Somebody had to get hold of the ball and try to make something happen. The fact that it was Stuart Pearce, the Manchester City manager, twice stepping over the line, encapsulated the sterility of the match.
On one side, Andy Cole and Darius Vassell zigged and zagged but rarely breached Blackburn's defence. On the other side, Craig Bellamy and Paul Dickov mostly ran into dead ends, frequently halted by an offside flag. For both sets of supporters, the pattern of play may have appeared less 4-4-2 than 4-4, though Blackburn's fans at least had the satisfaction of their club's seventh consecutive visit to City without losing.
Pearce constantly patrols his pitch-side technical area like an agitated 12th man, and as the match meandered towards its conclusion he perceived that Blackburn were using stalling tactics to preserve a point and he took matters into his own hands.
First, he ran on and retrieved a ball that had rolled unattended. Then, after it was announced that four additional minutes were to be played, Pearce dashed on again to pick up a loose ball and placed it in front of Robbie Savage, who seemed to be dallying instead of taking a free-kick.
Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, complained to the fourth official, and the referee Martin Atkinson warned Pearce that he was out of order. According to Pearce, the referee added that "he understood by my body language I had made my message clear".
The City defender Danny Mills may be relieved that his message was not so clear to Mr Atkinson when he mugged Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen.
Pearce, in common with many managers, is still a player at heart and in spirit. And the syndrome does not only apply to the younger breed. After retiring from Liverpool, Bill Shankly used to wear a tracksuit more often than not, saying he felt a twinge here and there but adding that he was confident of participating in his customary five-a-side match.
"I don't like to sit down," Pearce said. "I feel as though you've to be close to the action, and that's how I work best in my opinion. Once the knees go and the legs go, I might have to sit down for an hour. I'd love to play. If my pride said that I could still do it, I'd still do it.
"The game's all about playing and players. It's not about being stood at the side of the pitch with your arms crossed. I trained this morning with the kids - I scored the winning goal, strangely enough."
Manchester City (4-2-4): James; Jordan, Distin, Dunne, Mills; Musampa (Sinclair, 70), Sun Jihai, Ireland, Croft; Cole (Wright-Phillips, 86), Vassell. Substitutes not used: Sibierski, Onouha, Thatcher.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Freidel; Gray, Nelsen, Todd, Khizanishvili; Pedersen, Savage, Tugay (Mokoena, 85), Reid (Thompson, 73); Dickov (Kuqi, 85). Substitutes not used: Enckelman, Bentley.
Booked: Manchester City: Dunne, Cole. Blackburn Rovers: Khizanishvili, Dickov, Thompson, Savage.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yokshire).
Man of the match: Pedersen.
Attendance: 44,032.Reuse content