City distract discontented

Manchester City 1 Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Online
You could imagine the spin doctors' words. "Look here, Mr Lee, you're in a mess and the polls are not favourable. How about a bit of crowd violence? Failing that, we could always ask the players to involve the referee in some argy-bargy. Throw in a controversial penalty and we will be home and dry. Hardly anyone will notice Manchester City are in chaos."

As an example of diverting immediate attention from skeletons in the cupboard, this should have had the people from Conservative Central Office flooding to Maine Road for coaching. At the end of the day City were only marginally less in the mire than at the start of it, but attention had been sent to so many places it was difficult to remember until the poison pen letters in The Pink, Manchester's Saturday night special, focused the mind again.

"Let's make no excuses for this overpaid, useless bunch," one said. "I suggest it's time to consider a boycott," added another. "This lot must be the worst ever," voiced a third.

Discontent on the streets round Moss Side, but the Birmingham dressing- room was hardly sweetness and light either. With three minutes to go, Trevor Francis's team were comfortably hanging on to a point; by 4.45pm things had plummetted so badly for them it was dizzying.

The catalyst for this crash was a piece of outrageous play-acting by Uwe Rosler in the 88th minute. Tussling for possession with Gary Poole, the German striker first grabbed hold of his opponent and then used him as a pivot to execute a dive so expertly done that the referee, Richard Poulain, bought it like the best offer in a sale.

When the resulting free-kick led to Manchester getting a penalty, Poole's self-control evaporated and he did the unforgiveable, pushing Poulain from behind so fiercely he needed treatment for whip-lash later. The Birmingham player received a red card for that and will almost certainly come under the scrutiny of the Football Association's Disciplinary Committee in the near future.

The other Birmingham players were equally furious, if not so ridiculous as to touch the referee. "The ball hit Paul Furlong in the eye," Michael Johnson, who had come on as a substitute seconds before the incident. "He went up with his hands but moved them aside to head the ball away. It wasn't a penalty. The referee was standing on the other side of the defence and couldn't possibly see. It was scandalous."

Once Georgi Kinkladze had converted the kick, doing what Rosler had been unable to achieve with another earlier in the game by sending the Birmingham goalkeeper Ian Bennett the other way, the visiting supporters vented their frustration in the worst way possible. The Mancunian fans were not guiltless, but they did not tear up seats - 40 were destroyed. Nor did they assault the police. One officer was led away with blood oozing from a head wound.

In the light of this and Poole's behaviour, a scuffle between two unidentified players in the tunnel, a hugely encouraging debut for the home team by on-loan Eddie McGoldrick and three badly-needed points faded into the background. Francis Lee's problem of finding a manager will not dissipate so easily. As any PR man would tell him, until that is solved City will remain in disarray.

Goal: Kinkladze (88 min, pen) 1-0.

Manchester City: (3-5-2) Dibble; Wassall, McGoldrick, Symons; Summerbee, Lomas, Clough, Kinkladze, Frontzeck; Rosler, Dickov (Whitley, 84). Substitutes not used: Ingram, Phillips.

Birmingham City: (3-5-2) Bennett; Breen, Bruce, Ablett; Poole, Bowen (Castle 26), Holland, Horne, Legg (Johnson 87); Newell, Furlong. Substitute not used: Devlin.

Referee: R Poulain (Huddersfield).

Bookings: Manchester City: Front-zeck, Wassall. Birmingham City: Bruce, Legg. Sending-off: Birmingham: Poole.

Man of the match: McGoldrick.

Attendance: 26,757.