Maine men stroll in tale of two Cities

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The Independent Football

In the end, it was no more taxing than a stroll round neighbouring Whitworth Park for the Maine Road men who, after a tactical shake-up, were more than comfortable victors. The win lifts them clear, for the time being, of the dogfight which will ensue over the coming months, a scrap which will almost certainly feature yesterday's opponents.

In the end, it was no more taxing than a stroll round neighbouring Whitworth Park for the Maine Road men who, after a tactical shake-up, were more than comfortable victors. The win lifts them clear, for the time being, of the dogfight which will ensue over the coming months, a scrap which will almost certainly feature yesterday's opponents.

On this showing, the escapology act contrived by Bradford last term is unlikely to be encored. Toothless in attack and with a confidence altogether too fragile, they present their manager, Chris Hutchings, with a task similar to that facing his predecessor, Paul Jewell, now at beleaguered Sheffield Wednesday, if anything is to be rescued from such a dismal start.

Despite a lively first quarter, when Stuart McCall dominated proceedings, the signs are not good. It is one thing controlling the ebb and flow of the midfield, but when the strikers Benito Carbone and Ashley Ward freeze in the face of goal, endeavours in the build-up count for nought.

The difference between the two sides - that of being able to take advantage of limited opportunities - was highlighted early in the second half. Ward was presented with what appeared a simple task to test the goalkeeper Nick Weaver but his header missed by an embarrassment. Worse, Carbone's effort moments later from 15 yards troubled the corner flag more than Weaver's goal and, with the best chance, Dean Windass fluffed his header.

Tellingly, Hutchings said: "We kept going but didn't force the keeper into any real saves." By then it was as good as over anyway. While creating the better chances, Manchester had been out-thought in general play and it was with some measure of inevitability that it took a combination of inspiration and good fortune for the deadlock to be broken.

Mark Kennedy was detailed to switch flanks midway through the opening period and a 4-3-3 formation was introduced with the wide men dropping back to counter Bradford's midfield superiority.

It took barely two minutes for the change to have an effect. Kennedy scampered down the left, hoisted a cross and, though the ball deflected off the head of the defender David Wetherall into his path, Dickov gave a masterclass in finishing with his volleyed strike.

The goal and the tactical modification prefaced an upsurge in Manchester's fortunes and Clarke's goal came under siege. Dickov was unlucky not to double his tally with an overhead attempt which rattled the woodwork, and then, from a free-kick on the edge of the box in first-half injury time, Alf-Inge Haaland added the second, his shot clipping McCall on its way into the net.

If the stranglehold was relaxed after the break, then perhaps that was because the points were assured. But as the game drew to its conclusion, and with the home side beginning to settle into the unfamiliar role of being in charge of a fixture, Joe Royle's charges started to flex their creative muscles.

They strung surging moves together, stretching a previously solid-looking defence and creating chances for the likes of Kennedy and Danny Tiatto, and only Clarke's reactions kept the scoreline respectable.

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