Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message
Moyes Out Football Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the Showsec stewards wear black cotton gloves.
City was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Super Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: loan out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the deadwood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Oh dear oh dear. The feeling that a tide turned yesterday was commonplace as City do what they do best by yet again underperforming against a championship side in the FA Cup. It’s a miracle we won it a few seasons ago.
And to repeat the theme of previous cup performances, it was a team on paper that was more than good enough to come away with a victory. Unfortunately, that is not how it panned out, and the manager now finds himself under enormous pressure.
There was little surprise to see Caballero get the keeper’s spot, with City often using the No. 2 in domestic cup games. Boyata depressingly appeared in central defence, but he was the least of City’s problems on the day. Milner got his coveted central midfield slot, though perhaps he’d have preferred to have bene further up the field more often. Jovetic supported Aguero.
And so to the game – well I want to talk more about the future, so I will be brief, you’ll be glad to know. It was a game of two halves, City dominant in the first half but not incisive enough, with the opposition goalkeeper predictably in top form. This is a team after all with an excellent defensive record, so there were few surprises in the resilience they showed. Still, at half-time, there was little need to panic, a situation that changed in the second half. City fell to pieces at the back, were ponderous upfront and got exactly what they deserved.
The first goal summed up City’s recent defensive performances. A terrible back-pass, a keeper who decided to kick instead of jumping on the ball, then Fernando completed his horror-show with an appalling attempt to clear off the line. Even after the ball had begun its journey towards the net, the ball should have been cleared. As for Csballero, I thought he was clearly fouled, not that you will see it mentioned anywhere, but his approach to the ball didn’t help matters. Just poor all round.
After that, you would reasonably expect an onslaught from City to get back into the game, and whilst they upped the tempo for a short while, they had little to give, their legs seemingly gone, substitutions utterly ineffective, and as they piled forward at the end, were caught with a classic sucker punch, helping Boro with some more appalling defending. Out the cup again, at home again, to a lower-league side, again, and the visitors could have had at least two extra goals in the second half, only Lampard’s deflected shot against the post close to keeping City in the cup.
The depressing fact is that not one player could hold his head high after that performance. A few did ok, and it is hard to excel without those around you doing likewise, but no one prospered. Kompany was bordering on awful, if not fully within awful, clearly not fit, and I doubt Aguero was either. Many fans panicked when Aguero appeared in the mid-week friendly (briefly), but how can he get fit if we don’t play him? A friendly was a perfect opportunity. It does concern me that such players take so long to get back to fitness though. Boyata was far from the worst player on the pitch, but we know what he is, so there’s little more to add. Fernando was as bad as ever, Caballero could be partly blamed for the goal and a poor kick-out almost allowed the visitors a second game but he also made good saves. Milner couldn’t prosper in a new role, the full-backs couldn’t impose themselves and Jovetic did ok but still not enough. The subs made no difference.
So a strong side failed again, but a side that was still flawed. There was simply no reason not to pick our strongest side yesterday. I can understand the keeper-switch, but little else. Why pick Boyata and force Kompany out of position? We can’t blame our defeat simply on defence, as we couldn’t score, though we had a couple of quite strong penalty claims (the one I have seen replayed on Aguero certainly wasn’t), but we shouldn’t need to rely on penalties to win and a shaky defence unsettles a whole team. It’s not as if we haven’t been through all this before, and yet our manager seems incapable of learning. Unfit players shouldn’t be on the pitch, and whilst the manager continues to make changes to the team every week, I think it affects our performances.
And if ever there was a match to show how much we miss Yaya, the player many wanted driven out the club because he had a bit of a strop amidst the grief of losing his brother and because he made the quite sensible point of not knowing what the future holds. I won’t be too upset of Ivory Coast lose their final group game.
To blame the midweek travels on defeat seems laughable to me, but it is another stick to beat the team/manager/club with, and City left themselves open to criticism by arriving back just the day before, not that it matters as they won’t get jetlag from that distance flight, will have been pampered all week, and warm weather breaks can be beneficial. Obviously it would have been easier to go somewhere like Spain, but our owners aren’t from there. Still, they could have come back Thursday, but loads of team played friendlies across the continent during the week. Anyway, we’ve been playing this way for weeks, so it was merely a continuation of form. Middlesbrough played a competitive team during the week, so there are no excuses for the defeat. A shaky defence has conceded two at home in four out of the last five games, and it is at home that our season has unravelled, a new phenomenon for this successful team.
I have heard it mentioned that the players are not playing for the manager from quite a few players, but can’t comprehend why that would be. He is hardly a nasty man, and whilst a manager is the natural focus of a team, I am fed up of players not taking responsibility for performances. They should not need firing up for this match, unless they think less of the FA Cup than us fans.
But yesterday I felt a distinct change of mood from fans, though some of that can be attributed to anger shortly after full-time that won’t reflect general views once the dust has settled. Nevertheless, I heard a “Pellegrini out!” shout at the match, and I don’t think he was joking. The man that won us two trophies in his first season and oversaw a club record equalling run of victories just three weeks ago is once more a fraud. That’s modern football for you. There comes a time in every City manager’s stewardship when fans are calling for his head. How hard can it be to find a manager who is consistently successful? Very hard, obviously.
Some fans have never warmed to Pellegrini, many because they never wanted Mancini to go, though as this meant they were willing to accept a season of failure from him, then presumably they must allow the same from Pellegrini? Agreed? There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether a manager should be allowed a bad season or not, but many do wonder how much Pellegrini has truly achieved.
I’m no Pellegrini apologist, I have no strong feelings about the man, and know little of what goes on behind the scenes, but I applauded his appointment as he has ended the back page off-field headlines of his predecessor and been more holistic, ahem. His tactics baffle me sometimes, but then so has every manager’s at some point. He’s had things go against him this season – the return of World Cup players, the injuries, the Yaya sideshow, Fernandinho’s four-month shock after the Germany match, Financial Fair play restrictions, referees’ consistent reluctance to award us penalties and more, but he has still failed to gee up the team sometimes, the defence is not good enough, the approach play further upfield regularly ponderous, and last season’s scoring spree is a distant memory. Players have regressed recently, but injuries and rotation have played their part. Attention has also turned to his transfer dealings, but was it Pellegrini signing these players? He has input but it’s not all on him. Some players take time and we deal with one hand tied behind our back because of Platini et al. We live at a time of a competitive transfer market, and any top player we are after will be chased by at least one other big club also. We have to cut our cloth accordingly, and seem to have taken a one-year pinch until we are running at profit, as we will be doing by the end of his year.
Whatever you think of Pellgrini, he’s not going anywhere before season-end, and nor should he. I support him because I am sick of us ignoring our potted history and changing managers all the time, and if you think we can just go out and pick whatever manager we want to replace him, you are deluded. Anyway, six months down the line there’ll be fans calling for his replacement’s head anyway, so what’s the point? There’s still time to make this season a success and with Bony, Yaya, Nasri and a fit Kompany and Aguero in the team we will of course be a completely different proposition. That doesn’t change the fact that come Monday evening it will be depressing hearing the cup draw and thinking about how we royally screwed up another cup campaign. When will we learn?
Somehow though, City will not be hogging the limelight today due to the incompetence of other teams. Chelsea’ collapse beggared belief, and whilst you could see City’s exit as an opportunity lost with so many other big teams already out or struggling to progress, the same will apply to how they see it, so it works both ways. Of course the doomsayers have already written United’s name on the cup, a team that couldn’t score against a League 2 side. You can see why they are favourites though, as it has all opened up nicely for them.
So we go to the big one, Chelsea away, and defeat will really pile pressure on the manager and nearly finish our title campaign. Questions need to be asked as to who we play, including our captain, and Pellegrini has a lot of work to do this week. We will learn more about this team and its desire by the end of next Saturday. We’ve been here before, and it’s time for another response to the critics.