Crystal Palace 2 Manchester City 1: City’s Sorry Season Staggers Towards The Finishing Line

So that is that – the title challenge officially laid to rest, the last rites read, the faithful masses shuffling away in tears. As soon as the social media whingefest began as the team was announced, I think we all knew how this would end.

So no Bony in the squad, clearly injured, and 4-4-2 again, which is more palatable against a “non-top” team but still got the heart fluttering and the stomach sinking slightly. City started the game in 4th position, and sadly that is where they ended it.

For all the avalanche of abuse thrown at manager, players, club, mascots and more, this was not one of the worst performances of recent months, though that is like saying Danny Dyer acts quite well in EastEnders – it’s all relative.

City dominated, and had chances, though there were lulls and poor performances as always. If this match was replayed 100 times, we’d win the vast majority on the balance of play, but that pretty much sums up the season. Soft goals conceded, decisions going against us (though I appreciate we’ll have benefited elsewhere, but it certainly hasn’t “evened out” this season), a lack of a killer instinct and a bad bounce of the ball – the Palace match was the season in microcosm.

And another poor line up did not help. Dzeko was predictably poor, and his time HAS to be up now at the club, and unlike the 17 previous times I have said it, I know this time I won’t have to backtrack again. What is really frustrating was that his performance was entirely predictable, which not only begs the question as to why we went 4-4-2 and played an out-of-form, lazy striker (there, I’ve said it), but then helped point to another weakness of the Chilean, namely his inability to change things when they are not working. In the first half, Yaya Toure was equally anonymous, but we all know that his removal from the pitch is never going to happen. His goal was the only thing of note on the night, and he then decided to try and replicate it with wild shot after wild shot. A bit harsh perhaps, as he came on strong in the closing stages, but for me it was too little too late.

And it was the same old story, though not all bad. City dominated the ball, having 73% possession, a huge amount in any game, but the long-standing problems did for us in the end. Plenty of sideways passing, plenty of slow build up that allowed Palace to get 10 men behind the ball, plenty of appalling corners, plenty of threaded balls cut out, close calls, the woodwork hit, deflections wide, but always falling just short. Navas frustrated as you knew he would, and Aguero’s poor form continues, worryingly. 22 shots and only 4 on target.

Their goal was offside, at least once. The initial head-down was the clearest one, and I don’t think the scorer Murray was, as he wasn’t in front of the ball. Carragher and Neville desperately tried to portray a technically offside goal as not being offside (nope, no idea either), as it seemed too much to admit that it was simply a bad decision. They even decided to freeze the action two frames too early to try and prove the officials right. Bizarre.

Whatever, it was the only chance the home side had from open play, bar an early ball fizzing across the area before being hit over, though I thought two players were offside then too. The second goal was a killer, a stupid (but soft) foul from Fernandinho, who was generally good, punished by an excellent free kick from Puncheon. Hart was for me too far over the other side, but at the end of the day it was inch perfect from the Palace player, so no need to apportion too much blame, much as Carragher tried .

After that, City offered little, with more sterile domination. Slowly the chances came, and yet another in a seemingly endless list of wrongly denied penalty claims came and went, the ball batted away by a Crystal Palace defender, the referee and linesman once more incapable of seeing what was in front of them.

Then Yaya finally lashed one in, and we hoped for a grandstand finish, but it never came. Speroni superbly clawed a Toure shot away, Milner put an excellent cross in that no one got on the end of, and that was that. The manager’s death knell, especially considering the next game, and I actually thought he might survive for another season with a strong finish to this one.

On the one hand Pellegrini can’t take all the blame for this result, as he sent out a team that dominated, but line ups are littered with the same mistakes, game after game. Two up front. Central defenders swapped AGAIN, then ridiculous substitutions, such as bringing Milner on with three minutes to go. WHY?!

Thanks to a bad fortnight for Liverpool, the top four berth is still relatively secure, for now. After United, City have a fairly good run-in (could be better, but could be a lot worse), so the players must do what they can to haul their sorry asses over the line. Fourth means a Champions League qualifier, which we could well do without, so we have to target third. The depressing fact is that since January 10th, City have won 4 games. For all the bad refereeing decisions and marginal calls, that is simply unacceptable.

So a big, big summer ahead. Out for me should go Dzeko, Toure, Kolarov, Jovetic and perhaps even Nasri, if only to raise funds. I know he’s had his best season, but he’ll never hit the heights for me. The only problem is that if Silva gets injured, we need him. Sagna and Navas will probably stay, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if they went. Milner is probably going, Lampard definitely is (was it really worth creating a diplomatic incident to keep him?) and a few youngsters will fall by the wayside, as always.
We need to buy players that fit the system we have decided to play in the future.

And out will almost certainly go Pellegrini, and I have no defence left for him. City’s problems go far deeper than the Chilean this season, and I get annoyed at how the players often get off scot-free at his expense. However, it seems his tenure has run its course – it’s a results game, and he has come up short, very short. There is little sentiment in the game, and he knows the score. He will get a nice pay off and work somewhere else. And the sad thing is, with all the vitriol he has received this season, the man who oversaw, in his debut season, the club’s most successful ever season, for a club starved of success in recent years, will be little more than a footnote in this club’s history. I find that rather depressing.

And I hate to say it, but what depresses most, as I can take a bit of bad form, and history has made me impervious to managerial changes, are the fans.
No, not you. You’re great.
Criticism, as I’ve said many a time, is fine. Wanting the manager to go – hard to argue. No, it’s the vitriol that hurts, and it’s everywhere nowadays. Someone even complained on Twitter last night because the players didn’t wave at him on the victory parade. Let it go mate.

But there have been too many mistakes. He just can’t get the team motivated anymore, he has no Plan B, is stubborn, does not react during games quickly enough, tinkers far too much (with the central defence especially), and for me has left the defence isolated and open to too much criticism. Sometimes you have to shore up a game, sometimes you have to play direct, and sometimes a big player has to be left-out to maintain the right team shape. Pellegrini doesn’t seem to want to do any of those things, and seems to think that if he puts out a good team, business will take care of itself. Most of the time it will, but not often enough, and once a rut sets in, there’s little chance of getting out of it if you are not flexible and open to change.

Anyway, forget about the impending derby. It’s all about the Masters golf. Concentrate on the Masters golf.

I don’t even like golf.

How The Nicest Page On The Internet Saved My Sanity

I don’t know when the tipping point was. Sometime in February 2015 I reckon, but whenever it was, there arrived a moment in time when I simply had had enough of not only the internet, but the rest of the human race. Well in truth, it was just a small minority of the human race, but as is often the case, they tend to spoil it for everyone else. You see, I’d felt drained by the constant flow of detritus regarding the coverage of football online for quite a while now. That’s a shame, as social media and the internet has allowed me access to more quality journalism than ever before. Daniel Taylor, Sam Wallace, City bloggers, the crew and many more – you’re not vain and this article is not about you. Nor about journalists in general.

As a Manchester City fan, I’ll be accused of being a bit precious. The fire-fighting that emerged from our 2008 takeover has continued ever since, even if the flames have dulled slightly in recent years. From Mike Calvin imploring Sheikh Mansour to abandon City and take over FCUM instead, to Mark Lawrenson asking why the sheikhs weren’t spending money on hospitals and schools instead of City. Then there was Barry Glendenning, expressing his disgust on Twitter at the nerve of City for releasing a picture of Samir Nasri scoring a goal in a Manchester derby on FIFA 15, due to some tie-in with EA Sports. A computer graphic of a player kicking a ball. A player kicking a ball. Apparently it was in bad taste, and that’s when I realised it was all downhill from there on in – the battle was being lost.

Net spend. A billion pounds on players. Empty seats. Oil money. Arabs. Mercenaries. No history. Earned money (20 times). Organic growth. Plastic fans. Where were you when you were shit? Financial Fair play. Na$ri. Fake club. DNA. Emptyhad. Council house. Citeh. Oil will run out. 3007. Massive club.

All from actual adults, with jobs and partners and children and stuff.

Some of it came from other City fans too. Players slagged off after two games, the horror of anyone with any association with THEM possibly coming to the club, the disrespect shown to our current manager, executives, or anyone that doesn’t meet our now exacting demands. Even the pies aren’t good enough for some (all crust).

This really isn’t about Manchester City though. It’s about football in general. The need to fill the internet’s endless space by click-baiting. This is about keyboard warriors thinking it is acceptable to send racial abuse to footballers (or anyone, for that matter) and the stupidity of the arguments of such poor excuses for journalists as Adrian Durham or the Custii brothers. It’s about comparing attendances, it’s about net spend arguments, it’s about players and managers not getting time to succeed anymore, and it’s the shrieking overreaction when god forbid a team doesn’t perform to their absolute maximum. It’s finally worn me down. I dread to think what it’s like being a journalist though. Death threats for suggesting a player didn’t play well or calls of bias for opining that, just maybe, Mangala cost a bit too much? Even mentioning that he cost £40m is enough to get the veins bulging in some fans’ foreheads.

And to be honest, it’s not even just about football. I lied again. If there’s not an idiot on my timeline comparing footballer’s wages to that of a soldier, then there’ll be someone issuing death threats to a BBC producer who had the temerity to be punched by Jeremy Clarkson before not reporting it and not pressing charges. It’s about thinking it is acceptable to wish rape on female posters, the desire to offend in any way possible, it’s about Katie Hopkins and LADS and the LADS BIBLE, and thinking Steve Bruce having a bit of a belly is somehow open to ridicule. The great visionary Edmund Blackadder said that one of the worst things about the Great War was the endless poetry, but I think he’d take that over endless banter, top bantz, the banter bus, and the way the word has been a get-out-of-jail card for any sort of abuse. After all, it’s just banter, yeah?

And then I found it. I saw the light, and was saved.

What did I find? Well, it was only the nicest page on the internet. I don’t know how I stumbled across the page – maybe I was checking Claudio Reyna’s career stats or something similar, but find it I did.

An American lady was listing things she loved about the UK. I’m a patriotic fellow who loves his country (for all its faults), but even I raised my eyebrows a few times at the sugar-coated picture she painted of this green and pleasant land. And yet, as I read it, the cynicism slowly faded away. I liked the nice things she was saying. Then I saw there were thousands of comments, and I waited for the torrent of abuse that would naturally follow such a one-eyed view of my country.

And there wasn’t any. Not one bad comment. Not one snide dig, not one hint of nastiness. The ten years of cynicism and pessimism formed from every time I open an internet browser faded away, if only for a short while. What there was instead was a succession of (mostly) British and American people praising the article, each other’s country and generally sharing great experiences they have had. There was no abuse, no death threats, just kind people saying nice things. I spent over half an hour reading the comments.

And yeah, everyone might have glossed over the depressing reality of modern life, the war on the unprivileged, the rich getting richer and the wealth divide, terrorists, droughts, flooding, global warming, Fox News, the price of potatoes and the fact that Monster Munch are slowly getting smaller, but it wasn’t that type of article, and it was nice to have just a short period of time away from it all, in a place where people were being positive about the world, even if it was three years ago. I may be an atheist, but god bless them all.

But sadly there was only so much time I could spend on one page, and so it was soon back to reality, and an article where Adrian Durham wondered, “after Joey Barton ‘touched up’ Tom Huddlestone, are footballers passing off their repressed sexuality for ‘banter’?”. Elsewhere, Piers Morgan was calling Alistair Cooke a weasel, whilst no doubt gently caressing Kevin Pietersen’s inner thigh, and I was in no doubt -normal service had been resumed. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.

So if you ever need to escape for a short while, to read nice thoughts about happy experiences, then give the following article a try, five years too late, and let me know of any other pages to restore my faith in humanity.
It’s that or read Adrian Durham for all eternity.