Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mr T doesn't pity the fool

Newcastle Utd 0 - 2 Man City

In stark terms this was a fourth defeat in a row - but the reality was far more complex than the final scoreline would suggest. After the disappointing losses (and performances) against West Brom and Cardiff, this was a carbon copy of the Arsenal match that began the sequence - a hugely creditable display from the home side, only for their considerable efforts to go unjustly unrewarded and the title-chasing visitors to win ugly. In this instance, though, Man City needed the help of an outrageous refereeing decision to claim their three points, and the Newcastle goal that wasn't allowed to stand was much more of a talking point than the two City goals that were.

The Silver Fox made four changes from the side that lost at home to Cardiff last weekend, with Tim Krul, Iron Mike, Dreamboat and Loic Remy retuning at the expense of Rob Elliot, Massadio Haidara, HBA and Papiss Cisse. The personnel changes also meant a reshuffled defence, with Iron Mike paired with Saylor while Davide Santon reverted to left-back and MYM stepped into the suspended Mathieu Debuchy's boots on the right.

We started brightly, but any early optimism that we might be set to avoid a tenth successive defeat to City in all competitions suffered a heavy blow just seven minutes in. The move was slick enough: a neat turn and pass from David Silva, an overlapping run and cross from Aleksandar Kolarov, a clinical finish from Edin Dzeko. But we could have done more to prevent it, Goofy showing an uncharacteristic lack of awareness in letting Kolarov in, Iron Mike appearing to think better of cutting out the cross and Saylor allowing the goalscorer to steal in front of him.

As the Match Of The Day analysis underlined, City's formation in the first half approached 2-2-4-2, with nominal full-backs Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta providing the width in midfield, allowing playmakers Silva and Samir Nasri to operate more centrally. Kolarov's cross-shot was nearly touched in by Alvaro Negredo and Silva shot just wide of the same post as the visitors threatened to double their lead.

City were strong through the centre, with Loic Remy kept very quiet and Dreamboat struggling to get into the game. Our midfield gradually got a grip on the game, though, Mr T and Mini V buzzing about and biting into tackles while hardworking duo Goofy and Moussa Sissoko carried threat on the flanks, exploiting their markers' eagerness to get forward.

Our first real opportunity was prodded wide on the volley from a corner by Saylor, and we won another when Dreamboat's audacious effort from an impossibly acute angle was tipped over and behind by Joe Hart. The subsequent flag-kick was half-cleared to Mr T, who walloped the ball left-footed into the back of the net from distance. It was a spectacular strike and he understandably lost the plot, sprinting to the touchline to embrace John Carver. Meanwhile, however, Hart had belatedly decided to appeal for offside, receiving the support of his colleagues, and after briefly conferring with the assistant referee, Mike Jones ruled it out for offside.

While it's not in question that three of our players were standing beyond the last defender, none of them interfered with play, either by touching the ball (Goofy niftily sidestepping it as it flew past) or by obstructing Hart's line of view (despite what deluded City fans might laughably claim). Ex-refs Mark Halsey and Graham Poll agreed it was a scandalous ruling - a "huge injustice", in the words of the Silver Fox, who wasn't satisfied with Jones' explanation and became embroiled in a touchline spat with Manuel Pellegrini, visibly branding him a "fucking old cunt". He has subsequently apologised and been reprimanded (though not punished) by the FA, but perhaps he should consider spending a little less time in JFK's company...

Our manager wasn't the only one fired up by the injustice - our players too were incensed and some robust challenges ensued. The ankles of the City players were probably most grateful for the half-time interval, though Jones' ear was in for a bashing from the Silver Fox as the officials made their way down the tunnel.

Tim Krul, relatively underemployed in the first period, was forced into a good save early in the second half. Before long, though, we began to impose ourselves again, Dreamboat's swerving smash unfortunately the right height for Hart to push behind. Dzeko, who had suffered a knock, was withdrawn for pacy wide man Jesus Navas, Pellegrini changing formation and tactics, hoping to catch us on the break. Negredo and Nasri both went close before the latter was crudely scythed down by international teammate MYM. Nasri might now be out for eight weeks, but those City fans complaining that MYM wasn't red-carded might like to remember Nigel de Jong's unpunished assault on HBA - the two simply don't compare. (Admittedly, though, Dreamboat was somewhat fortunate to get away without a second yellow for an unnecessary challenge on Navas on the touchline.)

By that point, the Silver Fox had signalled an intention to push harder for an equaliser by replacing defensive midfielder Mini V with a striker - but, without the option of Big Lad and the Plan B he would provide, he had to resort to Papiss Cisse, whose impact was once again negligible. Saylor actually looked a likelier scorer, one effort blocked by a sliding Kolarov and another wide after he'd been given marginally offside. Our best opportunity fell to Remy following confusion between two City defenders, but his firm left-footed strike was repelled by Hart's outstretched leg. It wasn't all one-way traffic, though, with Fernandinho heading onto Krul's crossbar and Saylor getting in the way of Negredo's shot when the Dutchman was beaten again.

The clock ticked into stoppage time - all seven minutes of it, thanks to the time it took to stretcher off Nasri - and further chances came, Remy sending a header looping harmlessly wide and substitute HBA (on for Goofy) dribbling himself into a good position only to waste it impetuously. The stage was set for the sucker punch, then, and Negredo got it, breaking a poorly executed offside trap and profiting from good fortune when his initial effort was saved by Krul but bounced off him towards the empty net.

It was a devastating end to a game in which we'd given our all and stood toe-to-toe with many people's favourites for the title. We should take heart from the performance, though, in the knowledge that it would have been sufficient to beat most Premier League sides - and indeed might have been sufficient to beat City, had Jones not intervened. Fat Sam's injury-hit and goal-shy West Ham are up next, and represent as good an opportunity as any to arrest our recent slump.

A Man City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Anonymous Andrew Parker said...

Jesus, what a horrific website Bitter And Blue is. Seems to be full of yanks supporting the football team of a city they've never been to, whilst simultaneously taking the piss out of Newcastle, another city they've never been to.

3:50 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

It's usually sound enough (or at least it used to be, back in the pre-loadsamoney days), but that post is complete drivel.

11:47 am  

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