Sunday, October 03, 2010

City slackers get lucky

Manchester City 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

So City dished out the defeat most of us were anticipating - but it wasn't so much a case of fortune favouring the brave (that would be us) as refereeing decisions favouring the rich. No fewer than three appalling verdicts from whistle-blower Martin Atkinson denied us what would have been a thorough deserved point - and perhaps even something better.

First he failed to recognise that Nigel de Jong's challenge on our brightest creative spark, Hatem Ben Arfa, after barely three minutes merited a straight red card. City fans can bleat all they want about the Dutchman winning the ball, but the manner of the tackle - a reckless double-legged lunge that scissored around Ben Arfa's standing leg - meant those protestations were irrelevant. The Frenchman, just a handful of games into his Newcastle career, was rushed off to hospital with a suspected broken leg while the thuggish and apparently remorseless de Jong was left to shrug his shoulders and carry on. For me, the difference between that and the challenge that saw ASBO's recent assailant Karl Henry dismissed for Wolves yesterday was negligible.

Then, as the home side sought to capitalise on the disruption to our gameplan, Atkinson saw fit to award a penalty for a perfectly timed tackle on Carlos Tevez by Mike Williamson that not only won the ball - cleanly and fairly, I should add - but took place outside the box. Tevez hammered the spot-kick straight down the middle but, with a bit more luck, a bigger deflection off Tim Krul's knee would have sent it over the bar rather than into the roof of the net.

And lastly, late in the second half as we chased the game at 2-1 down, the referee ignored as blatant a penalty as you'll ever see when Joleon Lescott clumsily swiped away Big Lad's legs in full view of the away end. Perhaps we shouldn't be too critical, though - after all, he was probably preoccupied with pondering exactly how he was going to explain the previous two decisions in his match report...

It all conspired to mean that we reaped a big fat nowt from a generally excellent performance - other, that is, than a more well-stocked treatment room, Fabricio Coloccini also limping off before the break. After a bright start, we were understandably subdued following the injury to Ben Arfa, but once behind roared back, levelling through a thumping volley from Spidermag (his first top flight goal) and going on to control the game, against all expectations. Our hosts were sluggish and second best, though remained dangerous on the counter-attack owing to our curious insistence on playing a very high line. On the one occasion they got a clear sight of goal, Krul did well to deny Gareth Barry.

With City hardly stepping up the pace much in the second period, substitute Sol Campbell - making his league debut for us, and in so doing becoming the only player other than Ryan Giggs to appear in every season since football (aka the Premier League) began - was able to marshall the defence effectively despite looking ponderous at times. Admittedly Krul was now the busier 'keeper, but we continued to carry attacking menace of our own, with Ben Arfa's replacement Wayne Routledge firing wide from a Spidermag cross and the Argentinian shooting too close to Joe Hart.

History will no doubt record the game as turning not on Atkinson's mistakes but on Roberto Mancini's decision to bring on Adam Johnson. If there's one thing that's guaranteed, it's that boyhood Newcastle fans will always score against us, and it took the former Smoggie winger all of three minutes to tease his way past ASBO and Jose Enrique and crack a shot inside Krul's far post. A goal the neutral could no doubt have admired - but not us.

The penalty-that-should-have-been followed soon after, and Williamson squandered a great late chance to equalise, thumping a header narrowly over the bar from a corner, but the bitter taste of defeat was destined to be ours.

City's match sponsors laughably named Johnson the home side's man of the match, despite his virtuoso goal coming during a cameo that lasted just 18 minutes of the 90, but he and his expensive and much-vaunted team-mates were outshone by several in our ranks. Williamson, for example, displayed a calm reading of the game and was incisive with his tackling and interceptions, while Big Lad fully justified his recall at the expense of Bigger Lad by holding play up well and giving Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany - the latter one of the season's best performers so far - a difficult afternoon.

Spidermag - brought back into the side for Routledge, though the latter didn't have to sit on the sidelines for too long - was electrifying down the left, torturing Germany defender Jerome Boateng and of course notching our goal. But perhaps best of all was Cheik Tiote, who impressed with his industry, drive and positional sense, continually working his way out of tight corners and making his £200,000-a-week compatriot Yaya Toure look like a complete chump.

If I had to pick a fault in the performance, though, it would be that we didn't seem to have quite the same belief in our own ability to capitalise on our hosts' deficiencies and snatch an improbable away win that we did at Stamford Bridge recently. Dominating possession and making supposed title contenders look ordinary on their own turf is all very pleasing, but we failed to convert it into a genuine advantage.

All the same, even as we sympathise with Ben Arfa and note we're just two points off the foot of the table, there's plenty to be optimistic about.

Man City fans' perspectives: Bitter And Blue, The Lonesome Death Of Roy Carroll, Manchester City Blog (given the latter's follow-up post, I think we should all pay a visit next time City are denied points by a refereeing decision...)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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