Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 0: Benjani lacks sense of direction as City continue to lose way

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The Independent Football

Not so long ago Eastlands was one of the most impregnable grounds in the Premier League but not any more. The last time Manchester City won at home in the League was December 15 and while the ramparts of the fortress may have an imposing appearance the brickwork is crumbling.

This was a tame draw last night between two disappointing teams and the main crumb of comfort for City was that someone had finally bolted the door after successive home defeats against Arsenal and Everton. A small morsel it was, too, because, they have had only one win in their last seven matches and that, amazingly, was their first win at Manchester United for 34 years. Yesterday the heroics at Old Trafford seemed a distant memory.

Indeed Wigan Athletic, for whom this was an important point on a day when their fellow strugglers Reading and Birmingham City got three, left the City of Manchester Stadium feeling frustrated. They did not play particularly well either but two late chances could have stolen a rare away win for the visitors.

Certainly their manager Steve Bruce saw it as a missed opportunity. "The longer the game went on there was only one team going to win," he said. "The unfortunate thing is that we made the chances and couldn't take them." Sven Goran Eriksson, his City counterpart, added: "It's disappointing but I can't go into the dressing room and accuse the players of not trying hard or lacking spirit. We needed to score to make it a different game."

Yesterday Eriksson reverted to the 4-4-1-1 formation that brought nine successive home wins at the start of the season. Elano was reintroduced but is not the inspirational force he was in the autumn and his effectiveness was debilitated further by a knee injury. There was also an onus on Mwaruwari Benjani's to run into gaps but his eagerness was often fruitless because he he spent most of the match offside.

Even so, City created the first chance of note when Darius Vassell's seventh-minute header forced a save from Chris Kirkland and Stephen Ireland curled a shot just over after 24 minutes. The first chance of real note, however, came after 32 minutes when Benjani finally timed a run and Ireland's pass put him beyond the Wigan back four, Chris Kirkland racing from his line to make the block.

The first half ended with Emile Heskey heading just wide for Wigan but if optimists believed this would spark an immediate improvement after the break they were disappointed. Heavy rain and a slippery pitch hampered the players skills and when Elano had to go off within four minutes of the restart with a knee injury much of City's impetus went with him.

Benjani should have scored after 71 minutes when he was five yards wide with a volley from seven yards out but rather than that herald a City assault, the closing minutes belonged to Wigan and they should have stolen a win. In the 75th minute the ever willing Heskey pulled the ball back from the byline and if Antoine Sibierski had made a full contact from 12 yards out he would probably have scored. Instead he was tentative and the ball dribbled wide.

The best chance of the game came in the 82nd minute when Heskey passed along the edge of the area and Wilson Palacios's shot was denied only by an excellent save by Joe Hart. The ball rebounded, Palacios tried to score with an acrobatic kick and he was several feet too high.

"It wasn't a great game," Bruce said, "but you never know, it could be the point that makes the difference."

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