Manchester City 1 Blackburn Rovers 1

Last updated : 17 January 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers, two teams who have forgotten how to win, remained perilously close to the Premiership drop zone following their 1-1 draw at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Nils-Eric Johansson, recalled by Blackburn manager Graeme Souness was praised for his efforts in nullifying the threat posed by City dangerman Nicolas Anelka.

In a dour match, in which there was desperately entertaining football, both teams looked to have a difficult remaining four months of the season.

City, despite their midweek FA Cup victory at Leicester, have not won in the league for 11 matches over a depressing 11-week period.

Manager Kevin Keegan would not elaborate on his programme notes in which he admitted his job is on the line if results don't quickly improve.

"I am enough of a realist to know if two or three more bad results and my job is on the line," he wrote.

Keegan added he is under pressure pointing out that it always starts with the manager as he is responsible for picking the team.

The City manager, reflecting on the game, said: "We had some chances to win, especially in the first half when we hit the post, but we weren't as dominant as I would have liked in the second half.

"We didn't hold on to the lead for as long as I had hoped and in the last 15 or 20 minutes Blackburn were the more composed side.

"That is understandable as we last won here on October 18th and it showed at times. The effort and commitment was good, but we didn't open them up.

"When we were 1-0 up we didn't look like a side which looked confident to hang on to it, and I guess that is because we have been unable to do so.

"We have plenty of character, but for some reason we are struggling here." Blackburn manager Graeme Souness was pleased with a share of the spoils, even though his side has won only once in its last eight matches.

He said: "It was a scrappy affair involving two nervous teams, two sides fighting for their lives.

"I cannot fault my team for their commitments and the amount of work they put in.

"I would have liked my team to pass it better and show more creativity, but there were two sets of nervous players and I think that is the reason why the game panned out as it did." Souness was delighted with the way his side dealt with the threats of City striker Nicolas Anelka, a player he describes as one of the best strikers in the world.

And he praised the display from the recalled Johansson as well as central defensive partner Markus Babbel.

He explained: "I can count on one hand the number of times we have defended well this season and this was one of them. Nils deserves a special mention because he has not featured a lot this season.

"He and Markus looked a pair in the centre of defence because Anelka is one of the best strikers around - and I mean in the world - and they kept him quiet." The two teams formed a guard of honour before kick-off as a tribute to David Seaman, who bid farewell to City after earlier in the week announcing his decision to quit through injury at the age of 40.

City chairman John Wardle made a special presentation of a salver to commemorate his long and distinguished career in football.

New signing David James, captured from West Ham to replace Seaman, took over in goal and Sun Jihai replaced David Sommeil, the two changes from the midweek win at Leicester.

Blackburn recalled Johansson in place of Martin Taylor, while captain Garry Flitcroft returned after suspension, replacing Paul Gallagher.

City began with a spring in their stride after their midweek victory, which was their first in 15 league and cup matches, though they never troubled Blackburn keeper Brad Friedel.

Anelka broke clear only to be thwarted by a brilliant covering tackle by defender Babbel.

Trevor Sinclair also went close curling an effort narrowly wide from 12 yards when, perhaps, he ought to have done better. There was a lengthy stoppage following a clash of heads involving Blackburn's Jonathon Douglas, who needed three stitches in a wound, and Sinclair, with both players returning to the field with bandaged heads.

Incredibly, it took half an hour for either keeper to be called into action and then Blackburn striker Dwight Yorke's 30-yard drive went straight at James.

Flitcroft was booked for a reckless challenge on Paul Bosvelt who was cautioned for dissent as tempers became heated.

City increased the tempo of the match and in the 33rd minute Antoine Sibierski saw his drive from 25 yards take a deflection which beat Friedel only to strike the upright.

And moments later, Richard Dunne's downward header following Michael Tarnat's corner was superbly kept out by Friedel.

City finally made the decisive breakthrough five minutes after the restart.

Lucas Neill fouled Bosvelt on the edge of the penalty area and Anelka curled an exquisite free-kick around the defensive wall and low to the left of Friedel for his 17th goal of the season.

And City had a penalty appeal waved aside moments after they scored as Anelka tumbled to the ground following a challenge by Vratislav Gresko.

Blackburn surprisingly equalised against the run of play in the 55th minute with their first clear chance of the match.

Johansson's long throw was flicked on by both Andy Cole and Yorke with Flitcroft bursting through to score with a low angled drive to the left of James.

Suddenly the momentum swung Blackburn's way with Douglas and Brett Emerton both watching long-range efforts flash wide of James' goal.

Keegan threw on Shaun Wright-Phillips to replace Jonathan Macken in an effort to give his side new life.

Sun Jihai was cautioned for a foul on Emerton while City were forced into a second substitution in the 77th minute when Danny Tiatto came on for Sinclair, who had signalled to the bench that he was injured.

Blackburn had another great chance to take the lead when Yorke's diagonal throughball released Cole, but James raced from his line diving bravely at his feet.

City failed to threaten the Blackburn goal in the dying minutes and at the final whistle they left the field to a chorus of jeers from disgruntled supporters as the pressure increased on manager Keegan.

Man-of-the-match: Home defender Richard Dunne yet again justified the faith that Kevin Keegan has shown in him with a masterful display in a defence that has looked extremely unsteady over the last few weeks