GILLINGHAM 1 CITY 3
Nationwide Division One
13th April 2002
City Horlock(20), Goater(39), Huckerby(85)
Ref M Messias
City Nash, Howey, Dunne, Pearce, Horlock, Jensen, Benarbia, Wright-Phillips, Tiatto, Goater, Macken – subs Huckerby(63), Sun(76), Mettomo(86), Royce(unused), Wiekens(unused)
Gillingham Brown, Hope, Ashby, Butters, Rose, Browning, Smith, Gooden, Onuora, Shaw, King – subs Osborn(15), Ipoua(69), James(80), Bartram(unused), Hessenthaler(unused)
A first-half masterclass from Ali Benarbia helped First Division champions Manchester City to a 3-1 win at Gillingham.
The Algerian lofted an inch-perfect pass through to Kevin Horlock to open the scoring after 20 minutes, and was again the provider for City’s second with a nonchalant backheel to set up Shaun Goater in the 39th minute.
Substitute Darren Huckerby netted his 20th and City’s 105th league goal of the season with six minutes remaining to complete the scoring.
City started brightly, with Goater having their first opportunity after five minutes. Lacking support in the area he was forced to shoot from a difficult angle and goalkeeper Jason Brown gathered.
Brown was at fault a minute later as Jon Macken cut the ball back from the byline for Goater who spotted Sean Wright-Phillips unmarked on the edge of the area and, although his shot lacked venom, the Gills stopper spilled the ball for a corner.
Returning Gillingham striker Marlon King, fit again after a hamstring problem, was gifted the chance to put the home side ahead in the ninth minute.
Carlo Nash, under pressure from Ty Gooden, mis-hit his clearance into the path of King but he managed to put his shot wide with the net gaping.
City were straight back onto the attack, and influential playmaker Benarbia almost broke the deadlock as he kept his cool in the area to dummy past a defender but his shot was headed clear on the line by Simon Osborn.
Benarbia blazed over the crossbar in the 18th minute, but Kevin Keegan’s men did open the scoring two minutes later.
Benarbia was involved again as he played a one-two with Goater before playing a precise pass over the defence to Horlock who expertly lobbed Brown.
Wright-Phillips found the side-netting with a fierce shot from the right after 24 minutes, and Macken flashed a shot across the face of goal soon after as City looked like adding quick-fire second.
But Gillingham hit back with some flowing football of their own. They worked the ball out to King who picked out strike-partner Iffy Onuora with a perfect cross, but his header came back off the crossbar.
King was involved again moments later as his superb curling effort was pushed away by Nash and the ball eventually fell for Paul Shaw but he fired inches wide of the far post.
Andy Hessenthaler’s men grabbed an equaliser three minutes later as midfielder Osborn crossed for Onuora to powerfully head home.
This sparked City back into life, with Benarbia’s defence-splitting pass setting up Macken for a one-on-one with Brown, but the keeper saved with his legs.
The visitors restored their advantage with a delightful second after 39 minutes. Benarbia was the architect again as he backheeled the ball onto the foot of Goater who volleyed home.
City continued to push forward after the break, and could have extended their lead after 54 minutes. Goater was put clear by Benarbia, but his shot was smothered by Brown.
Gillingham responded and King should have done better with a header when unmarked in the 63rd minute.
Onuora fired straight at Nash a minute later, and King put a shot wide under pressure from Richard Dunne as the home side enjoyed a good spell of pressure.
Huckerby, on as a substitute for Macken, took advantage of a mix-up in the Gills defence to sprint through after 71 minutes, but he stood on the ball and the chance had gone.
Huckerby fashioned another chance shortly after, turning the defender and lashing a fierce drive which Brown did well to tip over.
As the full-time whistle approached, City, and in particular Huckerby, looked most likely to score.
He flashed a shot wide after 82 minutes, but netted his 26th goal of the season two minutes later.
A weak backpass from Marcus Browning was intercepted by the former Leeds forward, and he headed home at the second attempt to cap another fine all-round display.
THE SPORTING LIFE
|…We played some nice stuff and Ali was running the show.
He played the ball into me and I played it back to him just inside the box. He back heeled it back, but flipped it off the ground at the same time, so I struck a sweet volley low and hard past the Gillingham keeper for one of my favourite goals for City
EXCERPT FROM FEED THE GOAT BY SHAUN GOATER AND DAVID CLAYTON