This has been a week Gordon Strachan will want to
forget with considerable haste.
Embarrassed at Everton, thrashed at Newcastle and now a point unjustly wrenched from
their grasp by the Premiership leaders.
And just to round off the misery, fellow strugglers Charlton triumphed at Derby to push
City down into the relegation zone.
The joy after the masterly victory over Liverpool just three weeks ago seems a world
away and just in case anyone had other thoughts, there is no doubt that City have a major
relegation battle on their hands.
It may be unfair to draw conclusions from a game against the leaders of the league but
the performance illustrated the strengths and one weakness of Gordon Strachans side.
In defence they were resolute Paul Williams had possibly his best game for the
club - in midfield they used imagination, even if they lacked width and their passing was
erratic, but they undoubtedly did not have a cutting edge.
The same could fairly be said of United whose goal, 11 minutes from time, was only
their second shot of the afternoon on target, but they have goal-scoring talent by the
Strachan restored Williams in place of Mo Konjic and brought Paul Telfer in to add some
steel to the centre of midfield. The changes worked but with £2 million Konjic on the
bench and the increasingly isolated Gary Breen watching from the stands, City seem to have
an abundance of central defenders but are short elsewhere.
There was little to choose between the two sides in a surprisingly downbeat first half.
United were prepared to take their time, and almost wait for their intricate passing to
work a break rather than trying to force the issue.
Ryan Giggs did shoot over the top but Magnus Hedman, in the Coventry goal, was largely
untroubled. In fact when United did press Coventrys area it was more often than not
a result of the home side gifting them possession.
At the other end, Japp Stam stood firm against Darren Huckerby and it was only as the
game reached the half hour mark that City really began to test Peter Schmeichel. Firstly
George Boateng let fly with a 25-yarder which the big Dane had to push aside and then Noel
Whelan turned a Paul Telfer shot over the top from close range.
Stam went off at half-time with a hamstring problem, but Henning Berg was equally
resilient in the middle of defence.
Telfer showed similar qualities when, on the hour, he produced a superb block to deny
David Beckham who looked certain to score after Denis Irwin had squared the ball to him on
the edge of the area.
Whelan damaged a shoulder and had to be replaced by John Aloisi in the 65th
minute but the big Australian was able to push further forward and also gave City an
improved aerial outlet.
The game looked for all the world a goal-less draw as both sides refused to risk the
prospect of a point but when City did get a sniff of an equaliser, it proved their
Irwins block on Boateng gave City a corner with 11 minutes left on the clock, but
when Schmeichel caught the ball he threw it out to Yorke on the halfway line. Already it
was obvious that City were back on their heels and after some inter-passing inside the Sky
Blues half, Bekham crossed to the far post where Ryan Giggs was lurking.
The Welshmen didnt make brilliant contact but it was enough to beat the
despairing Richard Shaw who could only help the ball over the line as he dived to keep it
Huckerby had one last chance to win the game when Williams put him through but he
couldnt make the most of it. It was a fitting end to a forgettable week.
Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Williams, Burrows (Soltvedt, 85 mins); Boateng, Telfer, McAllister;
Whelan (Aloisi, 65 mins), Huckerby
Subs not used: Ogrizovic, Konjic, Quinn
Schmeichel; Neville, Stam (Berg, 45 mins), Johnsen, Irwin, Giggs, Scholes, Keane, Beckham,
Cole (Solskjaer, 74 mins), Yorke (P Neville, 85 mins)
Subs not used: Van der Gouw, Blomqvist
GOALS: Giggs (79 mins)
Coventry Burrows (foul, 70 mins), Boateng (foul, 76 mins)
Manchester United - Scholes (foul, 12 mins), Stam (foul, 20 mins), Cole (foul, 44 mins)
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury)