Writer: Andy Leggott
Date:Wednesday November 23 2005
City of Manchester Stadium
A rare Saturday 3pm kick off left the supporters of both clubs glad they don’t play at this time that often. A dreary game, not helped by the absence of key personnel, did little to warm up 44,000 paying spectators as winter football announced it’s return in the chill Manchester air. City were without the suspended Barton and long term casualties Reyna and Fowler although Sinclair, Thatcher and Onouha all made welcome returns to the bench. Barton’s suspension meant a rare start for Sun Jihai in the centre of a midfield that was to come up against a midfield built in Mark Hughes’ image; robust would be to put it politely. Rovers were without their Aussie contingent of Emerton and Neill, no doubt still celebrating Australia finally achieving something of note this sporting year.
Given recent City/Rovers encounters (most notably the dire 0-0 draw at Ewood last season) the air of expectation surrounding this fixture was not high. More surprising than the news surrounding Roy Keane’s departure from Disneyland, Manchester was the fact that Rovers had actually managed to sell a full allocation of tickets for a game all of 45 minutes away. Admittedly it was a much reduced allocation but well done all the same.
If expectations surrounding the game were low the action on the pitch failed to even meet those. In 90 minutes neither team managed a shot on goal. Both James, in the City goal, and Friedel, keeping for Rovers, had as simple a weeks work as any Premiership footballer can expect. Rovers are not quite as direct as their Lancashire neighbours, Bolton, but their ability to bore the paying public is every bit as laudable. What is galling is that despite nearly every team in the Premiership striving for a single point when they visit Eastlands, City have still to find a way to break down the mass defences. Admittedly we don’t get caught by the 90th minute breakaway as often but you would still expect us to impose ourselves on a limited team such as the one Blackburn fielded.
On a brighter note, Stevie Ireland continues to impress in central midfield and the central defence was once again immense. After his less than perfect showing at Fulham, Dunne was back to his dominant self whilst Distin imposed himself on Dickov, refusing to let him intimidate him as he does so many others. Dickov once more got the bird from a sizeable minority of the City crowd but let’s not forget the 94th minute at Wembley, the guy will always be a City legend.
Realising the ineptitude of the football on offer, Stuart Pearce decided to inject some much needed spice into the game. Invading the pitch on two occasions in an attempt to get the Blackburn players moving, Psycho continued his entertaining sideshow from the sidelines. Mark Hughes showed all he had learnt from the Ferguson school of management with his rant that Pearce should have been sent to the stands, as he himself was for kicking a water bottle in a previous game. Pearce, with just a little more class than Hughes could muster, answered back that kicking a water bottle was simply disgusting.
As an advertisement for the ‘best league in the world’ this game fell very short. If the authorities want to see the issues affecting football then Eastlands was the place to be on Saturday. Dull, unadventurous visiting teams with little more ambition than a solitary point are killing football. Crowds will not respond if there is nothing to cheer and shout about. Come on ‘The Premiership’ teams, show the world it’s the best league in the world and don’t stifle the game.
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Date:Wednesday November 23 2005
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