Manchester City 0 West Bromwich Albion 0

Kirkland leaves City frustrated
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The Independent Football

City wanted to show they did not miss Shaun Wright-Phillips following the sale of their talisman to Chelsea and for the most part they succeeded. All that was missing was a goal or two. For that they can largely blame the Albion goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, on loan from Liverpool, who responded to his inclusion in place of an injured Russell Hoult with several important saves.

The loss of Wright-Phillips clearly has the potential to be a hefty blow, but it might be that there are parallels to be drawn with Everton and Wayne Rooney.

City were in danger of being labelled a one-man team, as Everton had been. The departure of Rooney, however, appeared to liberate his former team-mates on Merseyside, who suddenly became an efficient collective.

The challenge to Pearce is first to redefine his team, to which end he has entirely renewed his attack, signing Andy Cole and Darius Vassell, and with Kiki Musampa, on loan from Atletico Madrid, and with a confirmed bid for Bolton midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos, City are equipped to pose a test to most defences they will encounter. But here they could not quite test Albion enough.

While Cole was impressive, and there were bright, creative performances in midfield from Claudio Reyna and Joey Barton, for whom Pearce had particular admiration after his recent personal problems, the chances made were not taken. Cole went close with a header before Kirkland denied Musampa and then Reyna in the first half, pulling off another important save from Barton in the second.

"It was probably a fair result but when you don't win at home you will be disappointed," Pearce said. His assessment took into account that the best chance of the afternoon fell to the visitors, whose winger, Zoltan Gera, will wonder how he managed to head the ball wide after Jonathan Greening's 35th-minute cross gave him most of the City goal to aim at. Bryan Robson will be hoping yesterday's £3 million signing of Nathan Ellington from Wigan can give them a more effective cutting edge.

Then again, scares at the back are usual for City, although the absence of Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin, both injured, was a mitigating factor. Nor would it be normal if David James did not have at least one flap, as he did when a Gera cross turned mid-flight into a dipping shot, or if Danny Mills did not bring himself to the referee's notice, as he did when he and Ronnie Wallwork tangled in a fractious last five minutes.

There were no such incidents involving Barton, whom Pearce complimented readily, revealing that the midfielder, sent home from City's pre-season tour of Thailand after a bar-room fight with an Everton supporter, is seeing counsellors from Tony Adams's organisation, Sporting Chance, to talk about his behavioural problems.

"It is an ongoing thing," Pearce said. "I feel I have a responsibility as manager to give as much assistance to him as I can and you can see a change in him already. It has been a tough few weeks for him but I feel he is adopting a more mature approach."

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