Ball tries to find a way for the will

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Manchester City 1 Blackburn Rovers 1

In Voltaire's Candide there is a philosopher whose optimisim is unquenchable. Earthquakes devastate, plagues and wars slaughter and maim but for Dr Pangloss these disasters are merely unfortunate parts of a celestial plan building towards "the best of all possible worlds".

Football managers have a Panglossian view of life. They have to or defeats and setbacks would drive them out of their minds. They dwell on the positive, selecting the good bits tossing away the bad. Currently, Manchester City's Alan Ball could personify the breed.

"I told the players they were magnificent today," he said. "Of course I believe we'll escape relegation, I have to, I've seen the evidence of my own eyes. We've just played Manchester United, Newcastle and Blackburn and there has not been a thumbnail between us and them."

Which is true. City are a vastly improved team. They attack with intelligence, have a player of pedigree in Georgi Kinkladze and in the best of worlds would be challenging for a place in Europe. The problem for them is the context in which they perform. On the face of it a point that took them out of the relegation places was a good one; in reality it was a chance lost.

A look at their fixtures and the urgent need for a win on Saturday becomes apparent. City have 10 matches to slip the clutches of relegation but only four of them are at Maine Road and two of those are against Liverpool and Manchester United. Predominantly, their run-in will be accomplished by coach and they have accrued only five points and six goals when emerging from the visitors' dressing-room.

Like their condition, City's form in this match gave cause for concern. Blackburn, it should be remembered, arrived on the back of three successive defeats and without six first-choice players. They get queasy on their travels, too, but they took command for a 40-minute spell when they should have made the match theirs.

The apex of this period was Alan Shearer's 58th-minute goal. The England striker, primed and dangerous at Ewood Park but largely a dud elsewhere, was allowed a curious amount of time and space to turn and whip a shot from the left corner of the area that found the net via the far post. It was his 31st goal of the season and his fourth away from home.

City pointed out that the ball had flicked Nicky Summerbee's shin on the way but a more relevant complaint would be why their defence, a mess for most of this game, stood off from the most potent right foot in British football. Do that and sympathy is hard to come by.

Blackburn then should have put the game beyond City's reach - Matty Holmes (twice), Kevin Gallacher and Billy McKinlay all had chances - instead City began to attack in numbers for the first time. Uwe Rosler hit a post with a header that bounced off Tim Flowers' knee and away to safety and the German striker inexplicably chose not to head for goal in injury time when Martin Phillips' cross exposed the visiting rearguard at the far post.

The job of equalising fell to Steve Lomas, who charged from deep to meet Rosler's cross with the velocity of an Inter-City train. It was a good goal and one that set up an enthralling finish.

"I'm more tired now than I was when I was playing," Ball said, drained by tension. "We created five good chances at the finish and could have won it. There's one thing for sure. We will hold our nerve in the run- in. We've already shown we will."

This was a grand glossing-over of earlier problems and one that Pangloss would have appreciated. In Candide the doctor's philosophy is slowly dismantled and one fears Ball's brio might be heading the same way. A manager who has built an edifying team in trying circumstances deserves better.

Goals: Shearer (57) 0-1; Lomas (84) 1-1.

Manchester City (4-3-1-2): Immel; Summerbee, Symons, Curle, Frontzeck (Hiley, 72); Lomas, Clough, Flitcroft; Kinkladze; Rosler, Quinn (Phillips, 72). Substitute not used: Brown.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Coleman, Kenna; Gallacher, Sherwood, McKinlay, Holmes; Shearer, Newell. Substitutes not used: Fenton, Gudmundsson, Warhurst.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Blackburn Rovers: Hendry, Shearer, Newell, McKinlay.

Man of the match: Lomas.

Attendance: 29,078.

Comments