Football: Some cheer for Graham

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Manchester City. . .0

Arsenal. . . . . . .1

THE expression 'we were lucky to get nil' kept coming to mind. But if Manchester City could have used it yesterday, what about Arsenal? This was a match in which it was difficult to say either team deserved to win. There were enough errors at Maine Road to have kept both teams moribund for half a season. Perhaps it was the swirling wind, or that both teams seem to have set their sights on the Cup competitions.

At least George Graham, the Arsenal manager, was happy. 'I'm smiling inside,' he said. 'It was a pleasure to see the whole team working together. In the past we've had one or two players who've been thinking, 'I'm a good player, I've got ability, that's enough.' But it isn't. If we'd played like this all season . . .'

Graham's opinion was probably coloured by the rarity value of the success. Arsenal's last win in the League was on 7 November and certainly there was a quality about the goal that put it head and shoulders above what went on around it. Mark Flatts cut inside and then out in the 79th minute before curling a cross to the near post that Paul Merson converted with a diving, glancing header. That apart it was difficult to remember many flowing moments, particularly from City who are developing a schizophrenic tendency to uplift on their travels and depress at Maine Road. Niall Quinn had their best opportunities, volleying over from point-blank range from Mike Sheron's right-wing cross in the 39th minute, and forcing David Seaman into an excellent save with a low shot midway through the second half.

That apart, it was an anonymous performance that made it a wonder that the City manager, Peter Reid, did not attempt to impose character into it by either bringing on himself or the young prospect Adie Mike.

Long before the end, the Kippax Stand had fallen silent, prompting Graham to recall Bill Shankly's wisdom that an away team knows they are doing their job when the home crowd goes quiet. Yesterday, they were probably struck dumb with boredom.

Manchester City: T Coton; R Ranson, T Phelan, F Simpson, K Curle, D Brightwell, D White, M Sheron, N Quinn, G Flitcroft, R Holden. Subs: P Reid, M Margetson (gk), A Mike. Player-manager: P Reid.

Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, D Hillier, S Bould, T Adams, J Jensen, K Campbell, A Smith, P Merson, M Flatts. Subs: D O'Leary, A Miller (gk), J Carter. Manager: G Graham.

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Goal: Merson (0-1, 79 min).