Safety quest for Ball

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The Independent Online
Football

Alan Ball faces his former club, Southampton, on Saturday knowing the outcome at Maine Road could determine whether Manchester City stay in the Premiership.

The City manager, boosted by the point from a 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Tuesday, said: "You've got to look at the situation and say it's in our hands whether or not we'll survive.

"The people we have got to beat are the clubs down there with us, starting with Southampton. If we can beat them it puts them five points behind us and in very serious trouble, and we should be able to pull clear."

Eight clubs are battling to avoid the drop and City - who have eight games left compared to Southampton's 11 - know that 12 points out of the final 24 would be more than enough to guarantee safety.

Apart from Southampton, who currently fill the third relegation place above the seemingly doomed Queen's Park Rangers and Bolton, Ball's side also face fellow strugglers Bolton and Wimbledon away and Sheffield Wednesday at Maine Road. The points have to be picked up as the other four games - Manchester United and Liverpool at home and West Ham and Aston Villa away - present a formidable challenge at the best of times.

Ball, who welcomed back Ian Brightwell, who missed six matches because of injury, will have his captain, Keith Curle, back after suspension as well as Michael Brown. Nigel Clough, employed as a sweeper in the first half against Chelsea, from where he hit the equaliser, is expected to revert to a midfield role.

"The change of formation worked quite well," Clough said. "I played there for half a season for Forest so it wasn't too unusual - and sometimes it's easier coming from a deeper position to get on the end of things.

"We have been in games this season where we have conceded early goals and we didn't want to do that against Chelsea. Afterwards there was frustration in the dressing-room that we hadn't won, which is a good sign when you consider our position in the League."

Ball, meanwhile, could also have Niall Quinn back after injury to threaten Uwe Rosler's place while the on-loan substitute, Giuseppe Mazzarelli, is also in the frame after a late run-out on Tuesday.

"He's my type of player. He is comfortable with the ball and can play in numerous positions," said Ball of the Swiss-Italian midfielder.

"He is a footballer and proper footballers can play virtually anywhere, as Clough did against Chelsea." Ball desperately hopes that Saturday will show that, above all else, they want to play in the Premiership.

Glenn Hoddle, meanwhile, has sounded the alert for his Chelsea side as they chase a place in Europe for next season.

"If we perform the way we did against Manchester City at Anfield on Saturday, then we'll get hammered," was the stark warning from the Chelsea manager. "It may have been a little bit of fatigue from Saturday, but that's an easy excuse - an easy way out," he said.

"We didn't deserve to win; we didn't work hard enough. It's as simple as that. I never felt that we were at the races. It's a lesson for us and now we have to lift ourselves and prepare ourselves for Liverpool away."

Chelsea will need to improve if they are to keep on target for a top five place and a European qualification. "Getting into Europe is more important than the FA Cup and we don't want a gap opening between ourselves and the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham," Hoddle added. "There has got to be a vast improvement if we are to get something up there. Knowing us, we'll perform really well."

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