Manchester City 0 Newcastle Utd 0: Battle of strugglers offers precious little to tax Poll

City's Richards marks England call-up with solid display
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The Independent Online

A mistake could have had career implications and the pressure and scrutiny was intense. But enough of Graham Poll's performance at the City of Manchester Stadium yesterday, there was a lot riding on the outcome of this for Stuart Pearce and Glenn Roeder, too.

As it happens, Mr Poll had a more satisfactory afternoon than either manager. He had the City supporters singing, "You're not fit to referee" and reached his 50th Premiership booking of the season, but compared to recent matches this was all run of the mill. Pearce and Roeder, however, have deep problems.

Manchester City maintained their pristine defensive record at home and Newcastle United got a rare away point, but you would have needed crime scene investigators to search for other plus points. As the PA announcer was about to announce stoppage time at the end a voice from the crowd pleaded: "No minutes." It was that dire.

Only in the closing minutes did the match approach proper entertainment and even then there was much desperation and absolutely no calm. "In the first half we looked like a team who had played extra time in the Carling Cup in midweek," Roeder said of his Newcastle players. "We had to get better and we did."

Pearce, in response, berated missed chances, but both will have been disappointed with the quality of the performances. "I was delighted with the effort," Pearce said, "and if we keep creating chances like that we'll score a hatful sooner rather than later." This is a recurring theme, however, and City fans are advised not to hold their breath.

It soon became apparent that the City of Manchester Stadium was not the place to be to study the game's more cerebral arts. Players bereft of confidence frequently turn to the long ball to mask their inadequacies and the match often resembled a kicking duel between two rugby union full-backs. Except the footballers found touch more often.

Steve Harper saved excellently from Joey Barton and Paul Dickov in the seventh and 52nd minutes but the match only resembled entertainment when City brought on Bernardo Corradi and Georgios Samaras. These are strikers with obvious talent who have struggled to score in the Premiership, and it was soon apparent why.

With his first touch, in the 61st minute, Corradi squandered a glorious chance when he directed his diving header straight at Harper and five minutes later he should have done better than locate the keeper's body when Darius Vassell put him through. Samaras, meanwhile, was horribly wide with a header and when he did get the ball in the net Poll had seen an earlier push.

At least City woke up with half an hour to go; Newcastle did not stir until the final minute. Emre and Kieron Dyer sliced through the City defence and, with the goal gaping, Dyer managed to thump his shot straight at Micah Richards. City's new recruit to the England squad deserved credit for racing back but the miss was symptomatic of a match riddled with errors.

At least it gave Pearce the opportunity to praise England's new boy. "Micah Richards does his reputation no harm on a daily basis," he said. "When he extended his contract last summer I told him this is a very good club to learn his football. He's gone from strength to strength, has a fantastic mentality and a good work ethic. We are proud that another academy player has graduated like Shaun Wright-Phillips, into the England squad."

And Poll? "I thought he did very well," Pearce said. "He has been under a touch of pressure this week, but he is one of our better referees." At least someone had a decent match.

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