City sunk by slackness at the back

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Manchester City 2 Liverpool 2

While one half of Manchester celebrates another title, the other just has the blues. Low down, heart-breaking blues at that, as Manchester City's late attempt to climb out of the hole they had dug themselves ended with the earth firmly stamped down on them.

City, apparently relegated already when they trailed 2-0 at half-time, came back with two goals in eight minutes. But the last 12 minutes of their doomed season came and went without a winner for them or, equally valuable, one for Leeds or Wimbledon.

As City fans craned their necks to see the few TV monitors around the ground, they read the bad news on the screen; 0-0 at Coventry, 0-0 at Southampton and Endsleigh League football at Maine Road next season.

There was an air of desperation at the ground even before kick-off yesterday, with appeals - largely successful - for the minute's silence for Peter Swales to be observed. They were invoking help from sources as diverse as the Gallagher brothers and the ghosts of the British Empire. "We'll have 'Wonderwall' and then 'Land of Hope and Glory'," promised an earnest master of ceremonies.

There was nothing very wondrous or reminiscent of a wall in City's first- half defence. Going all out for the win they needed, they seemed, like President Ford struggling to walk and chew gum, incapable of keeping any shape at the back at the same time.

Even a vaguely disinterested Liverpool should have had more than their two goals, the first sliced into his own net by Steve Lomas after Nigel Clough had given the ball away to Steve McManaman after only five minutes.

City lacked nothing in enthusiasm and on a kinder day would have equalised instead of seeing David James make a brilliant double save from Niall Quinn.

Uwe Rosler missed an open goal and City also had a good appeal for a penalty turned down when Neil Ruddock felled Nicky Summerbee just inside the area only for Stephen Lodge to give a free-kick outside instead.

Although several minds were clearly elsewhere, Liverpool looked likely to score every time they broke away, particularly with McManaman being given the freedom of Maine Road. It was, unsurprisingly, his run from deep that brought the ball on to Ian Rush's toe on the edge of the area after 40 minutes. Rush, in his last League game for Liverpool, crashed it into the roof of the net with the help of a deflection and now there really was silence.

City came close on a number of occasions before Georgi Kinkladze's run yielded the penalty that gave them a glimpse of hope. This time the decision, for a foul by Ruddock, seemed to give the benefit of the doubt to the side in need and Rosler blasted his spot-kick home.

The replacement of Quinn by Martin Phillips had caused an outcry in sections of the crowd but it was his cross that fell for Kit Symons to lash in.

City wasted some precious moments playing for time under the impression that a draw was good enough. They soon had that mistake pointed out to them and their other substitute Mikhail Kavelashvili, was twice close to a winner in the final minutes.

They went down fighting, but the damage had been done earlier in the match and earlier in the season.

"I was proud of them today, in all honesty, but it wasn't to be," said the City manager, Alan Ball. "Nothing went right for us, but it's about a whole season."

Ball was philosophical about the prospect of football in humbler surroundings next season. "It's sometimes for the best. It's in the nature of myself and the chairman that we will come back strongly," he promised.

Goals: Lomas og (5) 0-1; Rush (40) 0-2; Rosler pen (70) 1-2; Symons (78) 2-2.

Manchester City (3-5-2): Immel; Brightwell, Symons, Curle; Summerbee, Lomas, Kinkladze, Clough (Kavelashvili, 67), Brown; Quinn (Phillips 59), Rosler. Substitute not used: Frontzeck.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Wright, Ruddock, Babb; McAteer, McManaman, Redknapp (Kennedy, h-t), Thomas, Jones; Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Matteo.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley). Attendance: 31,436.

Bookings: Manchester City Lomas; Liverpool Jones, Babb.

Man of the Match: McManaman.

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