Pearce's roundheads find discipline to contain Blackburn's shock troops

Blackburn Rovers 0 - Manchester City 0
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The Independent Online

Not so long ago Joey Barton seemed to symbolise the most basic problem of Manchester City, would-be cavaliers who kept falling off their horses. Of all their potential, the most compelling was to self-destruct.

Not so long ago Joey Barton seemed to symbolise the most basic problem of Manchester City, would-be cavaliers who kept falling off their horses. Of all their potential, the most compelling was to self-destruct.

He was fined four weeks' wages, and was grateful not to be sacked, for shoving a lighted cigar into the face of a young team-mate at a Christmas party. Now he is just another roundhead in the New Model Army of Stuart Pearce, who is beginning to look the most permanent temporary manager in the history of football.

Barton faced down Blackburn's self-anointed inspiration Robbie Savage, who left after 69 minutes, with more or less relentless efficiency and then delivered a short but not unimpressive homily on some of the realities of modern football.

Said Barton: "It's always difficult against a player like Savage, because it's well publicised what he's all about. He's good at what he does and makes a good living. Going against him is about saying, 'I'm here today and I'm not going to be rolled over'. If he wants the ball and wants to mix it up a bit, then I'm prepared to stand up to him. It's a man's game."

The key phrase concerned his, and City's, refusal to roll over. Those of us forced to watch may have been tempted to curl ourselves into attitudes of outright despair because this man's game can also be the last word in mind-numbing pragmatism. But if you could bear to carry on watching the reward was a black-and-white - and blue - account of how you survive on the wrong side of the Premiership wealth line.

Blackburn's messiah of salvation, Mark Hughes, smarting at criticism that he has turned them around at the unacceptable price of border-line physical intimidation, was asked if the summer would be spent lifting their capacity to entertain. Maybe, he said, but it would help if someone gave him a quick £100m.

Barton's most fervent argument was for the appointment of Pearce. He said: "Under him we've sort of gone back to basics. We've made ourselves hard to beat, said that if we didn't concede goals we were sure to get better."

Pearce has two priorities, landing the job and hanging on to Shaun Wright-Phillips, who at the moment represents City's best and, to be perfectly frank, last link with playing talent of the highest quality.

Pearce continues to say that the body language of his players fills him with hope for the future, and is amiably jokey about the delay in his confirmation as manager. "The chairman said that this will probably be the longest job interview I've ever had," he reported. "And I said, I hope so, because I'll be dead soon."

Pearce's own body language remains a bristling statement of ambition, and remarkably it survived most of Saturday's torpor. For this alone, he deserves the job.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Matteo; Emerton, Mokoena, Savage (Thompson, 69), Reid, Pedersen (Gallagher, 76); Stead. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Flitcroft, Tugay.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Onuoha, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; S Wright-Phillips, Reyna, Barton, Musampa (Croft, 76); Fowler (B Wright- Phillips, 86), Sibierski. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Thatcher, Mills.

Referee: C Foy (Lancashire)

Man of the match: Distin.

Attendance: 24,646.

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