Keegan must pass Europe history test

The last time Manchester City played in the Uefa Cup, in 1978-79, Mick Channon was playing up front, SV Hamburg's Kevin Keegan was the European Footballer of the Year and foreign footballers in England were rare and sometimes temperamental beasts.

In a run to that year's Uefa Cup quarter-final, when Milan and Standard Liège were among City's scalps, Poland's Kazimierz Deyna experienced one of the better moments of his Maine Road tenure by getting on the scoresheet in the eventual exit to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Tonight City will play in European competition for the first time since that night. Keegan, embarking on the latest challenge in his roller-coaster managerial career, will oversee the first competitive match in a spanking new stadium. And his side's opponents, the Welsh minnows Total Network Solutions, are likely to field twice as many Englishmen in their starting line-up as Keegan will in his brigade of Franco-Sino-Dutch-German-Australian-Costa-Rican-take-your-pick recruits.

Yet when it comes to assessing City's chances, old fears die hard. "Our task is to go out and achieve a healthy first-leg lead if we can, but that might not be as easy as people think," Keegan said. "If we fall short it will be a disaster for us." Should that unlikely scenario unfold, he added: "It will not be through lack of preparation or professionalism".

Records are there for the taking. If TNS ship more than five goals this evening, City will beat their best tally in a European game, set when they won 5-0 against SK Lierse and then 5-1 against Schalke04 en route to their Cup-Winners' Cup success in the era of Lee, Bell and Summerbee in 1970. Not that Keegan is getting ahead of himself. "We have had TNS watched four times and [assistant] Arthur Cox and myself travelled to watch them play an Everton XI last Friday," he said.

"We've left no stone unturned. It is quite easy to say they are a small club, that they don't play in a strong league and all those kind of things, but when you actually see them, they are well organised, they know what they are trying to do and we have to treat them with total respect."

TNS are under no illusions about the size of their task. The goalkeeper Gerard Doherty is one of those who nearly made it at a higher level before his career stalled at Derby as a youngster. And the midfielder Simon Davies once graced Manchester United's midfield.

But the TNS manager, Ken McKenna, knows that damage limitation is the key. "After watching City win 2-1 against Barcelona at the weekend it became obvious that there is an enormous gulf in ability between their players and ours," he understated. "To go out and try to shock them is impossible. Our main target is for my players to know what they're doing when we visit Cwmbran in our opening league fixture."

City, too, will be using tonight's game as a warm-up for their own league season, which starts at Charlton on Sunday. Their side should be less experimental because of that, with only one player - the ineligible French midfielder, Antoine Sibierski - unavailable. A strong team is expected, possibly with Eyal Berkovic returning to midfield and a role at some stage for Paulo Wanchope.

As Cox said yesterday, this is City's chance to start anew. "I'm sure [TNS] will be inspired by the new stadium," he said. "But it's ours and should demand more of us."

Manchester City (probable, 4-4-2): Seaman; Sun Jihai, Sommeil, Distin, Tarnat; Wright-Phillips, Berkovic, Bosvelt, Tiatto; Anelka, Fowler.

TNS (probable, 4-4-2): Doherty; Naylor, Aggrey, Taylor, King; Bridgwater, Brabin, Davies, Ruscoe; Ward, Wood.

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