James keeps his cool in cauldron

Leicester City 1 Manchester City 1

A hug between Kevin Keegan and Micky Adams at the final whistle was about the only gesture of conciliation on an afternoon of discord, high tension and, at times, outright hostility. It was also a statement of temporary relief from the former, for whom matters could have been decidedly worse had Paul Dickov not seen a late penalty saved by the England goalkeeper David James, an incident which spawned angry jostling between players, substitutes and coaches of both sides and is likely to lead to an FA inquiry. From the latter, it represented acknowledgement of his team's fate.

A hug between Kevin Keegan and Micky Adams at the final whistle was about the only gesture of conciliation on an afternoon of discord, high tension and, at times, outright hostility. It was also a statement of temporary relief from the former, for whom matters could have been decidedly worse had Paul Dickov not seen a late penalty saved by the England goalkeeper David James, an incident which spawned angry jostling between players, substitutes and coaches of both sides and is likely to lead to an FA inquiry. From the latter, it represented acknowledgement of his team's fate.

Mathematicians and pedants may prefer to differ, but Adams' men are condemned to the Nationwide, bar the weeping. Adams had summoned inspiration from his own contribution to the Coventry side who avoided relegation 19 years ago with three wins in the last three games. His team responded, but it was not enough. Even a similar finale would not be sufficient now. One victory from 21 games after this virtually assures that outcome.

Not that Manchester, who were marginally the better of two modest Citys on the afternoon, can boast a much superior record. The paucity of this contest came as no surprise whatsoever. Neither did the eventual outburst of temper. There were eight minutes remaining, and the score 1-1, when the visitors' Michael Tarnat felled Muzzy Izzet as he thrust into the area. Referee Andy D'Urso awarded the penalty, but Keegan's men were convinced that Izzet was guilty of handball. As they vented their protests, haranguing an assistant referee, it provoked a mêlée. Leicester's Steffen Freund, who had been substituted earlier, came back on the pitch and clashed with Keegan.

"There were a lot of passionate people out there who cared," said Keegan. "Micky Adams is a passionate manager; I think I am. A penalty's been given, and it's a bad decision. There is no doubt about that. We felt a bit aggrieved about it. We're fighting for our lives and even my most placid players were angry."

Responding to a suggestion that Freund may have confronted him in German, Keegan added: "Steffen speaks very good English, and certainly knows his swearwords. He shouldn't have gone on the pitch, and neither should I."

After the commotion had died down - and cautions had been administered to Leicester's Marcus Bent and the away side's Tarnat, Paolo Wanchope and Barton - Dickov struck the spot-kick low and hard, but within range of James, who made what proved to be a vital save. "It's still in our hands, whatever the outcome of Leeds's match [today]," Keegan observed. "We might even drag somebody else into it."

It had been a week of "soul-searching" for Keegan and his players; not, it must be said, for the first time in his managerial career. The result had been a demand from the players for extra training this past week, rather than less. On one hand it represents a welcome, positive gesture. "Sometimes the best ideas come off the shop floor," Keegan reflected before the game. Well, yes, but from another perspective, it could well suggest that the manager's authority is being undermined.

After yesterday's game, Keegan insisted that "the spirit was good", adding, "That's been questioned this week, but I don't have to answer that. The only thing missing was composure and confidence." Only? Two victories in 24 is not what even the most committed of Keegan's advocates would expect from a team who have cost the former England coach £50 million over three years.

In contrast, Leicester have displayed a camaraderie which Keegan can only envy, but frankly Adams just does not possess sufficient personnel of Premiership quality. The club's former player, now chief cheerleader, Alan Birchenall appeared before the start, clad as Sir Winston Churchill, and exhorted the crowd to rally round to make it Leicester's "finest hour and a half".

Adams's men initially responded to the crowd's urgings, with an aerial assault of James's goal. But the England goalkeeper was only tested once early on, when he clawed Les Ferdinand's header over his bar. His counterpart, Ian Walker, nearly provided an inadvertent aid to the visitors' cause when a wretched clearance found Nicolas Anelka. The goalkeeper redeemed himself with a save at the striker's feet. But it merely delayed the inevitable. In added time before the interval, Tarnat unleashed a free-kick which skimmed through a crowded goalmouth and past Walker, via a deflection off Trevor Sinclair.

With Bent on for Ferdinand, the Foxes had nothing to lose from all-out attack, but that yielded opportunities to the visitors on the break, notably when Anelka surged clear. However, his pass to Shaun Wright-Phillips was too close to Walker. The Frenchman looked, at times, as though he ought to be performing amid rather more illustrious company.

Overall, though, Keegan's men looked reasonably comfortable. Yet with 24 minutes remaining, Leicester replied. All that extra work on the training pitch this week, and the visitors allowed a hopeful clearance by Walker to bounce once and take a slight defection off Sylvain Distin. James Scowcroft soared to outleap Tarnat and send a looping header over James, who was caught off his line.

Still the agony continued for both sides as Anelka dragged a shot just wide. Then that penalty fracas. In five minutes of added time, there was still opportunity for Sun to pull the ball back for Sinclair to drive it straight at Walker. But more importantly for Keegan and his team, they did not concede a further goal. For the moment, at least, their Premiership status remains secure. And so does Keegan in his employment.

Leicester City 1 Manchester City 1
Scowcroft 66; Tarnat 45

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 31,457

THE RUN-INS

Tottenham: 25 April: v Arsenal (h); 2 May: v Aston Villa (a); 8 May: v Blackburn (h); 15 May: v Wolves (a)

Portsmouth: 25 April: v Leeds (a); 1 May: v Fulham (h); 4 May: v Arsenal (h); 8 May: v Leicester City (a); 15 May: v Middlesbrough (h)

Man City: 1 May: v Newcastle (h); 8 May: v Middlesbrough (a); 15 May: v Everton (h)

Leeds United: 25 April: v Portsmouth (h); 2 May: v Bolton (a); 8 May: v Charlton (h); 15 May: v Chelsea (a)

Leicester City: 1 May: v Charlton (a); 8 May: v Portsmouth (h); 15 May: v Arsenal (a)

Wolves: 25 April: v Birmingham (a); 1 May: v Everton (h); 9 May: v Newcastle (a); 15 May: v Tottenham (h).

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