Wanchope Heads City to
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Paul Wilson for Get Your Kits Out at the City of Manchester stadium
Saturday May 1, 2004
Hold the back page: Kevin Keegan must stay. The Manchester City manager's decision to use Paulo Wanchope's height in preference to Robbie Fowler's sharpness was fully vindicated when a header from the Costa Rican earned only the fourth home win of the season, virtually securing City's Premiership status in the process and probably extinguishing Leeds United's realistic hopes of survival.
City were good value for the three points against a disappointing Newcastle, who will have to raise their game considerably if they are to take anything from the second leg of their Uefa Cup semi-final on Thursday.
Dropping points here meant Newcastle missed the chance to pressurise Liverpool by moving into fourth place, however briefly, and effectively they have wasted their game in hand. In all likelihood the battle for the final Champions League qualifying place will go to the final day and Newcastle's visit to Anfield, although Aston Villa could still take advantage of the continued dithering by the teams above them.
Newcastle had enough chances in the first half to win, but failed to take them. By the end of the afternoon, with the relegation candidates running around like European champions, only Shay Given was keeping Newcastle in touch.
'We've been poor away from home this season,' Sir Bobby Robson admitted. 'We were quite lively in the first half but fell away in the second. We didn't create any chances after half-time, and we defended poorly for the goal. We didn't stop the cross and we didn't deal with it.'
City could have been a goal down in the opening minute, when David James could only parry Laurent Robert's free-kick, and was grateful to see the rebound fall to the less than lethal Titus Bramble. Completely failing to learn the lesson they then gave away a second free-kick in an even more risky area four minutes later when Nicolas Anelka fouled Shola Ameobi on the edge of the box, but just as Robert was marking out a fast bowler's run-up Alan Shearer went for surprise and struck a shot into the wall. Robert did not look best pleased.
Newcastle were the team carving out clear chances, Ameobi just failing to get the vital touch to Robert's dangerous cross in the 23rd minute and bringing a smart save from James after collecting a Shearer knock-down two minutes later. City were trying to play on the break but making too many errors themselves. When Sun Jihai won a free-kick after half an hour and passed the ball to an imaginary colleague, James had to be at his best again to deny Darren Ambrose once Ameobi had swiftly transferred the ball forward.
Just before the interval a miskick by Richard Dunne set up Shearer for the sort of volley he normally snaffles, only for the striker to respond with a miscue of his own. Newcastle had dominated the first half, yet almost paid the price for profligacy as half-time approached. First Dunne met Michael Tarnat's corner with a thunderous header that would have been a certain goal had he directed it anywhere else but straight at Given, then City were denied a free-kick, maybe even a penalty, when the referee missed a nudge by Bramble that prevented Wanchope reaching a long through ball before Given.
If Newcastle were lucky on those occasions their respite was brief, and deservedly so as they spent the first 15 minutes of the second half looking as disorganised as their opponents. There was hardly anything to choose between them until Anelka showed a glimpse of his class after an hour.
A glimpse was all it took. Turning up on the right wing, Anelka advanced into the area past two defenders, and just when it appeared he had been forced to turn away from goal, managed to lift a sur prisingly precise cross in the direction of Wanchope. Andy O'Brien and Aaron Hughes remained rooted to the ground while Wanchope rose elegantly to head home.
Newcastle never looked likely to answer that, and within minutes Robson began making changes with Thursday's game at Marseille in mind. Playing with unusual confidence, City swarmed forward but found Given equal to their best efforts, with a tip over the bar from Paul Bosvelt and a save with his legs to deny Wanchope.
'He's a handful,' Keegan said. 'I thought he deserved to stay in and his goal was a reward for hard work. We took a big step, we even played some good stuff in the second half. We can't say for sure we are safe yet but it's more in our own hands. It all depends on Leeds, but you never know, Everton or Tottenham could still get dragged into it.'