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Saturday, May 29, 1999 Published at 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK

Sport: Football

City hit the long road back

City's semi-final win provoked rare celebration at Maine Road

Just imagine for a minute you are a Manchester City fan. Particularly one that lives and works in the northern football stronghold.

Wednesday night you saw your bitter rivals win the third and most prestigious of their trophies this season.

You were probably then denied sleep by people driving up and down your road hooting car horns.

And Thursday morning at work was hell - your only consolation the huge hangover the gloating Reds were enduring, albeit with understandably good spirits.

[ image: Action from City's semi-final win over Wigan]
Action from City's semi-final win over Wigan
Your path home from work was then disrupted by half a million people cheering a bus ride as your home city was turned into a red sea of celebratory colour.

If Manchester United's treble win irritated some in the rest of England (and be honest, it did) then native City fans could be forgiven for spending the last few days in a darkened room.

And the trouble is that it could get worse when they emerge bleary-eyed on Sunday.

Because defeat to Gillingham in Sunday's second division play-off final would deny City fans even the small consolation that they are at last on the long road back to the top.

"The super-tanker is being turned around," said one City fan this week about Sunday afternoon's match with the Kent club.

After years of decline, he believed that getting to Wembley showed that City were on their way back.

'Up to us'

And the club's hard-man skipper Andy Morrison has a reassuring message for him and thousands of others who have seen two relegations in three years.

"There is a debt to pay to the fans here," he amitted.

"It's up to the 11 players on the pitch to get the club out of this situation, not the players who were here before and have been and gone.

[ image: City boss Joe Royle]
City boss Joe Royle
"It's up to us to get us out of this."

In saying that, Morrison accepts the pressure and hopes of Maine Road's loyal following, but he says it is not increased by events in Barcelona last Wednesday.

"What United have done doesn't put any more pressure on us," he insisted.

"Just look at our stadium and the fan base we have. We all know what we have to do at Wembley and we don't need to be told."

Morrison has recovered from a knee injury to lead City from the central defence while veteran midfielder Ian Bishop could also be back after a hamstring problem.

Gills with big plans

This latest episode of City's eventful history has overshadowed a potential fairytale in Kent.

The man who rescued Gillingham from financial disaster four years ago is about to watch the club's first-ever Wembley appearance in its 106-year history.

"To have come this close is a fantastic achievement for a club of our size, and it will be a historic and momentous day for the club," said Paul Scally.

"But we are not going there just to make up the numbers.

"Our players have been magnificent all season and we are going to give them a game."

Scally has already started improving the Priestfield Stadium and the club sold its 35,000 Wembley tickets inside 36 hours.

This corner of Kent is likely to empty for the day as a convoy of 40 coaches take many to the Twin Towers.

Ten thousand others will occupy extra train seats on lines normally occupied by daily commuters into London.

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