the centre of defence. Geoff Horsfield is set to lead the forward line, with Andy Johnson, who scored in the 3-0 win over Bristol Rovers in the last round, his likely strike partner.Reuse content