Crystal Palace 1 Manchester City 2
Victory at Selhurst Park on Saturday took Manchester City into the top half of the Premiership table, but Kevin Keegan has been around long enough to know that this result will have little bearing on his long-term future. "I'm safe for a week," the City manager admitted.
Beating Crystal Palace was like taking sweets off a five-year-old. Iain Dowie's team did not go down without a fight and showed admirable spirit to the end, but if City cannot beat a team looking so badly out of their depth then Keegan should start clearing his office. While they rarely dominated, City looked superior in every area.
When you look at the quality in Keegan's squad - not to mention the money he has spent - it is small wonder that his future has been questioned by fans and media. Since going fifth with victory at Southampton last November, City have won only six of 33 Premiership matches. For the moment the former England manager has the backing of his board, but there is no escaping that City are under-achieving.
There was evidence to back Keegan's assertion that there is little wrong with his team's commitment, the manager emphatically denying reports of a rift with the defender Danny Mills. City worked hard and their refusal to give Dowie's men time on the ball was crucial.
"If there were any cracks in our armour, any weakness or disarray in our camp, they would have been shown here today because the one thing Palace do is fight you," Keegan said. "I am safe for a week. We have tough games coming up and maybe the pressure will come back, but maybe you [the media] will move your circus somewhere else, take it to another town and maybe some poor other guy will get the stick I have got this week." Maybe. Those tough games ahead are at home to Arsenal and Chelsea and away to Southampton and Newcastle. While Keegan's team have enough quality to cope with the likes of Palace, City supporters have a right to expect more than victories over the Premiership's basement teams.
Keegan can at least be thankful that Nicolas Anelka is finding his form. Although the Frenchman performed in fits and starts here, his two goals took his season's tally to five. His first strike, a sweetly struck shot from 15 yards, provided the game's one moment of true striking quality. Anelka doubled the lead with a penalty after Danny Granville had brought down Shaun Wright-Phillips on 64 minutes.
City squandered at least half a dozen other good chances, although none were more clear-cut than the opportunity spurned by Palace's Sandor Torghelle in the first half. Wayne Routledge's cross found the Hungarian in space five yards out, but his miscued shot summed up Palace's day.
After five successive defeats it is hard to see where Palace's first win will come from. Andy Johnson, such a threat during last season's promotion campaign, barely got a sniff of the ball here and his strike partner, Torghelle, looks one-paced and one-dimensional. Nicola Ventola, on loan from Internazionale, brought some quality after coming on as a substitute and got Palace back into the game when a storming run was ended by Sylvain Distin's foul, Johnson converting the penalty. City were on the back foot for the remaining quarter of an hour, but a defence marshalled by Richard Dunne was rarely threatened.
Goals: Anelka (55) 0-1; Anelka pen (64) 0-2; Johnson pen (77) 1-2.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Boyce, Hudson, Hall, Granville; Routledge, Riihilahti (Watson, 70), Hughes, Derry (Kolkka, 60); Torghelle (Ventola, 60), Johnson. Substitutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Powell.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher; Wright-Phillips, Reyna, Barton, Sibierski; Anelka, Macken (Jihai, 88). Substitutes not used: Waterreus (gk), Fowler, Bosvelt, Flood.
Bookings: Crystal Palace: Hall, Hughes. Manchester City: Sibierski, Distin.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Dunne.