Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sub story

Newcastle Utd 0 – 2 Man City

How silly of me to have hoped that 2008 would herald a change in our fortunes. After all, what better way to conclude an unremittingly miserable festive period than by slumping to a third successive defeat, this time at home to a team who last collected three points on their travels on the very first day of the season?

Essentially it came down to two key moments involving substitutes. First, with us a goal down, Michael Owen, who had been on the pitch for barely a minute after replacing Obafemi Martins at half time, was played in by a beautiful defence-bisecting ball from Charles N’Zogbia only to see Joe Hart save his shot – not the first time City’s ‘keeper had frustrated us.

And then with 14 minutes left, shortly after Sam Allardyce had made the decisive attacking move of replacing midfield anchor man Abdoulaye Faye with the more creative Emre, City’s Gelson Fernandes seized upon the opportunity to wrap the game up seconds after himself stepping off the bench. 2-0, and there was no way back.

The truth is, though, that for much of the first half we were the better side, stirring ourselves after a sluggish start and applying significant pressure with a succession of decent balls into dangerous areas. Habib Beye nearly repeated his goalscoring exploits against Birmingham, unlucky to see Hart block his near post header from N’Zogbia’s inswinging corner, while N’Zogbia was combining to good effect with Damien Duff and Martins had a couple of efforts on target.

It was largely one-way traffic, though Martin Petrov was unplayable on City’s left wing, Beye sticking to his defensive task as best he could without much assistance from James Milner. As the half wore on, and with Hart in such good form and Micah Richards and in particular Richard Dunne in no mood to be charitable (contrast that with Cacapa’s dithering and permanent discomfort), it became inevitable that we’d pay a heavy price for our inability to convert possession and territorial dominance into a lead. The goal was created by Darius Vassell and Stephen Ireland, and expertly finished by the Brazilian Elano, our tormentor-in-chief when City ran us ragged at Eastlands earlier in the season.

Then came half time and Owen staring a gift horse in the mouth, and a sluggish second period in which nothing was coming off. Recognising that the brilliant N’Zogbia had been far and away our most potent attacking threat, even from left back, Allardyce withdrew Duff, threw on Jose Enrique and pushed the Frenchman forwards – but to no ultimate avail. On the other flank, Milner looked tired and in dire need of a rest – but who to replace him with? Might it be worth trying Duff out there, so the Zog can play his natural game on the left?

City contained us comfortably, Martins’ withdrawal having removed the unpredictability of our attacks, and when the second goal duly arrived from the boot of Gelson it only confirmed what we’d feared. As the fairweather fans deserted the ground in their droves, Nicky Butt drew one last excellent save from Hart after more good work from N’Zogbia, but the end to another depressing match followed shortly afterwards.

The trip to Stamford Bridge aside, our Christmas fixtures presented a real opportunity to get some points on the board – as it is, we’ve amassed just one, and that from a pitiful home draw against the team far adrift at the foot of the table. Now, with no form, no confidence and no defensive organisation, we face visits to Old Trafford and the Emirates hot on the heels of a very awkward FA Cup tie at Stoke. It’s not looking good, is it?

A Man City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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