Dickov penalty miss
gives City a ray of hope
Amy Lawrence for Get Your Kits Out at the Walkers Stadium Return to Main Page
Saturday April 24, 2004
The spectre of relegation plays havoc with the nervous system. Evidence that the Citys of Leicester and Manchester are spiralling out of control was palpable when this game descended into mayhem. Every player on the pitch (and some who weren't) was impassioned when referee Andy D'Urso awarded a contentious penalty. Memories of past Manchester intimidation came to mind as the official was surrounded by baying City players. Not a pretty sight.
Among the worst offenders, Steffen Freund, who had already been substituted, was deranged, hitting out at the fourth official, re-entering the field of play, and being dragged away from a barney with Kevin Keegan. Michael Tarnat lost the plot. Paulo Wanchope and Marcus Bent were eyeball to eyeball until the Costa Rican went to ground in an awful example of simulation. Muzzy Izzet and Richard Dunne got the whole brouhaha rolling by shoving each other in the chest until the rest came piling in.
Unedifying? Unquestionably. But as far as Keegan was concerned, it was a symbol of how much everyone cared. 'I would just call it a lot of passion from people who care. There was a bad decision made, and we all felt aggrieved, even the most placid of my players. When you care about the game, about where you are and where you want to be, you are going to get that.'
Micky Adams also dismissed it as 'a fuss about nothing', and unless the FA impose further punishment than the flurry of yellow cards flashed by D'Urso, the more lasting concern is whether the point is a substantial enough lifeline to aid their plight. It looks increasingly like a lost cause. 'That might cost us our Premiership status,' he confessed of the squandered penalty - saved by a towering David James - which kept the score at 1-1.
The point is of more immediate value to Manchester City, and means that unless Leeds beat Portsmouth by 35-0 tomorrow they will stay out of the relegation zone, so superior is their goal difference to all the other endangered teams. 'It might be our best point of the season,' mused Keegan.
Manchester City's beleaguered manager was clearly relieved afterwards, even if his team made plentiful enough chances to have won the match comfortably. But after a difficult week when dressing-room friction was under the spotlight, and when it was absolutely imperative for every City man to put club before self, he was bound to accentuate the positive. 'The spirit in the camp has been questioned all week, but it was good today,' he remarked.
In a survival contest as desperate as this, Keegan was obliged to select the players he most trusted to perform, and Joey Barton was welcomed back into the fold after last weekend's tantrum. But there was no place for Robbie Fowler, one of the expensive buys who make Keegan insist he should take the flak for his club's predicament.
During an emotionally charged game that lurched from anxious to tetchy, with mistakes an inevitable by-product of the atmosphere, Manchester City produced the better-quality football and the lion's share of chances. Nicolas Anelka missed three glaring opportunities, and Wanchope's touch was spectacularly wayward. There was always a sense that gritty, direct Leicester might punish them for their wastefulness.
Gawd, it was edgy. Both goalkeepers had been tested, Les Ferdinand brushed the side netting, and it was heading towards half-time deadlock when Manchester City won a free-kick in stoppage time. Tarnat's thump from 25 yards was deflected off Trevor Sinclair on the way in. The trajectory was altered enough to leave Ian Walker flummoxed, Leicester trailing, and the Manchester fans celebrating. It was a nice day for daisy cutters.
Adams sent on Bent for Ferdinand in a bid to invigorate his attack. Full marks for sweat if not for style (a quality final ball was a scarce commodity). Naturally, there were holes for Manchester City to exploit on the break. Suddenly they were away, three red-and-black shirts bearing down on one blue defender. Anelka had Shaun Wright-Phillips to his right and Sinclair to his left - a second goal beckoned surely. But Anelka's pass was woeful. They didn't even test the goalkeeper. Keegan was aghast at such wastefulness.
As if to prove the point, Leicester came close to equalising twice through Bent. It was coming. It came route one and straight down the middle. When Walker launched a hefty goalkick that Sylvain Distin failed to deal with, James Scowcroft leapt above the static Tarnat to loop a header over the stranded keeper. Classic Manchester City defending.
Then came the explosive interlude, as Leicester were awarded a penalty when Tarnat fouled Izzet, who had controlled the ball with his hand. 'I understand why Keegan was upset, because it was a handball, but I thought our luck had changed,' said Adams.
Four minutes after the penalty was awarded, Paul Dickov stepped up to face a man who is twice his size. He planted the ball to the keeper's right, but James guessed correctly to push the ball away. It was a monumental save. We will know how big only come the end of the season.
The bottom line is that these two teams have managed only three wins in 45 league games and, even if time is all but up for Leicester, Manchester City still need all the wins they can get.
Man of the match
David James A huge display from the man who will guard England's goal in the summer. When Manchester City were shaky at the start, he oozed confidence and composure, and when they needed him most, when confronted with a penalty so critical to their season, he was immune to the tension and saved comfortably.