City let down by Seaman's error and wasteful strikers

Manchester City 1 Groclin Dyskobolia 1
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The Independent Football

It is worth remembering on nights like these that Manchester City entered the Uefa Cup not so much by the back door as the cat flap of the Fair Play League.

Last night, against a side their manager admitted he had never heard of before the draw, they appeared a long way short of the élite. If Manchester City's greatest night in Europe, victory in the 1970 Cup-Winners' Cup final, was spent against Polish opposition, then so was this most forgettable of evenings. Groclin were talked up as being the Chelsea of Polish football, underpinned financially by a car magnate, until you discovered their total budget would just about cover Hernan Crespo's salary.

According to Kevin Keegan, who had spent the week complaining of "a vendetta against professional footballers" waged by the media, Nicolas Anelka had not been dropped last Saturday for refusing to join in a squad bonding session but because of injury. On the evidence of the season thus far, the Frenchman had no need to fire at clay pigeons. There is nothing wrong with his shooting as his 11th goal of the season proved.

It was created by a fabulous pass from Robbie Fowler, another who found himself under fire during City's extended stay in an Essex hotel; this time for the footballer's traditional sins of beer, fags and blondes. His pass left the Polish defence floundering and Anelka flicked the ball above the sprawled figure of Mariusz Liberda.

Claudio Reyna, who was withdrawn after 25 minutes, had, moments before, squandered a simpler opportunity, rounding Liberda after slaloming his way into the penalty area but shooting over. And then, with the first leg seemingly there for the taking, Manchester City's challenge cooled as the Poles found a rhythm to match that of their travelling band.

They would certainly have drawn level but for David Seaman, whose reflexes may have slowed but whose abilities in a one-on-one remain acute. In the 19th minute, Igor Koziol produced a pass the equal of Fowler's that sent Marcin Zajac clean though. The 40-year-old kept his nerve, spread himself and saved with an outstretched boot.

Long-range shots are, of course, another matter entirely and a curling, dipping free-kick from Sebastian Mila struck the top-right hand corner of Seaman's net in the 64th minute. There was too little spring in his leap and the look of inner fury on his face as he tossed the ball out said it all.

Frankly, Manchester City deserved it. With every passing minute, they grew more ragged, incoherent and unconvincing. When Danny Tiatto was brought on for Steve McManaman, the stadium enthusiastically greeted the replacement of flair with grit, a quality that will be badly needed for the second leg in a wintry Poland.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Seaman; Sun Jihai, Dunne, Distin, Tarnat; Wright-Phillips, Barton, Reyna (Bosvelt, 25), McManaman (Tiatto, 64); Fowler (Wanchope, 71), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Sibierski, Sommeil, Macken, Ellegaard (gk).

Groclin Dyskobolia (4-4-2): Liberda; Mynar, Koziol, Pawlak, Krizanac; Zajac (Kaczmarczyk, 90), Wieszczycki, Mila, Sedlacek; Niedzielna (Piechniak, 71), Rasiak. Substitutes not used: Prusek, Rocki, Gorszkow, Moskala, Przyrowski (gk).

Referee: G Kasnaferis (Greece).