Ball's version is; roundly rejected

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The Independent Online
Manchester City 1 Coventry City 1

Funny folk, football supporters. There were the Manchester City lot sloping away with body language that screamed "disappointment" when their manager suggested they should buck their ideas up, pull their shoulders back and stare the positive right in the eye.

We and they were confused, was Alan Ball's drift. What some had presumed was a poor result, against a team without a centre-half and a goalkeeper who could not kick, was really a milestone on the march to success. Break out the blue and white bunting.

Ball was not just upbeat, he was performing verbal cartwheels of joy, giving the doubters a blast of optimism from both barrels. "You're all trying to put doom, gloom and panic in," he replied to a reporter who had dared not to join the mood of celebration.

"Anyone who watched that game with a fair frame of mind will know who was the better team. I know, you know. That's why 1-1 doesn't bother me. I can't be bothered with people who say it was a bad result. We are improving slowly but surely." Much, much more followed in the same vein.

So here goes. Manchester were the better City; their goalkeeper, Eike Immel, had barely a save to make; they did create several chances - although the fact that Niall Quinn showed all the marksmanship of Mister Magoo should also be noted -and young winger Martin Phillips oozed promise.

The problem for Ball was that gloss could still not hide the most pertinent fact of all: Manchester City had let two points slip on a day when relegation rivals Wimbledon and Southampton pushed themselves further out of reach. The side is improving but whether it is getting better quickly enough to stave off relegation is debatable.

Saturday proved what is no secret on Moss Side, that all the pretty football in the world counts for nothing if you cannot score. Ball's team has scored just 13 times in 23 Premiership matches and that is why the rest of us can only be pessimistic. Quinn had four chances and missed them all, which is probably as good a clue as you can get as to where Nigel Clough will go in the team once he is eligible. The tall Irishman looks wholly bereft of confidence and even Uwe Rosler hardly swaggers on to the pitch as he did 12 months ago.

His goal, a sharp header at the near post from Quinn's overhead kick, was well taken but it was typical of much of the football at Maine Road this season that Coventry not only replied in kind through Dion Dublin but might have even stolen a win if Noel Whelan had not made a hash of another gilt-edged chance.

Ron Atkinson, the Coventry manager, was much more pragmatic than his Mancunian counterpart. "The key thing for us was that we didn't lose," he said, "We've taken four points off them this season and at the end of the season that could prove vital."

Which was what had also crossed the mind of the home supporters as they left on Saturday. Little wonder they could not share Ball's joy.

Goals: Rosler (55) 1-0; Dublin (66) 1-1.

Manchester City (4-3-1-2): Immel; Summerbee, Symons, Curle, I Brightwell; Lomas (Phillips, 51), Flitcroft, Brown; Kinkladze; Quinn, Rosler. Substitutes not used: Creaney, Margetson (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Pickering, Borrows, Shaw, Hall; Ndlovu, Telfer, Richardson, Salako; Dublin, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Boland, Strachan, Filan (gk).

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).

Bookings: Manchester City: Symons, Brown. Coventry City: Whelan.

Man of the match: Dublin.

Attendance: 25,710.