With the will to live under as much pressure as the managers at the City of Manchester Stadium it was inevitable the mind would drift towards the diversions of Amsterdam. It is there Micah Richards could usurp Rio Ferdinand as England's youngest defender on Wednesday night of course.
The 18-year-old's rapid elevation from reserve team football to international recognition has provided Manchester City a rare success story of late, along with a further illustration of their manager's determination to stand or fall by his own methods. As Stuart Pearce explained: "When I heard from Steve [McClaren] that he was calling Micah into his squad I thought, as a manager, what do I do? Do I give him the Brian Clough-Stuart Pearce story or should I be honest with him?
"Cloughie told me I wasn't good enough and he was right, at the time, but this is Micah and he has such a strong mentality. When I called him over to the first team he told the reserve team manager that he wouldn't be coming back, and he was right. I decided to be honest with him and told him the hardest bit now will be to stay in the squad." If nothing else, Richards will certainly relish the break.
The anticipation of a meeting of two troubled managers proved more compelling than the game itself, unremitting drudgery until Pearce and Glenn Roeder introduced long overdue substitutes and altered their intent from a clean sheet to three points. Though City stretched Newcastle with inviting crosses throughout the first half it was not until the hour that two forwards with aerial strength entered the fray, Georgios Samaras and Bernardo Corradi, who should have scored with his first touch in a display of previously unseen menace. When Samaras converted a corner from the impressive Joey Barton, the effort was disallowed for a wrestling match between Corradi and Stephen Carr. This was the closest Graham Poll came to controversy all day.
City's four strikers have now made a cumulative total of 41 League appearances this season and scored only twice, the two goals Samaras plundered against West Ham. For Newcastle, who have also scored a mere seven League goals this term, the problem is exacerbated by the lack of resources they have to address it. That weakness is self-imposed as well as inflicted by injury. Roeder left Albert Luque and Giuseppe Rossi on Tyneside and started Shola Ameobi instead, and this despite the striker's impending trip to Colorado for a hip operation.
In Kieron Dyer, however, the United manager does possess a player who - when fit - remains capable of lifting the bleakest afternoons. His first, brief appearance of the season almost inspired Newcastle to an undeserved victory during an injury time spell of uncharacteristic excitement, only for Richards to underline his potential with a crucial interception on the goal-line. "Age for age, Micah is a million miles better than I was at 18," admitted Pearce. "Let's hope we are a comparison when he's 39." Finally, a point well made.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher; Trabelsi, Barton, Reyna (Corradi, 60), Sinclair; Dickov (Samaras, 60), Vassell. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Ireland, Onuoha.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Carr (Solano, 76), Moore, Taylor, Ramage; Duff (N'Zogbia, 56), Parker, Emre, Milner; Ameobi (Dyer, 56), Sibierski. Substitutes not used: Butt, Srnicek (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).
Booked: Manchester City Sinclair; Newcastle Parker, Taylor, Emre.
Man of the match: Barton.
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