So it is we enter what the slathering masses with their noses against the windows might name "the critical zone", an area in City's case, marked by many untidy reels of barbed wire, several shards of broken glass and a badly soiled shirt with the legend WRIGHT PHILIPS on the back. So, in the space of a week and a half, hardly time for Roberto Mancini to master the 3rd conditional, Manchester City have lurched from a position exhaling hot Mancunian breath onto the bare neck of Signor Ancelotti and his troops, to a barren place with only the whistling of the wind and the baying of far-off wolves for company. This place, desolate as it is lonely, is called "4th in the Premier League".
A week in football.
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Molineux was a different story, albeit a familiar one: a head-start, upper echelons of the Top Four beckoning and wallop, swift descent into comedy capers, don't forget to attach big red hooter before you leave the ground. Suddenly, with people adding three-nil to two-one, experts were producing a total which read "P+A-N- Î & C". A defeat in Poland, we were told, and you can start running up the black flags and searching for your philips, to unscrew the manager's door plaque.
We were treated by television to a jinking run by the afore-mentioned wey-faced winger that produced a diagonal cut-back well wide of the gasping Zabaletta and far too strong for a leaden-legged Milner to salvage. The ball pinged apologetically into a front row of bellowing, mouths-wide-open locals, as we cut to Roberto, eyes glazed, scarf sagging, head moving in desolate sideways shake. His cheeks puffed out an amount of luke warm air. he uttered the prophetic words "galileo" or "rigoleto". You could almost hear the rehearsal of Johnson's comeuppance speech on the purple Italian lips. "Hey Johnson, cam over here".
But it was Wright-Philips, a small figure proving even less effective than his height would suggest, who gave way at half time. A lightweight and peripheral figure, he had done his chances of surviving the ever-more-probable January cull very little good at all. He looked to be covered in sweat, but it is unclear how this might have gathered in such large amounts. With Silva introduced and two left footers to patrol the wide areas, City made immediate inroads. Adebayor, until then a peripheral figure, came to life first smashing in an equaliser after his own header had been acrobatically saved by Buric, then with a jinking run to the byline, where he delivered a cross best described as "testing"for defenders and David Silva alike. The Spaniard got his foot to it, smashing it into the ground and up onto the cross bar.With City in the ascendancy, Blue Moon finally ringing out above the baying hordes, City looked set for a point, maybe even three and confident qualification.
But Maine Road's gypsy curse had followed all the way to western Poland. Boyata's weak clearing header sailed into the back of Arboleda, whose first inkling that he might have scored was when the home end behind him erupted. A stranger goal you will have to wait many months to witness. Even then Silva, now becoming a central protagonist in a rip-roaring game, slotted over an open goal. Not only was that curtains for City but heralded another improbable goal from their hosts, Mozdzen whipping in from outside the area.
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City had for long spells of an improved 2nd half been the dominant party, had succumbed to two improbably well-hit shots, considering the wider context of how Lech were playing, and been sunk by a bizarre quasi-own goal from the Dunne-like Boyata. (If this boy is jinxed, he needs to change his name to Vidic).
So, where to now, as the pressure mounts and the scare stories do their rounds? The Hawthorns, for what the papers will call a must-win but what is in fact a "please don't lose" and then back home to host the well-behaved, butter wouldn't melt neighbours for the first midweek night league match between the two since the year dot. It should provide a fittingly tight atmosphere for a game that the old City would have won against all sensible odds. Now is not the time for this new, sleek expensive version to buck a dear old trend. Cups for cock ups, we can just about handle, another injury time sinker and we'll be reaching for the elephant pills.