The man standing in front of the press box could have saved anthropologists a small fortune in travelling expenses. "No, no, no," he moaned, uttering the April call of the threatened species, the Manchester City supporter. He was not giving an apposite critique of the play before him but demonstrating the most primeval instinct of them all: the need to survive.
Around Maine Road the tribe was doing much the same. One soul had his head buried in his hands, unable to watch, another was driving his neighbours barmy with "Grimsby here we come... and South- end... and Reading..." Even rituals were tossed away so that the score from The Dell was met with a low groan that drowned out those who cheered first and thought later.
The Newcastle United fans lost in their private bewilderment ought to trade places with this sky blue lot. To imperil a championship is one thing; City put the sanity at risk of those who hold them dearest on an annual basis and around Manchester the arrival of spring is not gauged by the cuckoo but by the sale of anti-depressant pills.
There were several times on Saturday when several bottles seemed likely to be required. David Hirst, for one, seemed to delight in toying with the home ranks, missing two ripe chances in the first half-hour, but the true torture waited until 12 minutes from the end.
There are occasions in a football match when time seems to take its foot off the accelerator pedal and Mark Pembridge's surge through the City back four after Chris Waddle's pass was one of them. Wednesday had to score. Relegation and the First Division beckoned. Maine Road held its collective breath.
Those who have a momentous deed put in front of them sometimes avoid it, however, and the Wednesday midfield player did as neat a side-step as you could imagine. He might have passed to Hirst and ensured a goal, or he could put a great slab of doubt into the equation by shooting from a narrow angle. No prizes for guessing which option Pembridge chose.
As a consequence City survived with their win intact - if not their fingernails - thanks to a goal that owed a lot to something not always appreciated in these parts, Niall Quinn's ability at heights lower than eight feet. With his first touch after coming on as a substitute the beanpole Irishman turned Jon Newsome like a screw and crossed perfectly for Uwe Rosler to force the ball in from five yards.
Martin Phillips also hit a post in the 83rd minute, allowing the City manager, Alan Ball, a philosophical air. "What will be, will be," he said, sounding like Doris Day with a sore throat. Had the Quinn substitution been an inspired piece of tactical nous? "No, a complete fluke."
This "been there, done it" air can make supporters apoplectic as they prefer to see their managers tearing their hair out with tension, but if City need anything at the moment it is a cool head and, outwardly at least, Ball is the personification. How are the nerves, he was asked. "Mine?" he queried as if the question was the daftest thing he had heard that day.
No, it is the supporters who are taking the strain as the queue picking up the Sporting Pink afterwards confirmed. "I don't believe it," one said after he scanned the Premiership table. "All that and we've moved sod all." Liverpool, at home on the last day of the season, will not be for the faint-hearted.
Goal: Rosler (64) 1-0.
Manchester City (4-3-1-2): Immel; Brightwell, Symons, Curle, Frontzeck (Phillips, 63); Lomas, Clough, Brown; Kinkladze; Kavelashvili (Quinn, 63), Rosler. Substitute not used: Margetson (gk).
Sheffield Wednesday (4-5-1): Pressman; Nicol (Waddle, 66), Newsome, Walker, Briscoe; Whittingham, Pembridge (Sheridan, 78), Atherton, Degryse (Donaldson, 71), Blinker; Hirst.
Referee: R Hart (Darlington).
Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Nicol, Newsome.
Man of the match: Brown. Attendance: 30,898.
Battle for survival
P W D L F A Pts GD
Southampton 35 8 10 17 33 51 34 -18
Man City 36 8 10 18 30 56 34 -26
Coventry 35 7 12 16 40 60 33 -20
QPR 36 8 6 22 35 54 30 -19
Bolton 36 8 5 23 38 68 29 -30
SOUTHAMPTON: Apr 17: Newcastle (A); Apr 27: Bolton (A); 5 May: Wimbledon (A).
MAN CITY: Apr 27: Aston Villa (A); May 5: Liverpool (H).
COVENTRY: Apr 17: Nottm Forest (A); Apr 27: Wimbledon (A); May 5: Leeds (H).
QPR: Apr 27: West Ham (H); May 5: Nottm Forest (A)
BOLTON: Apr 27: Southampton (H); May 5 Arsenal (A).Reuse content