And so we start at West Brom – it’s getting boring saying it every match, as if I am making excuses for performances (if not results), but at certain times of the season (if not all, to be honest), the result is king. As soon as the West Brom match finished, the team were already straight into preparations for the Burnley match, so it’s hard, and pointless, to delve into team performances at this time of year when it’s a case of surviving. Throw in a snow storm at the highest-altitude ground in the country, and three points was certainly all that mattered.
Not that the performance was bad – City’s team of midfielders were often majestic once more, but the defence allowed far too many chances to the home team, though many were presented after building up a three goal lead. As expected at this time of the year, the team was rotated, so the full backs were swapped and Fernando came in for Fernandinho. James Milner was given the non-existent forward spot once more.
Things couldn’t have gone better in the first half. A Foster spill, on a day England’s finest keepers would like to forget, presented Fernando with his first City goal, a lovely finish as he hooked it back into the goal. With a lack of strikers, City really are providing goals from all areas – come on Joe, it’s your turn now.
Silva was next to feature, a through-ball blocked by Lescott, but he ran onto the rebound and was fouled by the ex-City man. A clear penalty, the amount that Lescott got on the ball utterly irrelevant if he fouls the player. Yaya Toure doesn’t miss penalties, and it was 2-0. Then Silva stroked the ball into the net after Navas cut back the ball having been supplied by Fernando after a burst forward rarely seen from the player. Three up, it was all too easy.
After that, City rather eased off, which is understandable if not acceptable. Berahino had already shot wide early on and did so with a better opportunity whilst Gardner forced a great block from Hart, though he should have scored.
In the second half, as the snow got heavier and heavier and the more nervous of us worried about the prospect of the game being abandoned, it was clear City were protecting their lot and not over-exerting themselves. Lescott should have scored from a header, another good chance went wide, and then of course late on Hart ruined the prospect of another clean sheet by completely messing up a punch clear from a corner and the ball pinballed into the net. I guess on this occasion we can forgive him due to adverse weather conditions, and thankfully it didn’t prove costly, but I do wish he’d catch the ball occasionally.
Best player? It’s hard to look past Silva again, who ran the game, though a hat-tip should be reserved for Fernando for his role in two goals. The defence, as alluded earlier, did not have a great day, failing to track Berahino runs and struggling with set pieces. Again, snowy, cold, etc etc. They need to tighten up.
Still, a club-equalling record nine wins on the row in all competitions is something we almost take for granted – another week, another record broken – it’s an amazing achievement considering how the season was limping along ten games ago. The win against Swansea has started a run that has put City’s season right back on track, but the bar is set high nowadays so it must continue for quite a while of City want to compete for trophies this season.
And so onto Burnley, on a crisp and sunny day. As expected the full-backs were rotated, but Toure was injured, Jovetic remained on the bench and the two Ferns paired up again. Surprisingly, no place in the team still for Lampard.
The first half went as we had hoped. Burnley dangerous in patches but two excellent goals and some excellent passing giving the home team a nice two-goal lead. There’s always something especially gratifyin about a shot thundering in off the crossbar. With Chelsea drawing at Southampton, it meant City were in pole position to narrow the gap at the top to a single point.
And the the second half happened. The goal was offside, as we all know, thus quelling yet again the notion that City get the breaks. How the linesman could not see the offside and Boyd’s touch is beyond me, and even without the touch he had to be interfering with play. Some may blame Hart for the second successive game but he had the ball until it was deflected by Boyd so there are extenuating circumstances.
Whatever, City should have had the mental capacity and skill to move on and re-seize the initiative in the game. What followed instead was 45 minutes of park football. Unable to keep possession, string together meaningful attacks or curb the aerial threat from Burnley’s long balls, the equalizer could hardly be considered a surprise. Over the whole half City couldn’t muster a decent chance, with Nasri having one shot tipped wide – and that was it. Even in injury time, a very generous five-minute period, we couldn’t get in their half.
Two months ago, the prospect of Yaya Toure leaving for the African Cup of Nations wouldn’t have provoked much anxiety, but we saw yesterday how much he can be missed.
Substitutions proved fruitless, Jovetic and Lampard having no effect on the game, and why Scott Sinclair was brought on with two minutes to go eludes me.
It was the first time in 55 games that City had surrendered a two-goal home lead in the league (Fulham 2009?), and to do it against a team second from bottom was staggeringly poor. The annoying thing is, Burnley fully deserved it. The City team looked dead on its feet in the second half, yet Burnley were playing the same side for the 5th game in a row, so there can be no excuses whatsoever. A golden opportunity to cut the gap on Chelsea during a period when they have more difficult games has been lost. If they still remain on top come mid-January then City have got a real uphill battle, but as we have seen in previous seasons, it’s a funny old game. Already, the game at Stamford Bridge at the end of January looks like a must-not-lose match.
Special non-praise goes to Kolarov who was atrocious, though no one sparkled for much of the game. Mangala resembled a bull in a china shop as Barnes and Ings caused all manner of problems, the team performance summed up by the final minutes when Burnley players were barged in the back near the touchline for no reason and Kolarov expertly set up a Burnley attack with another wayward pass.
It had to be this way though – City’s run was never going to end against a top side, but at home to a team fighting relegation. With a club record on the horizon, we just had to mess it up. Whilst this is hopefully a blip, what concerns me is the defence remains far too open. It’s hard to tell if this is a long-term problem as we are playing the weirdest of formations through necessity, and the numerous midfielders may not have learned when to retreat and protect the defence and when to advance. Either way, we won’t win much when the opposition are allowed such frequent sights of our goal. What makes things worse is the recent tendency of the team to ease off after gaining a lead, and the win at West Brom was more fraught than it should have been. It’s not inspiring football all of the time right now, but I was happy as long as the results were coming.
Still, it’s been a wonderful run, and it’s nine wins and a draw in the previous ten games. No ground has been lost on the leaders, and the top three all drew, so it could have been worse. If Chelsea and City had both won we’d be quite dapper today yet we’d still be three points behind them. City need a response now – the next two games must be won. The debate will continue about strengthening the squad when the transfer window opens, but I’m still not sure it’s worth it unless it’s a target we had already identified anyway. Any purchase eats into our summer spending spree budget, and any potential signing may only be filling a gap for a couple of games.
And to recap – 2014 has been a wonderful year. As Sarah Winterburn notes over at football365.com, City’s points total for the year matches Chelsea, but the trophy count reads 2-0.
And so, onto yet another game. This is what makes the English game special of course, and the fans DEMAND IT, but I must go against the tide and agree with the likes of Gus Poyet and agree that there are simply too many games over the Christmas period – it is utter madness, and even I’m bored of going to matches now. This is not about what players earn, or spending time with families (though highly-paid sportsmen and women have that right as much as you do), but the basic fact that it is damaging players. It is guaranteed that the run of games will bring with it a spate of additional injuries to players who were not performing at peak-levels. Scientific studies have shown that a minimum of three days rest is required for athletes between “performances” to maintain optimum levels and protect the body. Other countries have a mid-season break, horrible as it may sound, to give players time to regain fitness (along with weather concerns in some places), and this is why England limp into summer tournaments sweating over injuries to key players. Gus Poyet and his ilk aren’t concerned about tradition, but what’s best for his players, and he will be seeing what the rush of games is doing to his squad. Still, it’s not going to change, so I just pray we don’t pick up any more injuries over the festive period.
Finally, I would never celebrate someone losing their job, it seems cruel to take pleasure in another person’s misfortune, whoever they may be, as you wouldn’t like someone to react that way if the shoe was on the other foot, so…<bites lip>……I am sad to hear that…..<breathe in, breathe out>…I’m sorry to hear that Neil…..<stifles laugh>….am sorry to hear that it didn’t work out for….oh sod it, NEIL WARNOCK HAS BEEN SACKED HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA .
Sorry about that.