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FA Cup 4th Round, 5/2/97
Manchester City 3(1)
Scorers: Heaney (24), Summerbee (61), Rosler (71)
Watford 1(0)
Team: Miller 4, Gibbs 4, Ludden 3, Palmer 5, Ward 3, Page 4, *Bazeley 5*, Easton 4, Noel-Williams 3, Johnson 4, Slater 4
Subs: Robinson (for Noel-Williams) 0, Chamberlain, Andrews (for Easton) 3
Scorers: Noel-Williams (58)
Closer than the scoreline suggests
Report by Ian Lay

Drama, excitement, alcohol, verbal abuse to refs and endless insults towards L***N fans. What more could wish for from an evening out at an F.A. Cup match? That was a rhetorical question. I don't want any smutty replies. I got to Maine Road with my friend John Reynolds and his son Tim. We had met Tim at Milton Keynes and he drove us to Manchester. I took the advice of someone on the mailing list and we decided to go to the Man City Social club for a couple of beers. Met quite a few Horns in there. Including Richard Wilson ( I think that was his name ) who is on the list and we had a nice little chat.

Whilst I was drinking a woman came round with one of those cards where you pick a team for 50p and if your selection is revealed when they remove the silver panel then you win some cash. I looked down at the card and couldn't see Watford, so for some reason I chose Leyton Orient !!! Don't ask me why. Imagine my surprise when 15 minutes later the same woman comes back to me and tells me Leyton Orient was under the scratch panel. Amazing. It's the only thing they'll win all year.

So 17 pounds in my pocket ( I gave the lady 3 pounds for a drink ) and things are going pretty well.

The Man City fans were very friendly. Everybody was mixing and chatting and consuming large amounts of Tetley Bitter. Marvellous. We left the bar at about 7.30pm and headed down to the ground.

I got to my seat just as the game was kicking off, though I spent the whole of the game standing up. There was no point in sitting down - the game was too exciting. I would have ended up feeling like a yo-yo. Up and down, up and down.

Watford created the first clear-cut chance. Slater floating in a free kick from the right hand side found Johnson who had lost his marker 6 or 7 yards out. Johnson, with only the keeper to beat, somehow managed to send his diving header the other side of the post. 9 times out 10 he would have scored. But to be fair to him, heading is not the strongest part of his game. We continued to press and both teams were playing attractive football. Though thankfully for us Palmer was keeping Kinkladze (I don't think I've spelt that right!) very quiet.

Man City, having forced a series of corners, managed to break the deadlock after a scramble which resulted in Heaney driving the ball past Miller from about 6 yards out. We didn't deserve to be one down, and I think the players knew it because it made them even more determined. For the rest of the half we more than matched City in ideas and endeavours with everyone contributing in the attacking and defensive duties.

So as I went for my half time cup of tea I was very optimistic. We came out in the second period and picked up where we left off. Bazeley, who had played mostly down the right in the first half, switched wings, with Slater being left to roam. This seemed to work well as Darren started causing more problems than he been in the first half. Taking defenders on down the line and cutting inside to set up Gifton and Slater with a couple of half chances.

Then came the moment of crass stupidity that changed the game in Man City's favour. Palmer who had been following Kin-what's-his-face wherever he went was obstructed by Lomas. Palmer wasn't very pleased with this and seemed to slightly push Lomas ( and I do mean slightly ). He then turned to the referee and complained about the obstruction. The ref stopped the game and I thought we were going to get a free kick. Imagine my surprise when the ref reached into his pocket and produced a red card for Palmer. This was pure over-reaction. I don't think anybody in the whole ground including the Man City fans could really understand why. The official line seems to be that Palmer "struck" Lomas. It was ridiculous. I know I was a lot further away from the incident than Palmer, but it wasn't as if Lomas fell to the floor, rolling over and over with his hand on his face because he didn't !! It wasn't as if the all Man City fans were shouting "off off off" at the top of their voices because they weren't. I think the only person in the whole Stadium who agreed with the sending off was the ref. Now I'm not saying we would have gone on to draw or win the game if Palmer had not been sent off. But at the time the game was very even and we were creating chances.

After this the rest of the game was a bit of a blur. It took me until about full time to register what had happened. It was that unbelievable. To add to my dodgy state of mind, Gifton only goes and turns it upside by grabbing an equaliser. Slater cutting in from the left hand side was fouled on the edge of the box. However, he managed to get the ball through to Easton who slipped it past a defender, as the ref waved play on, into the path of Noel-Williams who coolly drew the keeper and slotted the ball past him and into the waiting goal. Well, to say we all went berserk was an understatement. But unfortunately it didn't last long. Kinkykladzy, now free of Palmer's watchful eye, started to make things happen for City. Ten minutes and two goals later and we were heading out. A slip from Page on the edge of the box allowed Lomas ( I think ) to pull the ball back for Summerbee to drive the ball low past Miller. And then a little later Ward mistimed a jump near the half way line and the ball went over his head to leave Rosler clean through and he gave Miller no chance as he hit a low drive just inside the right hand post.

It wasn't all City though by any means. We had a lot of possession, and Bazeley in particular was causing them a lot of problems down the left flank. Andrews (who had come on for Easton) had a couple of shots on target but the nothing that really troubled their keeper. But we did create one very good chance with about ten minutes to go. I can't remember who was involved, but someone (Slater I think) whipped in a cross from the right and someone else (it may have been Bazeley or Johnson) got away from their marker but from about 8 yards out rather awkwardly headed the ball wide. I think they couldn't decide whether to head for goal, or chest the ball down and shoot. (The latter in my opinion looking the best option as there was no one around them.)

I think everyone bar the real hard core Man City fan will admit that the game was closer than the scoreline, and I think that had we not had Palmer sent off we could have forced a replay out of them. Until they scored their third we matched them all the way. And yet again a referee who was far to eager to show the cards has cost us dearly. (I think some of the bookings against the Man City players were harsh as well). This wasn't a dirty game, yet we've had 3 or 4 bookings and a sending off.

Bazeley was man of the match without doubt. It is definitely the best performance I've seen from him all season. He took players on with a confidence that has been lacking a lot over the last few months. Johnson and Easton also put in their best displays as well. Palmer may well have pipped Bazeley to the gold medal if he had seen the game out. He really did have Kindergartenkladzy in his pocket for long periods of the game.

The defence performed well against a good attacking side, until the loss of Palmer put them under too much pressure. Gibbs in particular having a very good game. Miller was excellent, producing many excellent saves and he can't really be faulted for any of the goals.

Slater was... well Slater. I don't think I need to say anymore. Gifton looked a little bit out of his depth at times, but took his goal well and never gave up.

Well, the F.A. Cup is over for us now for another year. I still think though that we will get to Wembley via another route before the end of May. You never know.

One last thing. Biggest cheer and round of applause of the night came from the Man City fans when we all started chanting "Stand up if you hate Man U, stand up if you hate Man U". A lovely moment which I won't forget.

A good foundation
Report by Dan Exeter

Although it looks like we took a bit of a pounding (we did lose 3-1, after all) to be honest I thought we can hold our heads up high and not feel downcast. For a team missing nine, ten or eleven first teamers (however many it is) and with five teenage lads in the squad, three of whom made their first team debuts only this season, the fact that it was only after we had one of our best players on the night sent off that City really started to look vaguely threatening means that we gave City a good run for their money.

We played an ultra-defensive 4-5-1; Ludden returned at left-back, Gibbs was at right-back, Page and Ward in the centre, with Slater, Easton, Bazeley and Johno in midfield, Palmer doing a man-to-man on Kinkladze with the Gift up front to run about and cause hassle. Palmer did a magnificent job, always with Kinkladze, never committing himself too early and intelligently shepherding Kinkladze away from danger. I thought Easton did exceptionally well too, finding space and passing well. One free-kick of his found Johnno diving in for a header unmarked and a couple of yards out - alas Johnno couldn't make it count. Easton also had a curler well saved by whatever disgrace to the goalkeeping profession occupied City's No 1 shirt on this occasion (Margetson? Dibble?).

Bazeley in particular impressed me. He always had the beating of their No 3, and it took the No 3 and the No 9 (Heaney) to stop him most of the time. If there was one player (and to be honest, I think there'll be more) who really should benefit in terms of increased confidence then it's Our Darren. By the way, Pete Goddard in Liverpool; I hereby announce my application to join your new club, Darren-Bazeley-isn't-that-bad-really-on-occasion. Darren played well all match, including after the sending off when he appeared on the left wing and even up front.

Johnno too played well (for a change, ho ho ho). He's not as good in the fetch-and-carry role as Palmer is, but he seemed to do a reasonable job passing and tackling. In fact, the only real blemish was poor old Gift, a mere 17 and stuck up against Kernaghan and Symons all alone. They may both be utter shite but they are full internationals (even if it is only Wales and Ireland). Gift never looked with it all night, his runs never quite came off, he was never able to win and hold the ball. This isn't meant as a criticism, as like I said despite his obvious natural talent he's only a young lad and has a lot to learn and I think once the rest of our forwards have some modicum of fitness the Gift should go back to the youth team/reserves to reflect a bit on what he's learnt in the last couple of months. And of course, he scored our goal, and a very well taken one it was too.

I suppose I ought to say my 2p's worth on the sending off. To be totally honest, from what I say Palmer should have gone for the simple reason he did raise his arm at Lomas and I thought he swiped the back of his head. Now Lomas thoroughly deserves all he gets as far as I'm concerned, and he was blatantly obstructing Palmer from following Kinkladze, but Stevie did raise his arm and if you're going to do that in front of the ref...well never mind, but even after the sending off we weren't out of it totally (we scored for a start. The first Watford goal I'd seen from open play since Gary Porter's overhead kick against Walsall in the Fizz Cup). Consensus was that if Gibbs had gone onto Kinkladze we might still have come away with a replay, or at least a less-emphatically looking victory for City.

Just one final point; Man City fans have no sense of humour, whereas ours were brilliant I thought. We kept cheering and singing to the end, when you'd have thought it would be City who would be doing the singing. The result was not commensurate with the performance, but if we can look at the positive sides of the game (not forgetting Miller as well, who pulled off some marvellous saves. As Robin Walters said to me after one right at the end, he does it too often for it to be coincidence) then we'll all see we've got a good foundation to hopefully build up our promotion challenge.

Ever the eternal optimist, me.

Why, Steve, why?
Report by Nick Grundy

This was, really, a cracking FA cup tie, and despite the six hour round trip to see it (thanks to Alice for driving - you're a star), despite a defeat which was almost inevitable after Steve Palmer's rush of blood to the head, I'm glad I saw this game.

We started the match strongly; the fans were all very vocal - noticeably more so than the City fans, in fact - and this seemed to give us some confidence, as we had a lot of possession for the opening twenty minutes or so. We were playing a variation on 4-5-1, with Gifton the only out-and-out striker, but with Stuart Slater tucked in behind him, and roaming as he did against Rotherham, only better. It rapidly became obvious that Steve Palmer had the unenviable job of man-marking Kinkladze, while Easton and Bazeley were on the two flanks.

Bazeley was on fire; he too carried on from where he left off against Rotherham, and his dribbling and close control were far too much for the City left back (Ray Ingram. The City fan who went up in the car with me tried to excuse him by saying he's a centre back really, but he's been playing left back for them for most of the season). Bazeley went past him and, when they realised he was getting murdered and got one of the centre backs to cover, Baze whipped him as well. His crossing was...well, better at least.

During this opening spell, we had several good chance and one great chance to score. The first came from a Clint Easton free kick on the right. He played it across and Johnson, running in unmarked, put his header inexcusably wide from six yards or so out. When we create chances as good as this against higher division sides (and God knows we don't do it that often against our division's sides), we must score them - there are really no excuses.

Anyway, the other one which sticks in my mind came from a Bazeley cross; Slater met it at the back post but, under some dodgy-looking pressure from a City defender, headed straight down into the ground. Then, Man City scored.

To be fair, they had had a couple of corners before, generally when their long-ball tactics had forced one of our defenders to play it safe, but the goal was scrappy at best. Kinkladze sent it over, it was half-cleared by someone at the back post, but fell for Neil Heaney, totally unmarked just inside the box, to fire past Miller. One-nil.

We fought back strongly, with Easton, from another free kick, getting a sweet connection on the ball but not enough power, and Margetson got down to it fairly comfortably. Clint looked excellent with the set pieces last night, and kept up with the pace well. He also looked comfortable on the ball (which is more than you could say about certain other members of our midfield. Notably the Australian ones), got stuck in when necessary and his passing was an example to many Australian - never mind.

Anyway, we went into half time a goal down, but we'd been by far the better team. We'd kept the ball well, created some excellent chances, and generally looked the better side, as the chants of "You're supposed to be at home" testified. We did give them a bit too much space in midfield, but this was always going to be likely with Palmer following Kinkladze everywhere.

One of the reasons we did so well first half is because Palmer's job of marking the Georgian was exemplary; he only had kicks at set pieces. He followed him everywhere, at one point City were attacking our goal, but Palmer was on the half way line with Kinkladze. Great stuff.

Not so great second half, however, when he decided to get sent off. Trailing his man across the field, Palmer was blatantly obstructed by Lomas. Instead of appealing to the ref, however, Palmer hit him very obviously in the face. As soon as he'd done it he knew he was off, and really no one could argue with the decision. If you raise your hands in a game you've got to expect to go.

I think it's fair to say that's why we lost. Kinkladze was involved in the crucial second goal, and this came after we'd equalised. Dominic Ludden won the ball in our half, and took it forward. Holding off a challenge, he slipped a lovely little ball through for Gifton to chase; he got to it, and then I lost track of what happened because of the succession of fouls on our players around the box that I was screaming at the ref for not giving. Irritatingly, he was right to play advantage, as Noel-Williams fired the ball past Margetson - one-one.

At this point if we'd had Palmer, I think we'd have been fine; one-all all the way and a replay at the Vic. Without him, though, we were always going to be under the weather, and so it proved when Rosler played Kinkladze through for him to take the ball to the byline and cut it back. Summerbee arrived, again unmarked, around the penalty spot and blasted it under Miller.

From here on it's all a bit blurry; KJ first took Easton off for Wayne Andrews, which was fine; at a goal down we needed some more power up front. Now, I'd have thought the sensible thing to do would be to move Slater onto the left wing and have Wayne play just behind Gifton; instead Wayne played right midfield and Baze, our best player of the day, got shunted onto the left. This was madness; at one point Andrews was playing in a right back position, and our formation really fell to pieces from here on in.

But, we played some good and really entertaining football, as everyone swarmed forward in search of an equaliser. Darren Ward in particular impressed me with his willingness to carry the ball out of defence and try to play a ball to feet rather than boot it upfield, and he was very strong defensively as well. Slater faded a bit after popping up everywhere first half, but I think this was partly due to his having to drop a bit deeper to cover in midfield; this is not one of his strengths.

Our best chances came after Paul Robinson came on. More strange tactical decisions: take off your goalscorer for an 18 year old left back, get him to play left midfield, and move a right midfielder from the left to up front. Got that? Neither did the players, as far as I can make out.

Sometime around Robbo coming on, they got a third. Pushing forward, we were caught out by the long ball; Page missed a relatively easy header and allowed Rosler a clear run on goal. One of the centre backs actually caught up with him enough to force him wide, but his powerful shot eluded Miller and found the net; I thought this was a blemish on Miller's part - from that angle Rosler shouldn't really have scored.

Then, we were in their half pretty much up to the final whistle. Andrews had a few hopeful shots saved by Margetson, but our best chance fell to the impressive Robinson. A deep cross was sent over by Gibbs (?), and looked safe for the keeper, but Robbo charged in, got in front of him, and headed the ball down as Margetson tried to climb over him to reach it. It ricocheted off his shin and just wide - on another day that would have gone in.

Robinson played excellently; his passing and keeping possession were both good, and his positional play and tireless running were a joy to watch. The one thing he didn't do which I wanted him to was tackle Lomas in some brutal and preferably life-threatening fashion, but we can't have everything I suppose.

The positive side of this game was that for the first half at least we looked a stronger side than them, and played some excellent passing football. Even with a man down, we still kept trying to play, and we contributed a great deal to a very good cup game. When you go down to ten men against a higher-division team than you, though, you're always going to struggle, and so it proved, but this game was enormously encouraging as we looked CONFIDENT - if we play like this in the league I haven't seen anyone this season we won't beat convincingly.

And, once again, I come back to priorities: it's great to know we can play like that, but useless unless we do, so let's make sure we play City next season in the league (my one consolation about the amount of stick the City fan at university with me is going to give me is that they're not going to get promoted. Ha.) So, on to Brentford on Saturday, and a real promotion six-pointer. Let's do 'em over again.