City's eccentricities costly

 

Manchester City...2 Tottenham Hotspur...3Of all the sides in English football, perhaps only Manchester City are capable of concocting a match as upside-down and eccentric as this. Experienced City-watchers have long grown accustomed to nights of bewilderment at Maine Road but, even by their own standards, there was something remarkably perplexing about their embarrassment last night.

City played with such menace in the first 30 minutes, taking the lead through Steve Howey's header, it was difficult to imagine a better period of play in Kevin Keegan's tenure at the club.

Yet, seemingly in control, City then capitulated once Chris Perry had equalised before half-time. Simon Davies and the subsitute Gus Poyet both scored in a bemusing second period for a Tottenham side whose night was soured only by Christian Ziege's sending-off late on and by Ali Benarbia's late goal.

It is hard to fault Keegan's abhorrence of mediocrity - he used his programme notes to regurgitate his dubious claim they will finish in the top six - but there have been times this season when City have been trying to scale new peaks without the appropriate equipment.

Unless Keegan wisely spends the £7 million available for reinforcements they will continue to live in a world of optimism rather than realism. A couple of specialist full-backs and a dominant midfielder would do, for a start.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in the first half was that City had to wait so long before their superiority was rewarded. Nicolas Anelka might have scored twice, Eyal Berkovic's usual accuracy deserted him when he lobbed Kasey Keller only to see the ball drop a yard wide and the sight of Tottenham's goalkeeper chastising his defenders was to become a regular feature of the night.

Hoddle had detailed his most destructive midfielder Steffen Freund to man-maral Berkovic, a sensible ploy given the Israeli's recent form, yet one that had next to no success.

Freund was booked for a heavy challenge on his opponent as early as the ninth minute and when he repeated the offence just before the half-hour he was fortunate that the referee Jeff Winter decided to be lenient.

But now Kevin Horlock clipped a curling free-kick into the penalty area and Howey, jumping in front of Perry, directed the ball beyond Keller with a deft back-header.

At that stage City looked superior in every department but a familiar weakness - dozing defenders - was to resurface eight minutes before the break. In a rare counter-attack Ziege's shot had been deflected behind goal and when the German swung over the resulting corner Perry was unchallenged as he headed in a thoroughly undeserved equaliser from six yards.

Three minutes into the second half City's despair intensified. Robbie Keane picked up the ball outside the penalty area, wriggled his way to the left byline and casually sidestepped his Republic of Ireland team-mate Richard Dunne. His cross drifted over Schmeichel, who had come to his near post and Davies was in the perfect position to head Tottenham into the lead.

Poyet's goal was another header, this time from Ziege's corner.

MANCHESTER CITY: Schmeichel, Dunne, Howey, Distin, Jihai (Benarbia 58), Foe, Horlock, Tiatto, Goater (Huckerby 84), Anelka, Berkovic. Subs Not Used: Nash, Jensen, Vuoso. Booked: Tiatto, Foe. Goals: Howey 29, Benarbia 90.

TOTTENHAM: Keller, Perry, Richards, King, Carr, Davies, Freund, Anderton, Ziege, Keane, Iversen (Poyet 71). Subs Not Used: Sullivan, Bunjevcevic, Thatcher, Clemence. Sent Off: Ziege (86). Booked: Freund, Ziege, Perry. Goals: Perry 38, Davies 48, Poyet 84.

Referee: J Winter (Cleveland).