Throwing Tigers to the Wolves

Posted by Simon Curtis

In his time in the managerial hot seat at Maine Road, Brian Horton frequently looked at reporters as if he had sat on a stray pin cushion.

It wasn't as if any of the tactical points put to him were of a particularly taxing nature; nor was it that journalistic insults were flying regarding his taste in loudly checked after-match blazers, nor even his apparently undying love for what tactics gurus might have liked to call VOD (vast open-plan defending).

His permanently startled expression may well have had something to do with life in general at Manchester City, however, which at the time was a bit of an eye-opener to say the least. Having taken over City when Peter Swales was still in charge at Maine Road, Horton managed as well as he could through the transfer of the board into the hands of ex-City striker Francis Lee. Lee, a man making his fortune in -- among other things -- the production of lavatory paper, proceeded to deposit Horton and his staff deep in the brown stuff.

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It was a period of considerable turmoil for a man, who was experiencing top flight management for the first time, for a club well used to anarchy at director level and for those of us poor souls attempting to follow their fluctuating fortunes from the sidelines.

Despite all of this, Horton is remembered warmly in Manchester for putting together a side, which attacked from all angles, at all times, sometimes containing two out and out wingers (Beagrie and Nicky Summerbee) with up to three strikers feeding from them (Quinn, Rosler and Walsh). For the 5-2s and the 4-3s that decorated that period, Brian Horton will always be recalled fondly by City followers.

This grand reputation, however, is not just synonymous with Manchester City.

Those of us shivering on the great windswept terrace of The Kippax in November 1985 may choose to remember a tight northern area semifinal of the much vaunted Full Members' Cup, a trophy invented for the likes of City, who at the time had no chance whatsoever of winning anything else. That the Blues lost 4-5 to Chelsea in the Wembley final will tell readers a little of how the game has moved on since then. City and Chelsea are now serial Champions League participators and are among the pre-season favourites for pots each year. In those grim days of industrial strife and mindless vandalism, both clubs fed from the scraps on a much less well-varnished dining table. The grim was yet to be put in Grimaldi, if you will.

City's opponents in that long forgotten semi-final were Hull City, at the time described as a "below average second division side" by Peter Gardner in the Manchester Evening News. Hull's willing young manager on that occasion? None other than Brian Horton, taking his first steps as a player-manager on a career path which would later bring him to City and eventually back to Hull as assistant to Phil Brown the last time they were in the Premier League.

Horton will have a few happy memories of that inaugural season with the big boys in season 2008-09, as it included away wins at Arsenal and Tottenham, the ex-City midfielder Geovanni smacking memorable winners in both games, and an autumn spent in the top four of the league. One of Hull's least pleasant memories from that season came at City, where manager Brown infamously gave his half-time team talk (which seemed to be more of a public castigation judging by the finger-wagging going on) on the pitch with his charges four-down to doubles from Filipe Caicedo and Robinho. City went on to win that game 5-1, a score Manuel Pellegrini will be glancing at hungrily as Hull once again hove into view Saturday.

For the Blues, this can be seen as a perfect opportunity to atone for the mishap in Wales last weekend and to catapult themselves back into the early season front runners. While nobody in their right mind takes the league table seriously after three games, there can be no doubt that, barring one or two sliders, a table takes the approximate shape it is going to carry for the next seven months or so by the time that September is with us. Pellegrini, satisfied with a relatively kind Champions League draw and a home chance to re-atone for last May's Cup Final debacle in the next round of the League Cup, will now look to make quick and noticeable progress in the league, while would-be challengers all around him are busy watching the incoming transfer deadline with a high degree of ill-preparedness.

Ideally, defeat in Cardiff was not part of the overall plan, but it will be quickly forgotten if City get their teeth properly into the soft flesh of the Hull City Tigers Saturday. With a moniker that suggests this rugby league town is still focusing a little too much on the "wrong" sport, Hull must show they are serious about staying in the Premier League and are not just busy taking advantages of the kind of cheap marketing gimmicks that the likes of Horton would almost certainly have blanched at, had it happened under his watch.

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