Football: City's stock is in decline

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . .2

Gallacher 13, Shearer 76

Manchester City . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 18,741

THE grim symmetry of Manchester City's season persists with disarray in the boardroom matched at each step by confusion within the team.

On the day it emerged that the board's preferred course of inaction was to wait until January for something to turn up, City scarcely knew where they were going on the pitch either.

A new defensive formation - system would be too strong a word - with three central defenders taking it in turn to watch play pass them by was unveiled at Ewood Park.

If Blackburn had been just a little sharper, the indecision that flowed from this half-digested change of approach would have been punished more heavily. As it was, the loyal City fans who filled one of the two new stands saw not a massacre but merely the most emphatic of two-goal defeats.

A foul by Michael Quigley on the former City player Colin Hendry led to the first Blackburn goal. Henning Berg's free-kick caught the restructured defence in several minds and Mike Newell was able to square the ball for Kevin Gallacher to sweep home.

Rovers had to wait until 14 minutes from the end for their second, Stuart Ripley outstripping City down the right and his cross beating David Batty, Gallacher and a City defence now lacking Michel Vonk, thrown up front in another desperate rethink. Alan Shearer, quiet by his own standards (and just as well for City), found the ball at his feet and stabbed it past Tony Coton.

In between, a midfield in which Batty and Tim Sherwood are forging a firm alliance created any number of opportunities but found the Blackburn front men in merciful mood. In their best spell, just before half-time, Shearer had one quicksilver turn and shot denied by Coton, and a header by Ripley and a shot from Newell were also blocked.

City, in contrast, did not demand a save from Tim Flowers until an hour had passed, David White breaking through and testing him with a low shot.

Apart from one flick from Carl Griffiths, tipped over the bar, the only other time City looked remotely dangerous was when they were awarded an indirect free-kick for Flowers' pick-up from a back-pass.

Otherwise, they were reduced to trying to limit the damage. Their full-backs, Richard Edghill and Terry Phelan, attempted to push forward but spent a high proportion of their time shuttling back to mop up.

Edghill was one of two City players booked and could have been sent off when he pulled back Batty just before half-time. Given Batty's prolific record of not scoring it was hardly a case of denying Rovers a goal chance, but Edghill was still fortunate.

White was the other sinner, booked for a foul on Graeme Le Saux, another who contributed to a Blackburn performance that was full of good technique in the build-up but, luckily for what remains of City's pride, short of the punch to match it.