Alan Ball's first season as Maine Road manager has ended in relegation. On a day when Manchester United were facing the prospect of trips to their wealthy European rivals, City were contemplating visits to Grimsby and Oxford.
City made a stirring fight-back today to gain a point in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool, but it was a result which failed to save them from dropping into the Endsleigh League on goal difference from surviving Coventry and Southampton.
Ian Rush chose his final Premiership appearance for Liverpool to help end City's stay in the top-flight. The Welsh striker will be leaving Anfield on a free transfer after the FA Cup final next Saturday. And how City must have wished he had departed before transfer deadline day as Ball's worse nightmare came true.
Rush was only in the side as Stan Collymore was sidelined with a groin strain. He was named skipper with John Barnes resting up before the Wembley showdown against Manchester United.
Rush responded with a wonderful goal five minutes before the break when he hammered a 22-yard shot into the net following a crossfield pass from Steve McManaman.
City had gone behind after only six minutes when McManaman, who could have had a hatful of goals, swept in a teasing cross. In his hurry to try and clear, City midfielder Steve Lomas could only turn the ball into his own net. City looked completely out of the equation at half-time, although they had chances in the first half to draw level.
Niall Quinn headed against the bar, then saw keeper David James brilliantly save his rebound.
Republic of Ireland striker Quinn was again out of luck when James touched over another effort following a cross by Michael Brown.
Then Uwe Rosler headed wide from close range following a cross by Quinn.
City were denied a clear penalty when Neil Ruddock blocked Nicky Summerbee as he made his run into the box. Referee Stephen Lodge, of Barnsley, awarded a free kick instead.
Moments like these can mean the difference between success and failure and it proved crucial to City who stormed back late in the game. Rosler pulled a goal back after 71 minutes from the penalty spot after Neil Ruddock was punished for a rash challenge on Georgi Kinkladze. City stepped up the pace and, seven minutes later, Kit Symons whacked in a volley from a cross by substitute Martin Phillips to give the fans hope.
Fellow sub Mikhil Kavelashvili then struck a shot wide of the post as the tension mounted.
Symons headed down a free-kick from Kinkladze but Georgian international Kavelashvili couldn't get the vital touch. It turned out to be too little and too late and Lomas kicked the ball wildly into the crowd at the end of the game. His despair was understandable but yet he shouldn't carry the can for City's failure to survive in the top flight. The damage was done in the first 11 games when they took only two points.
Ball's job, however, appears to be safe as he has already had a vote of confidence from chairman Francis Lee to carry on his rebuilding programme -- albeit in the Endsleigh League.
Disappointed City manager Alan Ball said: "Sometimes it is for the best. You can take backward steps in your attempt to go forward. My nature and that of the chairman will be that we will become stronger because of this. I desperately wanted to do well for the City fans, who have been marvellous." Ball, who side took only two points from their first 11 games and drop into the Endsleigh League on goal difference behind Coventry and Southampton, added: "We have been relegated not because of today's result but over the season as a whole -- we've paid dearly for our start." City's fans protested about the late substitution of Quinn, but Ball explained: "I wanted to get some width in our play. It was as simple as that and it worked because we scored two goals after we changed things round."
Liverpool manager Roy Evans claimed: "If City had played like that all the way through the season they wouldn't have been in this position. They haven't gone down because of what's happened today, but because of the 38 matches. We were at our most committed. It would have been a sad day if we hadn't adopted that attitude. I was quite pleased with the way we played for an hour. You have got to expect a barrage from a club in City's position. At least we held our ground and continued to battle. We should have sealed it at 2-1 when Steve McManaman broke away."
Copyright -"Press Association"