Sheffield United. . .0
THE RESULT that neither Manchester City nor Sheffield United wanted duly materialised at Maine Road yesterday. A typical relegation encounter, full of fretful, fractious football, left both teams squirming as uncomfortably as before, their predicament made no easier by Oldham's unexpected victory at Aston Villa.
Draws just will not do when you are in trouble at this stage of the season. But City have had four in their last seven games, United five in their last six. That is what the fear factor does. You might be desperate for a win, but the prospect of losing is unthinkable.
If either side deserved victory, it was United, not least for the incident only seconds from time in which Tony Coton, the City goalkeeper, appeared to bring down Nathan Blake as the United forward ran on to a through ball.
Allan Gunn, the referee who controversially failed to send off the Aston Villa goalkeeper Mark Bosnich in the Coca-Cola Cup three weeks ago, waved play on. The ball reached Franz Carr, but by the time he shot, Coton was back to catch it.
Brian Horton, the City manager, said Coton told him he never touched Blake - not a version of events that impressed Dave Bassett, the United manager, who called for the use of video to decide what has happened in such incidents.
City, while having the chances to win, were at times almost paralysed by apprehension. United, much more used to fighting for their lives, produced what little flowing football there was, and the speed and directness of Blake's running had the City defence permanently on edge. The memory of the goal Blake scored for Cardiff City to knock City out of the FA Cup was all too fresh.
It might have been different if City had taken the lead, as they so nearly did after nine minutes when a typical piece of David Rocastle trickery was cut short on the edge of the area by a United foul. The free-kick from Steffen Karl, on loan from Borussia Dortmund and one of two Germans brought in to help ease City's plight, was beaten away by Alan Kelly.
Karl's compatriot, the striker Uwe Rosler, was not getting much change out of Brian Gayle, while United's attacks began to carry more than a hint of menace. Jostein Flo was fractionally too high with a backward header from a cross by Carr, and four minutes before half-time they had an excellent chance to take the lead.
Dane Whitehouse created it with a brilliant run down the left wing, complete with two nutmegs, before he crossed low into the six-yard box. Both Flo and Blake strained to latch on to it, but could not do so before Coton gathered the ball.
In a brief spell of consciously measured football midway through the match, City should have scored when Terry Phelan, their best player, cut inside the area with only Kelly between him and goal. But the keeper stayed on his feet and blocked the shot.
At the other end the tension was getting to the City defence. A mix-up between Alan Kern aghan and Coton gave Blake a better chance than he realised. He rushed to head the ball towards a momentarily unguarded goal but there was insufficient power in it and Coton was back in time.
Coton was given more of a test by Blake 13 minutes from the end, saving with his legs a fierce low shot from the left-hand edge of the penalty area. Then came the final encounter between the pair and Coton's and City's lucky escape.
The rest of the season looks pretty uncomfortable for both these teams. But you need some relish for the fight, and at the moment United look to have more of that than City.
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