Keegan puts faith in City youngsters

Last updated at 07:44 07 March 2005

Kevin Keegan is convinced Manchester City can thrive in the adversity of being without seven key men for Monday's north-west showdown with Bolton.

City's outside hopes of clinching a UEFA Cup spot have been dealt a hammer blow by the loss of Shaun Wright-Phillips for up to eight weeks following knee surgery.

Wright-Phillips joins four Blues' team-mates on the injured list and with Joey Barton and Stephen Jordan suspended for the visit of Sam Allardyce's men, the chances of City maintaining their push for a top-seven spot appear slim.

But while recognising the absence of Wright-Phillips is a major setback, Keegan is refusing to look on the bleak side.

After the emergence of Jordan, Barton and Wright-Phillips' half-brother Bradley already this term, he is now calling on the rest of City's home-grown talent to prove their worth too.

"Of course, the injuries do make our chances of qualifying for the UEFA Cup that bit less likely but I also think situations such as these can be exciting too," said Keegan.

"How many times in situations like these have you seen youngsters come through and make a name for themselves?

"We have found things this season even I didn't realise were there and I still believe there is an element of surprise in us.

"Yes we have lost a key player (in Shaun Wright-Phillips), but in Nicolas Anelka we lost a key player during the transfer window as well.

"We lost other players to injury at the start of the season, yet we still have a chance to finish higher in the Premiership than we have ever done."

Willo Flood, who gained man-of-the-match honours against Norwich during a brief run in the first team in November, could fill the berth vacated by Wright-Phillips, although Lee Croft, back from an impressive loan spell at Oldham, and Stephen Ireland will also hope to be offered their chance.

Currently 10th, City need to climb one place to equal their best Premiership finish, under Peter Reid 12 years ago.

But it is seventh spot, the position Bolton currently occupy, that will open a European door should Champions League-bound Arsenal and Manchester United battle through to the FA Cup Final in May.

And it is that position Keegan has set as the target for the remainder of the campaign, refuting totally suggestions that his team are ready to coast through their final 10 matches.

"Before the game at Norwich the other night, it was suggested we had nothing to play for," he added.

"I resent that. On the contrary, we have everything to play for.

"We are out of the cups, so there are no distractions for us trying to finish as high as we possibly can."

Keegan's positive air is at odds with the undercurrent of uncertainty which still exists over his short-term future.

After goalkeeper David James claimed it was time for the City players to be told whether their manager would see out the final year of his contract next term, Keegan decided to speak out on the matter, yet only managed to cloud the issue even further.

Yes, he was intending to stay for another 15 months before ending his managerial career, but also yes, he was prepared to step aside should Blues chairman John Wardle decide such a move was in the best interests of the club.

"It is not up to the pundits on the TV or some former player who wants a few bob to pay for his drink," said Keegan.

"It has to be about a chairman and a board sitting down to do what they think is right for Manchester City, which is more important than anything else.

"I have really enjoyed my time here and I would like to think I will be here a bit longer, but if the chairman comes to me tomorrow, next week or next month and says, 'look we don't want you to see the last year out', there will be no problem with me.

"I will shake his hand, wish him all the luck in the world and be gone."

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