Poll loses votes as City decline

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The Independent Online
Everton 2 Manchester City 0

Manchester City fans, who have turned the Oasis song "Wonderwall" into an anthem, crooned their wistful thinking: "And all the goals Kinkladze scores are blinding." The group's latest release cautions against looking back in anger, advice their fellow City supporters may find hard to heed when they reflect on events at Goodison Park.

None of them could argue that City were robbed of three points that were rightfully theirs. Not even Alan Ball, a walking persecution complex during their early-season travails, disputed Everton's right to victory. But if Maine Road is an Endsleigh League venue next August, the faithful will be entitled to ask what City had done to annoy Paul Alcock.

The Surrey referee has so far avoided being "outed" by David Mellor, Radio 5 Live's self-appointed scourge of the whistling fraternity. Yet Mr Alcock clearly has similar star quality to Graham Poll, who has replaced Julian Dicks as the target for Mellor's pious outrage.

A week after cautioning Alan Shearer for mimicking a linesman, he issued yellow cards as if on commission, finally dismissing City's Michael Frontzeck. Mr Alcock is now level, with Poll and Paul Danson, on six red cards this season, though he has issued his in fewer matches (13).

Frontzeck was no stranger to disciplinary problems in the Bundesliga, but neither of his bookable offences merited more than a discreet warning. By the time of the second, an 86th-minute challenge on Anders Limpar that was mistimed rather than malicious, City's cause was long since lost anyway.

Ball, however, can not have been alone in wondering why his left-back was singled out when Everton's Joe Parkinson, for one, was not penalised at all for some rugged tackles from behind.

If Frontzeck's exit did not affect the outcome, Mr Alcock's decision to give Everton a penalty early in the second half probably did. Barry Horne, trailing Kit Symons in pursuit of an up-and-under, blatantly barged the defender, who handled the ball as he fell. Andy Hinchcliffe's penalty doubled the advantage secured by a Parkinson header after Duncan Ferguson's aerial ability had made an over-hit cross look like a pinpoint centre.

City, for whom Michael Brown had wasted the best chance shortly before half-time, had just brought on two strikers in a Barry Fry-style attempt to change matters. Suddenly they were two down, and despite Garry Flitcroft's industry and fitful flashes of Nigel Clough's passing prowess, they failed to force a save from Neville Southall.

The injured Georgi Kinkladze might have addressed that shortfall, but City's lack of finishing power is something for which no referee can be blamed.

Ball was unusually restrained when pressed afterwards about the penalty award, calling it merely "a bizarre decision". Everton's manager, Joe Royle, said he had not seen it clearly. Both, though, seem resigned to refereeing aberrations. "You've just got to get on with it," said Ball, something of a U-turn after 30 years of habitual protesting.

Everton are now in eighth place and unbeaten in 10 games. While they lack the finesse associated with Goodison's better teams and are over- reliant on Ferguson's height, Andrei Kanchelskis' return in Wednesday's FA Cup replay at Port Vale should give them another dimension. "Get that tie out of the way," Royle said, "and we're set for a decent season."

City, alas, can not say the same. Even if they beat Coventry to earn the dubious privilege of a fifth-round derby at Old Trafford, they still enter the final third of the season in the bottom three. Kinkladze on song would make a difference, but unless Ball can summon greater attacking penetration it is likely to be a summer in which to look back in anguish.

Goals: Parkinson (33) 1-0; Hinchcliffe pen (47) 2-0.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Short, Unsworth; Limpar, Horne, Parkinson, Hinchcliffe; Stuart; Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Amokachi, Allen, Kearton (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-1-1): Immel; Summerbee, Curle, Symons, Frontzeck; Brown (Quinn, h-t), Lomas, Flitcroft, Phillips (Creaney, h-t); Clough; Rosler. Substitute not used: Margetson (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Sending-off: Manchester City: Frontzeck.

Bookings: Everton: Limpar, Parkinson, Horne. Manchester City: Frontzeck, Lomas, Flitcroft.

Man of the match: Ferguson.

Attendance: 37,354.