PRESTON NORTH END 2 CITY 1
Nationwide League Division 1
21st October 2001
Preston Healy(51), Macken(67)
City Weaver, Mettomo, Pearce, Wiekens, Dunne, Etuhu, Benarbia, Granville, Tiatto, Goater, Huckerby – subs Dickov(78), Horlock(unused), Colosimo(90), Nash(unused), Berkovic(72)
Preston Moilanen, Alexander, Jackson, Lucketti, Edwards, Cartwright, Rankine, Gregan, McKenna, Macken, Healy – sub Cresswell(76), Murdock(unused), Anderson(unused), Gallacher(unused), Lucas(unused)
Darren Huckerby Puts City Into the Lead
What The Press Said
LET’s not beat about the bush, when Kevin Keegan became manager of Manchester City he inherited the most talented and valuable bunch of players in the First Division.
Equally; he has since improved matters with the purchase of two exciting playmakers and three defenders — and now his job boils down to turning the best SQUAD in the Nationwide League into the top TEAM.
Unfortunately for Blues fans, those two things are something entirely different and are seemingly as far apart as ever after 13 games of the campaign.
City have lurched from the brilliant to the hopeless and back again several times in the first weeks of the season as Keegan, to parrot his oft-used words, learns about his players.
Now they must put together a sustained run of form just to keep tabs on the posse of leading sides and, crucially to maintain customer confidence.
That they are capable of such deeds is without question, but not when they do not match the opposition for desire which happened in the second half at Preston yesterday When Keegan took the Maine Road reins he spoke passionately about a five-year plan to get the club back into the upper echelons of the Premiership.
No one doubts his sincerity, he is an honest man, but one does question whether his blueprint seriously included a second successive season in the Nationwide League.
Many more performances like the last four in the league and that is exactly what he will get. Two points from 12 is poor form from a squad that cost more than £20m to assemble and is not cheap to run either.
The learning process has to end somewhere to be replaced by a sustained assault on promotion. Tomorrow’s home fixture against Grimsby Town would be the best possible time.
Surely, that will mean seeing Richard Dunne saved from any more pain as right wing-back and a proper chance to assess whether Ali Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic can realistically play in the same side before the Israeli serves a three-match ban that City can ill-afford.
When they are on form the Blues can be thrillingly exciting, but when they are off-key they are easily brushed aside and that is not the recipe for success over the long haul of 46 games.
If parallels are to be drawn with the 1999-2000 promotion campaign, City are already seven points behind that schedule and they won five and drew one of the next six games from this point!
Keegan rightly said he felt sorry for the fans after this frantic, frenetic defeat. Again, refereeing decisions didn’t go City’s way but that is a poor, and inadequate, excuse for not defeating Stockport or Sheffield United and losing this one.
Thousands of Blues found themselves snarled up in the myriad noseto-bumper jams that pass for a motorway system and arrived at the ground late.
Not that they missed an awful lot, for there was about as much room in the crowded midfield as there had been on the reduced lanes of the M61.
Much of that had to do with the formations adopted by the two sides. Preston chief David Moyes, who is seemingly linked with every vacant managerial job that comes along, chose not to manmark Algerian master craftsman Ali Benarbia, preferring instead, to switch his entire formation to mirror the Blues’ 3-5-2.
The nearest either side came to scoring during an opening that made an Audley Harrison fight look value for money was a 10th minute free-kick from Benarbia which bent its way around the sturdy North End wall but landed in the arms of Teuvo Moilanen.
Tedium and teeming rain were the order of the day with their joint spell broken for the first time in the 32nd minute when Benarbia found Shaun Goater on the edge of the box where the Bermudian showed great awareness to slide it into the path of Danny Granville on the left.
His cross skidded invitingly to the far post where Darren Huckerby applied the finishing touch, only to be denied by a dubious offside flag.
Five minutes later any injustice was forgotten when Goater fed Danny Tiatto and then watched contentedly as the Aussie played in the eager Huckerby who imperiously swept the ball home from the edge of the box.
Not that the lead lasted long as Preston found huge amounts of space at the start of the second half.
Graham Alexander was the architect of the 50th-minute equaliser with a low cross from the right and David Healy finished it off with a lovely flick low past Weaver’s right hand.
Those were nothing, however, compared to scenes that followed the extraordinary deeds of Jon Macken, in the 67th minute.
The transfer-listed striker hit a long distance volley that soared over Weaver and into the far corner from fully 45 yards.Berkovic did make an impact, but not quite of the kind his manager was expecting, when he was dismissed two minutes from time for berating referee Mike Dean.
The official’s “crime” was not pointing to the spot or awarding a free-kick after Huckerby appeared to have been felled by Alexander.
Goater was also cautioned in the melee that followed.
FROM MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS BY CHRIS BAILEY AND PAUL HINCE