Saturday, February 13, 2016

THE DAY IT RAINED GOALS

 
Brian Horton: unheralded advocate of all-out attack
“This was a throwback to how the game used to be played,” chirruped John Motson on Match of the Day that night, as Maine Road stood and clapped to a man. For those lucky enough to have been in the ground earlier that day (Maine Road’s changing face under Frannie Lee’s chairmanship had meant the capacity had been severely reduced owing to the rebuilding of the Kippax), it would be a game that would live long in the memory.

It was 1994-95 and City and Spurs had just put on a show of footballing skills that had carried everyone beyond the murky wet Manchester day that was busy enveloping everything outside the old stadium.  

For 90 fascinating minutes Spurs, intent on attack under the slightly misguided and open hand of Osvaldo Ardiles, had stood toe-to-toe with a City side set up in cavalier formation by Brian Horton. Both managers would be gone from their jobs by the end of the season, but on this soaking wet October afternoon, they revealed their passion for entertaining, sweeping, fantasy football.

In many ways it was a microcosm of the world the two clubs had always inhabited and still inhabit today: fresh clean attacking football, the power of the aesthetically pleasing and the will to win 4-3 every time instead of 1-0. 

It is a philosophy that has served both clubs well but also hampered their ambitions down the years, making them cup specialists in Spurs’ case and often a meandering laughing stock in City’s case, but it nevertheless starkly represents the approach the two clubs have brought to the game for many decades.

Spurs under Osvaldo Ardiles were as committed to attack as City under Brian Horton and this particular match proved to be a monument to the respective managers’ attacking principles. Sensibly or not, the little Argentinean had set his side up to gain maximum exposure for a strike force of Teddy Sherringham, Jurgen Klinsmann Ilie Dumitrescu and Jason Dozzell. With Barmby, Popescu and Hazard, the side was heavily tilted towards creativity. Likewise, City managed to field a lop-sided looking team including Paul Walsh, Niall Quinn, Peter Beagrie and Nicky Summerbee. The stage was set for a difficult afternoon for the few defenders left. 

In unrelenting rain, the ebb and flow of the first half produced four goals and a welter of other untaken chances.

City struck first as a right wing cross was half cut out by a young, raw and awkward-looking  Sol Campbell after 15 minutes, but, as the defender lost his bearings, that will-o-the-whisp goal poacher Walsh nipped in and tucked the ball away low to ‘keeper Ian Walker’s left hand side.

Spurs were busy weaving intricate patterns through midfield and one of the more incisive of these allowed Klinsmann, all flying arms and legs,  to slip past the City defence, where he was unceremoniously upended by Andy Dibble (see pic below). Dibble had been sent off the week before for a similar kamikaze manoeuvre on QPR’s Les Ferdinand at Loftus Road. The goalkeeper, always prone to rushes of blood to the head – none more so than the infamous occasion when he had blithely held the ball out with one hand at the City Ground, Nottingham, in order to launch a counter attack, but had not looked behind him, where the lurking Gary Crosby nodded it out of his palm and scored impishly. That was a Dibble mistake that had almost caused Howard Kendall to combust on the touchline.



On this occasion his rash keeping resulted only in a yellow card and Dumitrescu, the wonderfully balanced Romanian forward, slotted the low penalty away easily for 1-1 as the North Stand continued to rage at the German’s trademark balletic dive over Dibble’s legs.

Before the break City had tied the game up, however, and went in three-one up thanks to the unheralded wing-play of Summerbee – still trying to shake off the stigma of twenty-five thousand people comparing him to his father- and, in particular, Beagrie.

First Summerbee’s searching right wing cross was headed goalwards by Paul Walsh, only for Walker to parry his effort out to Niall Quinn. The lanky Irishman nodded home from a prone position, risking injury from Kevin Scott’s wildly flailing boot. Then Beagrie skipped effortlessly past two defenders on the left in a piece of dynamic skill that he often revealed during that season of goals and intricate wingplay, motored over the half-way line and passed inside to Quinn, who moved the ball on in one movement to the incoming Walsh. The momentum of his shot carried the ball into the net after Walker’s half save.

With the crowd – and John Motson – buzzing, the half time whistle came as a rude intrusion on a superb spell of open football. Tottenham had contributed royally to the Ballet in the Rain but had been royally punished for their openness and willingness to commit so many to attack.

The two sides resumed this pleasing ebb and flow immediately after the break, as if both managers had expressed delight in what they had been watching. No closing the game down, no moving a hulking presence into central midfield. As you were. Back on the attack. After 46 minutes Dumitrescu rolled in a second Spurs goal from Klinsmann’s clever back heel and the game was back on a knife-edge once again. City charged back into attack and, with Walsh weaving in and out on the left and Beagrie tormenting the Tottenham rearguard, the Blues managed to plunder two more goals. Beagrie’s run and cross was headed home by Walsh and then Walsh himself set up Flitcroft for the fifth.

More chances came and went but by this time the crowd was simply lapping up the one touch football and basking in a performance that would warm the wet souls in their Kippax packamacs on the way home (there was no roof at this stage). Although Brian Horton’s side would never quite reach these heights again, a swashbuckling 4-3 win at QPR in the League Cup followed the Spurs win with peter Beagrie again lighting up a game with his astonishing mix of speed and skill.

Andy Dibble prepares himself for action
These days of footloose attack couldn’t last, however. Within a month, Horton’s honeymoon was beginning to end as City were larruped 5-0 at Old Trafford and by the time the clubs met again at White Hart Lane in the spring, all memories of this sumptuous encounter had been forgotten.

With City on a pitiful run of two wins from 18 and the Sheringham-Klinsmann-Anderton-Dumitrescu-Popescu-Barmby dream crumbling, a 2-1 Spurs win left City in relegation trouble and Spurs in midfield. A 4-1 thrashing by Everton in the FA Cup semi final would put the lid on the Londoners season while City struggled clear of the drop thanks to miraculous wins over Liverpool and at Ewood Park against champions-elect Blackburn Rovers.

Horton and Ardiles would be consigned to the manager’s bin, a brief stay in the limelight typified by the Ballet in the Rain on the day the attacking never stopped.

3 comments:

  1. Simon, based on the amount of injuries and various players form, I had made the rather pessimistic but not entirely implausible prediction that City would lose the next 5 games starting from the game against Leicester. In your opinion, can you see any way that they can prove me wrong and win at Chelsea, Kiev and Wembley in the next 3 games?

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    1. As they are tired, disorganised and losing confidence by the minute, will play the reserves at Chelsea, have little support in Kiev and face a barrage of dreamy, tear stained Liverpool nostalgia at Wembley, that's a categorical no from me.

      *now watch them go

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