Thursday, June 16, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON

Bright Lights, Big City: a trip through 2010-11

Chapter One: Setting Off With The Sun in Our Eyes

After an invigorating US tour, where City were soundly beaten by everyone bar the under 11s team they generously offered a rooftop synthetic pitch to, it was a quick dust down and zip back across the Atlantic to prepare for real business.

With punters and papers having a field day with moneybags City Must Finish in Top Four headlines, the pressure was building steadily even before the balls had been pumped up, the corner flags earthed and the lense-hoods removed.

Hart Stopper
Opening day sunshine at White Hart Lane brought memories flooding back of a Lineker-Gascoigne inspired Spurs on the first day back at school after Italia 90, the now official Moment Football Became Ok Again. (I had always found football pretty ok in the years that went before...). A 3-1 loss on that occasion was not to be replicated: it should have been double that but Joe Hart’s rubbery body made sure the Blues set off back up the motorway with an ill-gained point instead. The young ‘keeper would have a great season, but perhaps surpassed himself here, in the very first game of the season. It would be hard to better this performance in the ten months to follow, but his show of reflex, stretch and agility seemed to underline the accuracy of Mancini’s difficult early call to put the youngster in ahead of the impeccable Shay Given.

If this season were to be different to all the others, a home thrashing of Liverpool, displaying crisp one touch passing, constant movement and a goal from Gareth Barry –of all people- should have had us sitting up and paying attention from the off. The total dismantling job, so often inflicted upon us by them, was a real eye-opener. Here was a team hastily built but with an eye for the slick, slide-rule pass, the nonchalance on the ball of those truly confident in their own skills and the eagerness of those who know the sky might just be the limit. There would be potholes aplenty ahead of us, but this smooth bit of tarmac felt pretty good for starters.

Adebayor points to the exit
The month ended with a much changed side, including Boyata (who scored), Cunningham and the much maligned Jõ, winning in Timisoara to take our place in the draw for the Europa League group stage, the beginning of a truly marathon test if the final in Dublin was to be reached in May.  A 12 game unbeaten sequence against Sunderland was tossed away in the last match of August, as Tevez managed to scoop over a gaping goal and Darren Bent converted an injury time penalty to steal all three points for the Black Cats. Bent would knock on City’s door again later in the season and City would wreak significant revenge on Sunderland in the Spring. For now, Mancini would occupy himself with some growing problems: newspaper talk of unrest in the camp, the obvious disaffection of striker Adebayor and where to play new signing James Milner to best effect. We were not to know it, but all three themes would be a thorn in the side for many months to come.

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