A blue moon hung over Maine Road last night as Manchester City produced that rarest of results for any side managed by Kevin Keegan – a goalless draw.
"We are either very, very good or very bad," the City manager had said of his side's season thus far. Yesterday evening they were simply mediocre, facing a Sheffield United side that possessed no ambitions higher than a draw, even when Kevin Horlock's sending off for diving (one of seven yellow cards) gave them a one-man advantage. Indeed, during that 24 minutes, Shaun Goater, who earlier had been denied by the post, twice came close to scoring and might have won a penalty had Shaun Murphy's tug on his shirt been spotted.
It was perhaps inevitable after all the attack-laden statistics that surrounded City – their last seven games have produced a goal every 18 minutes – that much of this match should be such a desert of miserably unfocused play.
The highlight of the first half was the booking of Carl Asaba for diving. As the United striker, who had been injured while flinging himself to the ground, writhed near the touchline before being eased on to a stretcher, the referee, Steve Bennett, waited solicitously by his side, a yellow card theatrically brandished behind his back. All in all, Bennett booked five before the interval, although Kevin Horlock probably deserved red for the clumsiest of hacks on Peter Ndlovu.
Perhaps it was because this match was such a peculiar mix of styles that it failed to spark. A team that, until Saturday, had not drawn a single match was pitched against one that had drawn six of their first seven and were quite intent on taking a single point from this one.
Manchester City attempted to use the width provided by Danny Tiatto and the guile of Ali Bernabia but their passing was sometimes hopelessly astray and, instead of a goal every 20 minutes or so, Maine Road had to settle for a yellow card being brandished every nine.
Although United's defence was rarely tested, it seldom looked secure. In the 35th minute, Tiatto finally broke free down the left, fed Bernabia, whose cross was met by the stooping figure of Goater, who would have scored his 15th of the season but for the post.
City, frankly, were often no steadier at the back. Almost immediately after the restart, Howey presented the ball to Michael Brown, a fellow north-easterner once considered one of Maine Road's brightest hopes. The way Brown measured his shot, which was saved very well by Luke Weaver, showed why.
Moments later, Howey backed off to allow Patrick Suffo a shot at goal, which, though it disappeared over the bar, was enough to provoke anger from Stuart Pearce. Thereafter, United settled into their usual containing game but, when Ndlovu did break through in the 62nd minute, Weaver was equal to a drive bound for the top corner.
Nevertheless, there was more purpose, fluency and urgency about City's play in the second half. But when Bernabia was denied from 12 yards by Tracey, who then smothered a delicate one-two between Goater and Dickson Etuhu, Maine Road sensed it might be one of those nights.
Manchester City: (3-5-2) Weaver; Mettomo, Howey (Berkovic, 75), Pearce, Dunne; Etuhu, Horlock, Bernabia, Tiatto; Wright-Phillips (Colosimo, 80), Goater. Substitutes not used: Granville, Huckerby, Nash (gk).
Sheffield United: (4-4-2) Tracey; Kozluk (Santos, 67), Murphy, Page, Curle; Ndlovu, Tonge, Montgomery; Brown, Asaba (D'Jaffo, 33), Suffo (Devlin, 79). Substitutes not used: Nicholson, De Vogt (gk).
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).Reuse content