Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pride before and after a fall

Man City 3 - 1 Newcastle Utd

As the media had unanimously predicted, and as we too had all probably feared, Saturday's trip to the Etihad Stadium saw our unbeaten league run come to an end. But, far from being a limp surrender, it was a courageous effort that in truth merited more than just what was the very definition of a consolation goal (if not quite a share of the points).

The Silver Fox could call upon a first-choice back five who, if they were relieved at Roberto Mancini's decision to rest David Silva, will hardly have been delighted by the presence on the City team-sheet of another creative talisman, Samir Nasri. Pardew chose to respond to the selection dilemmas posed by the injuries to Leon O'Best, Mr T, Obertan Kenobi and Sylvain Marveaux by playing HBA in the hole behind lone strike Demba Ba and handing Little Big Lad his first league start.

City's multimillionaire dream team inevitably bossed possession, but the first forty minutes encapsulated everything that's been good about our team ethic thus far this campaign - we were resolute, committed, determined, well-drilled, difficult to break down. Sergio Aguero fired into the stand behind Tim Krul's goal before the Dutchman spectacularly pawed Mario Balotelli's bullet header over. That was his only real taste of action, though, with Sideshow Bob marshalling our efforts superbly and masked man Saylor intervening with a couple of well-timed hoofs when City stopped playing nicely and attempted to go for the jugular.

However, to imply that we simply adopted a negative, sterile, park-the-bus-type strategy would be grossly unfair. As the Silver Fox bemoaned later, twice Ba could have given us the lead, heading wide from a corner and also forcing an excellent save from Joe Hart after a darting run and clever reverse pass from HBA.

If only the half-time whistle had blown five minutes early, then - as it was, we had to look on as all that good work was undone in a brief spell that Raylor will certainly be wanting to forget in a hurry. First he blatantly handled Yaya Toure's goal-bound volley - ball to hand, certainly, but you can't make like an aeroplane and expect to get away with it. "Super" Mario fooled Krul from the spot and then chose to rub salt into the wounds by staring him out, arms folded - an unsavoury bit of unsportsmanlike conduct from the man whom ASBO's nicknamed the Renegade and whose conduct makes the Lone Ranger's seem like that of a sane and restrained individual.

Then, with the opportunity to recover and regroup in the dressing room just a minute away, Raylor intercepted Nasri's attempted pass to Micah Richards but, rather than putting his laces though the ball, he miscontrolled it allowing Richards to nip in and wallop a left-foot shot past Krul. We shouldn't be too harsh on our left-back after his stunning goal won us the previous game against Everton, but it was schoolboyish stuff.

That left us with a second-half task that looked near-impossible, but to our credit we refused to recognise that fact, or to be overawed or overrun by opponents who can boast individuals who've cost more than our entire team and who have decimated Man Utd and Spurs on their own turf. Sideshow Bob volleyed over from a set-piece and Danny Guthrie's low effort caused Hart some trouble. HBA came closest, busily buzzing around and working space for a shot which came back off Hart's right-hand post with the England 'keeper a spectator.

We couldn't quite force that foothold in the game, though, and City extended their lead with another penalty, HBA guilty of a clumsy challenge on Richards with Saylor temporarily off the pitch for medical attention. Aguero was in no mood to look a gift horse in the mouth, ensuring City became the first side to put three past us in the league this season.

The calibre of City's substitutes - Silva, Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson - was terrifying, but it was one of our own who grabbed the game's final goal a minute from time. Dan Gosling, on for Little Big Lad, pounced to roll the ball into an empty net, his first strike for the club, after Hart had saved but failed to smother Ba's shot.

There's no shame in defeat to the runaway league leaders, especially when they were dependent upon two spot-kicks and an individual cock-up to achieve it, and it's a measure of how far we've come that our post-match disappointment was purely with the result rather than the performance. The defence was once again magnificent for long stretches, aided by a compact and hard-working midfield, while Little Big Lad gave Gael Clichy, his French international marker, plenty of headaches and demonstrated that he's worthy of his recent new contract and further first-team opportunities. HBA stole the show, though, coming out on top in his much-anticipated duel with Nigel de Jong and unlucky to end up on the losing side, that untidy challenge on Richards the only blot. The signs for a fruitful partnership with Ba are promising.

The challenge facing us this coming Saturday is much the same, even down to the environs. Man Utd look to be somewhat below par at the moment, though, still recovering from their mauling by their cross-city rivals and more suspect defensively than is usual. Our record at Old Trafford is appalling, but this is a Newcastle side with few similarities to its predecessors and, with the right application and a healthy dose of self-belief, a draw or even a victory isn't beyond the realms of possibility.

A City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

City fan here... have to agree really. Although I thought we won the game without strectching ourselves overly you were one of the best sides to come to the Etihad last season and I'm guessing I'll be saying the same thing again at the end of this season. Good luck to you. (Especially at OT)

9:29 am  
Blogger Ben said...

Fair comment - you didn't have to stretch yourselves, though that's not because we played badly but because we handed you all three goals on a plate.

11:09 pm  

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