Wind and hail blowing in from the West Pennine Moors turned yesterday's Greater Manchester derby into something of an ordeal for spectators and players alike. But at the end of a largely barren occasion it was Bolton who felt the greater chill factor as, after four consecutive League defeats, they had to settle for a point which failed to take them out of the relegation zone.
A goalline clearance of a Kevin Davies header by Martin Petrov in the 90th minute prevented any late warming of the home spirits – and the unexpected win at Aston Villa by the team above them, Sunderland, saw them move even closer to the drop.
Despite Bolton's parlous position, their manager, Gary Megson, insisted before this game that lack of confidence was not the main issue for his players, but their continuing inability to convert dominance on the pitch into goals.
At least Megson was spared the agony of witnessing that failing for the bulk of a match which saw his labourers produce only two clear chances – one after five minutes, when Gretar Steinsson's header from El Hadji Diouf's corner rebounded off a post, the other being Davies' late effort.
In between, City played the better football, and if Bolton substitute Joey O'Brien had not been alert enough to block a late effort from substitute Felipe Caicedo as he stood alongside his keeper on the line, the visitors might have made the short journey south with all three points.
Afterwards, the downbeat home manager accepted that, with only three home matches remaining, and the first of them being against Arsenal next Saturday, these were points dropped.
"But it's a point gained on the team now immediately above us and the one below us," said Megson. He has refused, at least publicly, to play the game of offering a points target that his men need to hit to gain safety.
Visiting manager Sven Goran Eriksson, ever the diplomat, ventured the opinion that Bolton could survive – but also alluded to their grinding, physical attitude to the game.
"Yes," the Swede said, "I think they have a good chance to do it. It is always very difficult to play against them because of their style. They are very strong, and there are a lot of long balls to deal with."
The ball was coming down with snow on it in a literal sense at the start of the second half as a minor blizzard ensued, and you sensed that if City – so good at home, so indifferent away – were to weaken, it might be then. To Eriksson's satisfaction, they didn't, and they are pressing on to the end of their campaign, refusing to acknowledge that a Uefa Cup place is beyond them.
Perhaps the most warming aspect of the afternoon for City was the encouraging form of the Brazilian midfielder who lit up the early part of their season, Elano, after he came on as a second-half substitute.
Bolton, meanwhile, must soldier on without Ricardo Gardner, who injured his ribs after being tackled – fairly – by City's Darius Vassell.
But it is attitude, as much as personnel, that needs attention. "We said at half-time that we were working hard to get into the last third of the pitch and then not doing enough because we were snatching at our shots," Megson added lugubriously. It sounded like cold comfort indeed for supporters who are afraid they might see Uefa Cup football and relegation in the same season.Reuse content