Soporific City rise and shine for a point

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Joe Royle summed up the chaotic atmosphere around Maine Road by observing that the subject of conversation veered weekly from relegation to qualifying for Europe.

Joe Royle summed up the chaotic atmosphere around Maine Road by observing that the subject of conversation veered weekly from relegation to qualifying for Europe.

On this evidence, that talk will go on for a good while longer - even during the same match his side can change character wildly. After a soporific first half in which the old adage that "it's never dull watching City" was sorely tested they fell behind and then, after rediscovering their self-belief, were unlucky not to have picked up all three points.

"It might not have been the most sparkling of games and I suspect there might have been some people asleep, but the spirit of this side has never been in doubt," said Royle.

City might have sealed their win had Stephen Lodge, who booked seven players, not disallowed two penalty appeals during the first period. Jason Gavin was allowed to wrestle Danny Tiatto to the ground and then Colin Cooper was lucky to get away with pulling George Weah's shirt in the area.

Royle, who considers City ill-served by officials this season, would have been driven to greater fury when Gianluca Festa slipped his marker, Paulo Wanchope, and stooped to head in Andy Campbell's corner.

It took the Costa Rican 11 minutes to make amends. As Tiatto flicked a long ball into the area over a pack of Middlesbrough defenders, Wanchope stuck out a long leg that struck the ball marginally before Gary Walsh's gloves and guided the ball into the net. Marginally offside Wanchope might have been, but, significantly, the free-kick that began the move had been moved forward 10 yards because of dissent from Hamilton Ricard. From then on, Middlesbrough were entirely on the defensive, and were lucky when Jeff Whitley struck the post.

This was Bryan Robson's 250th league game in charge of Middlesbrough and he deserved the present of a point which maintained Boro's unbeaten record away from the Riverside Stadium, where a section of the crowd have decided in the words that did for Gianluca Vialli: "He has taken the club as far as he can." When Alen Boksic and Christian Karembeu recover from injury, the truth of that will be tested.

Goals: Festa (55) 1-0; Wanchope (66) 1-1.

Manchester City (4-3-3): Weaver; Ritchie, Howey, Prior, Haaland; Horlock (Bishop, 58), Wiekens (Tiatto, 33), Jeff Whitley, Kennedy; Weah (Dickov, 72), Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Crooks, Wright (gk).

Middlesbrough (5-2-3): Walsh; Fleming, Cooper, Festa, Gavin, O'Neill; Campbell (Whelan, 83); Mustoe, Ince, Deane, Job (Ricard, h-t). Substitutes not used: Gordon, Summerbell, Bennion.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Manchester City: Wanchope, Tiatto. Middlesbrough: O'Neill, Cooper, Gavin, Ricard, Ince.

Man of the match: Tiatto.

Attendance: 32,053.

Comments