Manchester City 1 Middlesbrough 0: Dunne's header gives Pearce respite on nervy night for City

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The Independent Online

If Stuart Pearce had been obliged to be wary of a call from his chairman after City's disappointing opening to the season - and John Wardle, incidentally, insists that his manager's job security has never been in doubt - then he will have been able to sleep a little more easily last night after watching his side pick up a fretful, if just about deserved, three points.

They never looked comfortable. Massimo Maccarone, the Middlesbrough substitute, emphasised that point by hitting the same post twice inside the last three minutes. But, ultimately, Richard Dunne's forceful header from a corner midway through the first half was enough to drag City to the relative comfort of 13th place in the table.

Last night's match began a sequence of four - with Newcastle and Fulham to come at home as well as Charlton away - that Pearce saw as carrying the potential for maximum points, which clearly would make his own position much more secure, given that the consequence would be to establish City in the top half of the table.

With that in mind, Pearce did not hesitate to recall his left-back Ben Thatcher at his first availability, the defender having completed the eight-match ban he incurred for a horrific challenge on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes in August. Thatcher, along with the returning Sylvain Distin, Claudio Reyna, Paul Dickov and DaMarcus Beasley enabled Pearce to put out a much more experienced line-up than the one thrashed 4-0 by Wigan 10 days ago.

It showed, too, in a first half in which the home side had threatened an early breakthrough even before Dunne rose above a ruck of Boro defenders to head to home Joey Barton's 23rd-minute corner.

They were never fluent but were sufficiently aggressive to impose themselves on a Middlesbrough side missing the injured Mark Viduka, who could never keep possession long enough to put City under meaningful pressure.

Although the presence of television cameras always has some effect, City will have been disappointed with a crowd of only 36,720, which was the smallest of the season at a stadium where 40,000-plus has been the norm.

Those present witnessed a contest that became fractious in the second half, when Middlesbrough's attempt to match the home side's robust approach merely resulted in a run of yellow cards. The referee, Howard Webb, was remarkably lenient to begin with, allowing a number of dubious challenges to go unpunished, but eventually Boro's Robert Huth and Fabio Rochemback joined City's Barton in finding their way into the official's book.

As the match moves into its closing stages, it was clear that City needed a second goal to give an anxious-looking Pearce any degree of comfort in his technical area. However, having not conceded a goal in a home game thus far this season, his defenders had an extra determination to hang on to their clean sheet.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher; Sinclair, Barton, Reyna (Trabelsi, 80), Beasley (Vassell, 72); Dickov (Corradi, 85), Samaras. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Hamann.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby (Bates, 19), Woodgate, Huth, Pogatetz; Cattermole (Morrison, 66), Boateng, Rochemback (Maccarone, 74), Downing; Euell, Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Arca.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

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