Kinkladze answering Ball's call No 7

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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

Manchester City 2 Southampton 1

Matthew Le Tissier, in his only memorable contribution to a day when he was outclassed by Georgi Kinkladze, rang Radio 5 Live's Six-O-Six show from Southampton's coach to contradict the fan who alleged that he was too heavy. It was a pique-rate call from a player whose phone is evidently more mobile than he is right now.

Whatever the truth about Le Tissier's weight, he is not throwing it around in the manner to which Southampton became accustomed as he kept them in the Premiership under Alan Ball's managership. The surprising aspect of their parting, underlined during this vital victory by Manchester City, is that the Channel Islander appears to have come off worse than his former patron Saint.

When Ball defected to Maine Road last summer, conventional wisdom argued that he would flounder without Le Tissier's penchant for the unpredictable. Yet on the day he took over, the new City manager found that his chairman, Francis Lee, had given him "a present": another talismanic No 7 in the diminutive shape of Kinkladze.

There are other respects in which Ball's current situation duplicates his sojourn on the south coast. The City squad, like the one he left Dave Merrington, is hardly bristling with Premiership quality. There is, however, a sprinkling of genuine ability. Kinkladze coaxes it out of the likes of Nigel Clough and Nicky Summerbee, and still finds time to score the kind of spectacular goals Le Tissier used to have under copyright.

Ball compared the Georgian's second with Diego Maradona's wondrous dribble and goal against England 10 years ago. Unlike the Argentinian, Kinkladze did not run from the halfway line, merely from 40 yards out. Nor did he finish from a tight angle with his "wrong" foot.

Yet in terms of composure, pace, vision and imagination - of sheer fantasy - his was also a goal from a footballing firmament which ordinary mortals can not imagine, let alone aspire to.

Kinkladze's first was a humble tap-in, though he had earlier shaken the bar with a 25-yard shot. The pick of a dazzling array of passes was a perfect reverse ball, played when he was running full tilt at Southampton's defence, which Uwe Rosler wasted at a time when Southampton were pressing hard after a fine goal by Paul Tisdale.

Le Tissier, who used to turn tight matches for Southampton the way Kinkladze is doing for City, looked overwrought if not necessarily overweight. In the first half, Jason Dodd's deep cross found him lurking beyond the far post. A year ago, he would have killed the ball on his chest and volleyed in. Now it ran behind off his body and he had hardly stopped cursing before City went ahead.

Later he glanced a free header wide and became a victim of the card-crazed Mr Winter after a foul that testified to his frustration. The feeling spread to the entire team as Matt Robinson had an "equaliser" dubiously disallowed in stoppage time. Gordon Watson was dismissed for his over- zealous protest, and, like City's Garry Flitcroft, faces suspension at a crucial time.

Ball, alternately glowing over Kinkladze's genius and cautioning against complacency, felt relaxed enough to joke about Flitcroft's latest ban: "If we had as many points as him, we'd be in Europe by now." Jesting aside - and Le Tissier's form is a warning to all who rely on one man for inspiration - one dreads to think where City might be without Kinkladze.

Goals: Kinkladze (33) 1-0; Kinkladze (38) 2-0; Tisdale (65) 2- 1.

Manchester City (3-5-2): Immel; Symons, I Brightwell, Curle; Summerbee, Lomas (Quinn, 76), Flitcroft, Kinkladze, Frontzeck (Hiley, 76); Clough, Rosler. Substitute not used: Phillips.

Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Neilson (Watson, 56), Hall, Monkou, Charlton; Dodd, Hughes, Tisdale, Oakley (Robinson, h-t); Le Tissier, Shipperley. Substitute not used: Grobbelaar (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Bookings: Manchester City Rosler, Summerbee, Clough, Flitcroft. Southampton: Hall, Hughes, Le Tissier, Charlton. Sending-off: Watson.

Man of the match: Kinkladze.

Attendance: 29,550.

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