Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Watching City from afar

It has been a strange couple of weeks. I have watched the last couple of City games from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, from where I now write. I was due back in Manchester for last weekend's derby showdown, but a certain volcano in Iceland soon put paid to that. Whether or not the footballing events of last weekend have put paid to our aspirations on fourth place is another matter entirely.

5-1 at Arthur's
I watched the slow dismantling of Birmingham City from Arthur's Bar in the touristy Puerto Del Carmen. The trip here was a planned excursion to a bar that styles itself as the Lanzarote branch of City's overseas support. Arthur's shows that support through the numerous City strips that cover the ceiling of the bar, whilst the walls are lined with various City memorabilia signed by anyone from Paul Dickov to Ricky Hatton.

Indeed the backdrop to this game proved to be as entertaining as the victory itself. Arthur's Bar - a jovial and very British drinking establishment, can no doubt tell a few stories. Perhaps the most lasting memory I will take from here was the airing of the old song: "City! Manchester City! We are the boys who are playing to win!" very loudly through the Bar's speakers everytime the Blues put one in the back of the net.

As you can imagine, the record got played over and over against Birmingham. Following the demolition of Burnley, we once again showed what we can do when our attack clicks. Going into the game I expected McLeish's men to produce stiff resistance, but Cameron Jerome's strike aside, they generated little in the way of attacking threats until they were smothered by the usual suspects: Tevez and Adebayor, and a slightly unusual one in the form of Nedum Onohua, whose surging run cut through the Birmingham defence to produce and excellent solo strike. Onohua's goal reminded me very much of the way his captain, Kolo Toure, makes forays forward from time to time.

0-1 at Erik's
After the frustration of delays and airport closures due to volcanic ash spreading throughout most of Europe, I wasn't able to make it back to Manchester for what was a bigger than usual Manchester derby. I contented myself with watching the game in a quieter bar in another part of the island, but basked in warm sunlight for good measure. It looked like an equally glorious day in Manchester, a great day for putting the title hopes of our rivals to the sword. The reality of course was a very average derby, a complete and utter damp squib that neither side deserved to win.

The game ended on an all too familiar note, the recurring, unpalatable taste of defeat to United, once again in the dying embers of the game, once again as we thought we had done enough. It pains and irks me like a bone in the throat. Frankly it has been a horrific season for City fans in terms of derby football.

Last Saturday was a day where we suffered rather than benefited at the hands of Mancini's tactics. We gave United too much respect and allowed them too much time on the ball. For me this was the overarching reason for our loss.

I can certainly see the potential fruits of Mancini's thinking. The Italian certainly likes to keep it tight and there are great benefits to be drawn from this. But for me, this is cagey football, suicide against team like United and certainly not what this City team should be about. Call it want you what, but our negativity / defensive-mindedness / cautiousness was our undoing because it sent the wrong messages to the opposition. We dropped back far too early on and we saw little of Tevez's usual efforts to harass and pressurise the opposition backline. At times, it felt like we were almost inviting them to attack, a reckless strategy to pursue against team vying for the title, let alone a team that we want so badly to defeat.
Of course, if we'd have nicked a 1-0 win I would have been singing Mancini's praises. And we certainly did forge openings that could have produced that outcome. Tevez's freekick in the first half, and Barry's breaking run into the box in the second come to mind.
I also don't want to heap the blame solely onto the shoulders of the manager. For 90 odd minutes the team managed to achieve probably the most important element of Mancini's game plan - keep United out. But once again we fell down at the final hurdle because of a glaring individual error, once again a red shirt was unmarked in the box in the final minutes, and once again we capitulated - only this time not Owen, nor Rooney, but to Paul Scholes.
We certainly should not have lost the game, but we certainly did not deserve to win it either. United edged it on performance and and certainly had the better chances, but given our recent experiences with our rivals we should not have been switching off as the game came to a close. It was an encounter that had draw written all over it, and we should have seen that eventuality out.
The tables turn once again
Just as last week ourselves and Chelsea were in the box seats for our respective League battles, this week United and Tottenham have both made inroads. Looking at our own battle, and the small gap that is developing between 5th and 6th position, it is now looking more likely that the race for fourth will be between ourselves and Redknapp's men.

It remains an impossible one to call, but how cruel will it be if defeats like last Saturday's mean the difference between Champions and Europa League football?

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