Manchester City 0 West Bromwich Albion 0
On the day West Bromwich Albion completed their incredible ?Great Escape? last May, there was only one moment on that final day Premiership stage which remotely matched it for sheer drama.
That was the last-minute Robbie Fowler penalty miss at the City of Manchester Stadium which handed Middlesbrough a ticket to Europe and condemned the home side to the obscurity of mid-table non-achievers.
Maybe the echoes of that final day drama had not quite faded and both Manchester City and Albion were lost in some time warp, still thinking of three months ago.
Whatever the explanation, this was a classic ?After the Lord Mayor?s Show?. While the return of the Premiership might have stirred excitingly into life elsewhere, this was a tame affair.
The day?s top sporting action in Manchester was due to take place a few miles away at Old Trafford and didn?t everyone know it. And there was more entertainment to be had at Old Trafford admiring Shane Warne with a bat in his hand, or even just watching the rain fall, than there was here.
Admittedly, there were a handful of near-misses at either end. Zoltan Gera and Kevin Campbell both showed why Albion manager Bryan Robson is today expected to fork out a club record # 3 million- plus fee on Nathan Ellington, Wigan Athletic?s leading marksman for the past three years . And it needed a string of decent saves, one of them very sharp, from Albion debutant Chris Kirkland to keep City out.
But any game involving Danny Mills can never be too drab and his antics eventually enlivened this one up.
Mills? customary contribution to a breakdown in world peace came late in the afternoon. Ronnie Wallwork took an awkward fall, which initially looked worse than it was, causing referee Chris Foy to look for an opportunity to halt the game.
Fellow Albion midfielder Junichi Inamoto failed to notice Wallwork?s apparent distress and attempted to play on. And, when he lost the ball, Claudio Reyna?s pass looked to give City substitute Lee Croft a clear run on goal.
Mr Foy, whose sole priority, rightfully, was the welfare of the player, blew up. But it enraged the home crowd. And, to the surprise of almost no-one in the ground, Mills got involved when it inflamed tempers on the pitch too.
In the sort of ugly skirmish that has became the former England full-back?s trademark, he was soon squaring up with Wallwork.
Both Mills and Wallwork ended up booked, though Robson reflected: ?I did think that Danny Mills started it and that there was no need for it.? How many times have we heard that line before (and will again, no doubt)?
?We had the two best chances through Zoltan and Kevin,? said Robson. ?And a lot of pleasing things that came out of it.
?We looked very solid for an away team. And, on the first day, simply not getting beat always has to be considered a reasonable result. But I was also looking for us to step up a gear and go for the game, which we didn?t.
?We conceded 41 goals in the first half of last season, while over the second half we conceded only 20 and that has given us the platform to go and win games. But you?ve got to score goals to win games.?
Maybe if Ellington finds his feet, Albion can improve on last season?s feeble tally of 36 goals scored. At least Albion have an admirer in City manager Stuart Pearce, who had cause to reflect on his own side?s failings up front from his two debutants, the wasteful Andy Cole and the almost anonymous Darius Vassell.
?Credit to West Brom,? said the City boss, ?they look more battle-hardened, a tougher side than they were to knock over last year.?
Quite a statement given that no side fared worse against Albion last season than City, who dropped four points out of six to Robson?s men.
But, on this evidence, Albion have reason to think, like Pearce, that they can prove more competitive and not leave their escape bid quite so late this time. Although that will need an improvement on a mere six wins (five of them at home) from 38 games.
The one disappointment for the purists about the manner in which Albion saw the curtain go up on another season was the visitors? outfit.
Albion fans will have to wait until next weekend for their first sight this season of their team?s beloved navy blue and white stripes. Instead, their heroes were bedecked in their hideous new away strip.
This is a navy affair with a diagonal red and white slash down the front that makes collective wearers of it look suspiciously like the cast of a spaceship crew from a low budget mid-70s sci-fi series. Love it or loathe it, it just wasn?t needed.