Saturday, September 28, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ Villa away

Saturday 28th September 2013, Villa Park, Birmingham
ASTON VILLA 3 CITY 2

The teams trot out excitedly, flipping their legs backwards and jostling to shake hands with the mascots. Villa's mascot, a small boy with a beard and lime green eyes, refuses to shake hands with the City players, instead staring at each one and flicking a sweet-smelling potion on them from a gravy boat with a medium fine paint brush

Goal! No! Amazing!
3 - Milner fires wide of the target with a powerful shot. Mike Jones nods knowingly, points with a straight arm and moves off..

8 - Dzeko tips Nasri's pass into the keeper's unfeasibly large hands
11 - Nasri's shot is deflected just wide off a passing canal boat
16 - Yaya's shot bounces away off a discarded length of trellis supporting sweet pea and geraniums.
18 - Milner's volley is blocked. The sun goes behind a cloud and reappears a different colour.
19 - Milner's cross misses Nastasic by centimetres, appearing to veer away just before it reaches his forehead.

24 - Aston Villa try their luck with a shot 30 metres over the bar. Mike Jones fiddles with a small black box on his belt.

30 - Negredo and Dzeko playing after you Claude. Another chance goes begging, as the pair seem to be unable to lift their right legs off the ground.
40 - Yaya Touré's shot reaches the Villa goal line, but is deflected wide off the standing leg of a plastic flamingo.
44 - Yaya Touré scores with City's 9th chance of the first half. The ball appears to be going straight in, then shoots to the right, then goes in after all. Mike Jones, frowning towards the linesman and looking down at the wires coming out of his trousers, makes for the centre circle shaking his head.

46 - Kolarov volley goes wide, after bouncing up off a chipped diplodocus bone sticking out of the turf at a weird angle

51 - El Ahmahdy equalises for the home side with their 3rd shot of the match. He is offside when the pass comes through but fires in nevertheless. Villa players wait for a flag from the official on the touchline but no one is there. A small pile of pink dust can be seen being cleared up by an old man with a bucket. Mike Jones pats his buttock and tucks a little end of wire back into his shorts.

56 - Dzeko knocks one in with the back of his neck. 2-1 to City. Jones disallows for a foul throw, before being reminded there was no throw-in during the run-up to the goal.
59 - Negredo's volley is grasped by a large hand growing out of Brad Guzan's crossbar. 
68 - Brilliant Navas centre misses Negredo's head by inches after a migrating snow goose diverts it into the crowd with his webbed foot.

74 - Villa's third shot on goal produces their second goal as a scintillating free kick goes up over Joe Hart, whose feet seem to have been set in cement
77 - Villa's next attempt is laid on by their keeper. The ball goes down the field in a straight line from one goal to the other and enters the net to squeals of delight and howls of laughter. The light reveals the thin thread along which it has travelled.The Villa mascot is spotted floating above the Holte End roof, waving his gravy boat.

78 - Referee Jones opens his top pocket and produces a small beauty case. He pats his nose with a powdered wipe and returns it to his pocket. His eyes have changed colour. The plastic flamingo flies off to rapturous applause.

79 -A large flourescent hippopotamus strides onto the pitch, ridden by Una Stubbs in a cowboy outfit. It moves swiftly, for a hippopotamus, up the pitch, intercepts a square ball from Nastasic and scores past Hart low at his near post to make it 4-2..

"That's one more bad goal to give away", says Phil McNulty of the BBC. 

* the description of the last goal is fake. The score remained at 3-2 and the game finished with an air of complete normality. Phil McNulty is head of a secret BBC department investigating the unexplained disappearance of mackerel.

Monday, September 23, 2013

DISTILLING MYTHS

With the dust settling on the Demolition Derby, a match more significant than perhaps any derby match played in Manchester since the last one, it might be salient to put a number of myths to bed before they grow into legend and whilst the wrecking ball still sways on its lead.

Browbeaten United manager David Moyes, in a stuttering, downbeat press conference dotted with "sort ofs" and "mibees", managed to lever this into his summary of what he had witnessed. "Ive got to say Wayne Rooney was...was....could have arguably been the best player on the pitch today....". This is of course to neglect to consider the claims of Sergio Aguero, of a rampant Yaya Touré, of Samir Nasri and, most certainly, of captain colossus Vincent Kompany. It is even to do some kind of injustice to Aleksander Kolarov and Jesus Navas. Rooney would have struggled to get into the team of the match, never mind man of the match decisions. What Moyes is basing this mistaken impression on, is the fact that Rooney was the only United player to attempt to compete. Look at the quote again. Look at the actual order the words came out. Moyes didn't believe it either.That's the problem with saying ridiculous things in public. You have to sound convinced yourself first.

United's game plan was to take an early grip, according to Moyes. How do a group of players with that tactic hammered into them, succeed only in giving territory to the opposition so completely that the only meaningful phases of possession United had were spent going sideways in midfield or trying to rid the pressure further back. Carrick, lost in the deluge, and Fellaini, going sideways, then backwards then sideways again, were nowhere to be seen when the giant holes needed plugging. Rooney - United's best derby performer as usual -was still struggling to gain proper control of the delightful head garment that he was wearing. It made him look a little like a human dodgems car. Every time he was manfully tackled, the thing flipped off like an elastic band on an elephant. Maybe this is why United lost.

Moyes consults Volume 1 of his Big Book of Tactics
United's stats show a plethora of attacking opportunities and shots on goal. That these all came after City had taken a 4-0 lead means that the statistics are attempting to sell us a lie. After 20 minutes, City's possession was up to an embarrassing 67%. Ten minutes later, United had carved it back to 57%, that extra ten for United spent wholly engrossed in trying to avoid the centre circle and this usually by backing away from it. City's grip on the game after an hour was so complete, every viewer of the spectacle could have been forgiven for expecting an avalanche of embarrassing proportions to occur. Inexplicably, City refused to go for the jugular. The job done, possession and position were ceded. This is where professionals save their legs for another day whilst fans strain their larynxes hoping for an eleven-nil massacre that will allow them to die peacefully in their sleep.

United surged forward, more out of instinct than sense. Any footballer will tell you, once you have taken the foot off the accelerator and given the initiative to your opponents, it is almost impossible to crank yourself back into the flow and rage of what went earlier.

"All managers have bad days and results and I'm no different". No kidding, David! This out of the tight-lipped mouth of Moyes, a man doing an impression of a rabbit in the headlights of a jack-knifing milk lorry. This performance from United asks deep and troubling questions of United and their manager's ability to do the job expected of Old Trafford bosses. The summer spending was a failure. United's fanfare signing was a sideways-moving mess yesterday. Fellaini and Carrick were overrun completely, were left hanging in no-man's land by Valencia, "Possibly if-Only Man of the Match" Rooney and Welbeck and had no answers to the power and bite and corruscating drive of Fernandinho and Yaya Touré, the control and speed of thought of Navas and Nasri. If more proof is needed that midfield was where the decisive power battle was won, look at Richard Jolly's analysis for ESPN here, but don't touch Nasri's heat map until it has cooled down a little.

Did anybody notice that the little magician David Silva wasn't playing? The man who makes City tick. The best midfielder in the squad. No, nobody even mentioned him, so good was the work put in by Nasri in particular. Van Persie's absence was mentioned by all and sundry, however. But this was not about Van Persie. United's front two have been strong enough in the past to bring home the bacon. They are both England internationals of some repute, although that is a debatable gong to hang around your neck these days.

Interestingly, David Moyes, in a previous life as manager of an Everton squad of hard-working and honest runners, managed year in year out to put a humongous spanner in the works every single time he lined his side up against City. This was Moyes, the man to motivate ordinary folk to extraordinary efforts. Now he is in charge of some of English football's top talent, does he have the wherewithal to make it function to the best of its ability? United have now played City and Chelsea and also their most important rivals (and I'm beginning to believe this again) Liverpool and have gleaned one big fat juicy point. Not nearly good enough.Another clash with Liverpool arrives just when Moyes would really prefer it didn't this Tuesday and it will be a brown trouser evening for the Scotsman. Lose this and his team faces West Brom at the weekend, a side that has seen off four managers, all sacked after defeats against the Baggies in the last two years.....

Much has been said about Ferguson's hole being a hard one to fill. Where was I? Ah yes, in some respects Moyes has already tellingly shown this to be the case. On Sunday at the Etihad, he shuffled almost apologetically up to the 4th official and was seen to be mouthing gently "no way, that's just shocking..." and shaking his head gently from side to side. Compare this with the volcanic Ferguson rampaging up to the referee effing and blinding with sparks emitting from his ears. "You'll nae ref a match again," he would be bellowing into the hapless man's earpiece, "You're way too fucking fat and you'll nae come any where fucking near us again, I'll see to that....". Ryan Giggs may have given it a try at half time in the tunnel, with his "man up" speech to Howard Webb, but even Giggs, brought up on Ferguson's magic ways for three hundred long years, does not hold a candle to the old egg poacher himself. These days things just aren't the same. Even Oldham's most famous man boy Jinja Nuttus was left out of the Praetorian Guard this time.

The fruitiest and best titbits of the lot were left to us on Monday morning, where The Mail dusted down its usual "how can we find an angle to hammer City" puff piece. Here was another man preparing himself to say something ridiculous in public. Step forward, Neil Ashton to pull out the gem that City had finally killed off English football (yes, that ancient chestnut, so well baked by now it is harder than the hate stare Ryan Giggs reserved for the 4th official at half time), by starting the Manchester Derby with only one Englishman in the side. Having ruined football single-handed by buying way too many good players. Having burned down football and ransacked fair play, City have now ruined the national team too, just eight short years after Arsenal turned out an all-foreign starting eleven and a massive sixteen years since Chelsea managed the very same feat. But let not that get in the way of today's mots justes in The Mail, the paper which represents the thoughts of millions.

The hole in United's defence looks vaguely familiar
After this fixture had been completed last year, 50,000 pairs of eyes turned to look at Samir Nasri's crumpled form and ask him what his motivations in life were. A season later, the little Frenchman was in the thick of the action from the very off, delivering a delicious wait-and-dink back heel to the overlapping Kolarov, who had not been tracked by the abysmal Valencia. Kolarov's cross was met deliciously by Aguero and City had a deserved lead. Just how Aguero completed the volley when the ball was delivered three feet behind him, we may never know. Valencia meanwhile got a complete earful from Vidic for dereliction of duty. Nasri's efforts all afternoon put him up on the high pedestal alongside Kompany, Aguero, the giant Yaya and Negredo as the game's outstanding performers. And not, that is, Wayne Rooney.

Yaya Touré. Four goals from midfield already, charging around like an elephant on heat. the Beast of Bondoukou is back in title-.winning form. How is this achieved? Simple really. Plant an athletic, incisive, deceptively alert little whippet behind him and let him off his lead. Fernandinho, not the cheapest of summer purchases, is another astutely placed cog in this increasingly well-oiled machine.

Finally, as Rio Ferdinand did a passable impression of a river running dry and Vidic came up short in his battle to contain the fulminating power of Negredo and Aguero, spare a thought for captain Vincent Kompany, looking more and more like one of the great sweepers of football history with every passing day. He cost the club that ruined football 24 million pounds less than the dust-spattered and visibly creaking Ferdinand. Ruinous stuff.
   

Friday, September 20, 2013

NEAREST AND DEAREST

The power and the glory of the Manchester Derby as captured in Shoot, Goal, Soccer Monthly, Tiger & Scorcher, Match Weekly, Four Four Two and Jimmy Hill's Football Weekly down the years.

Owen, Channon and McIlroy at Old Trafford, 30th Sept 1978 (0-1)



Ward and Irwin, Maine Road 1991 (3-3)
Brian Kidd at the Scoreboard End, Old Trafford 1977 (1-3)

Booth, Moran, Henry, Bailey + Houston, Maine Road 1979 (2-0)

Reid and Davenport, Old Trafford 1986 (2-2)
Jordan and Reid, Old Trafford 1980 (0-1)

Book and Best, Old Trafford 1969 (2-1)

Young and Aguero, 2011


Dave Bennett, Old Trafford 1980 (0-1)

Sadler and Bell, Old Trafford 1969 (1-0)

Wilkins, Daley + Power, Old Trafford 1980 (0-1)







Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Northern Grit


"And it's Robbie Fowler stepping up to take it....."
Cort McMurray tries to find the reason why we may well never be happy whatever happens. 

Canadian man of letters Robertson Davies was not describing City supporters when he wrote, “We are an ironic people; irony and some sourness is mixed in our nature. It is a matter of climate. We are a northern people. 

But it fits. 

The current braintrust, Mr. Pellegrini and those impeccably tailored Emerati who employ him, need to know this about us. We are not fully happy, unless there is lurking somewhere underneath the small but vital prospect of disaster. It is who we are.

We come by this partly by heritage – we are a northern people, after all – and partly by circumstance.  Until an improbable, insane afternoon in May, when for once the boys pulled Victory from the mouth of Defeat instead of the other way around, two generations of City supporters have mostly made do with irony and sourness, our clay-footed heroes – Richard Dunne, with his stevedore shoulders and his grim air of Irish fatalism, scoring yet another own goal, or Robbie Fowler, confidently pushing a penalty well wide of the net – reliably breaking our hearts. For a while, the closest thing we had to a star was Joey Barton. Joey Barton was less an attacking midfielder than a kidney stone in football boots, cutting his painful, miserable path across the Premier League, the blue half of Manchester firmly, if uncomfortably in his corner. Defending Joey Barton takes a lot out of you.    

"The ball was slid across and Dunne just stuck a leg out and in it went....."

It’s not that we enjoy disappointment; we expect it. Victory is sweet, but disaster is inevitable. City is, after all, the only club to be relegated the season after becoming First Division champions, the only club to score 100 goals and concede 100 goals in the same season, the club for whom the touchstone moment in one of its most momentous victories is not a spectacular goal, but Bert Trautmann’s broken neck. Joy and despair. Pleasure and pain. Irony and some sourness.      

This is no plea for failure, no fit of nostalgic masochism. I am not saying, “City are only City when we're losing 1–0 to Dagenham and Redbridge. In a driving rainstorm.” That’s Colin Shindler’s territory. 

Win, you natty sheiks, by all means win. Dazzle us with trophies, Mr. Pellegrini. Make the rest of England forget that there ever was a manager named Ferguson. Dominate Europe like Bonaparte, before he got it in his head to invade Russia. Give us your Brazilians, your Argentines, your huddled Spaniards, yearning to be creative.

Just remember that we are happiest when the whole thing seems like it’s about to fall apart. Give us Aguero and Silva and Negredo, but save a few roster slots for players who think the way we do, who understand that Things Go Wrong and Life is Hard, and that always, no matter how decisive the victory, Something Untoward is just around the corner. Save a spot or two for players who accept that sometimes, you just can’t help putting the ball past your own 'keeper and there’s nothing to be done but put your hands on your hips and stare stoically down the pitch and move on. Give us some Northern players.

Maybe some Poles.

By Cort McMurray.

You can of course follow Cort on Twitter

Sunday, September 15, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ: Stoke away

Saturday 14th September 2013
Premier League, Britannia Stadium, Stoke

Stoke 0 CITY 0

Following Hodgson's Football Handbook of useful, intrepid away performances on the road to glory. Nil is better than nothing.




Friday, September 13, 2013

POTTED STOKE CITY


75-76 STOKE 4 CITY 0                                  In 1975, things are different. There is mud everywhere. Shirts are plain and ready to be spattered with it. Your best view features a stanchion and the back of the head of the bloke in front. Joe Royle and Geoff Hurst are considered objets d'art and the Victoria Ground plays host to a home side who regularly play the best sides in the land right off the park. City in 1975 are not one of the best sides in the land but that does not put stop them from also being played right off the park on this occasion. 4-0 to the Potters and goals galore for Moores, the age-defying Hurst and Alan Hudson. There are Pejics and Greenhoffs, Conroys and Smiths and all of that is too much for our Blues. > Whilst the home side celebrate Hudson's goal, a desolate looking Willlie Donachie trudges back to prepare for kick-off. ---
             
above - 80-81 STOKE 2 CITY 1
Run up to the 81 Cup Final and City are beginning to get the jitters. Even though we have entered April, Stoke are without a win in the calendar year up to City's arrival. In those days, you just knew what that meant and Stoke duly go on to record the victory that the statistics told us to put money on. A huge tide of emotion from the Potters faithful plays its part.Bobby McDonald's trademark close-in header is only a consolation as it whips past Dodd and Fox of Stoke.
below -81-82 STOKE 1 CITY 3
Fast forward a couple of months and City are bright and brave on the occasion of Trevor Francis' debut in sky blue. The away end is awash with Blues, come to see the mercurial skills of the ex-Forest flier. He does not disappoint with a quickfire double as City scamper to a famous win in the early season sunshine. Anybody there that day will not forget it in a hurry, as a great bank of away fans prepares to party all the way back to Manchester. Kevin Reeves is first in for a cuddle with City's new darling as the first wave of Manchester's finest prepares to mount the fences and join them 


below -80-81 CITY 1 STOKE 1
The snow lies thick on the ground in Rusholme. Claremont Road is a skating rink and Windy Corner is closed as it is too treacherous for the heavy drinkers of Manchester to try to stand up on. Instead we huddle together under the Kippax roof, waiting for excuses to clap like maniacs. The tv cameras are here too, as all the other games have been called off. City will climb to the top of the table if they win. A giant chimney stack called Brendan O'Callaghan scores for Stoke to put the kybosh on that idea and Tricky Trev does the same for City, but first place eludes us for another week. Francis jumps high in the snow-filled air to chest the ball down in front of Stoke's defence

below 96-97 STOKE 2 CITY 1

When Alan Ball brought his City side to the Potteries in 1996, trouble was brewing. Big trouble. Anyone permitting him or herself a visit to more than one of City's games per month during this period needed to see a doctor urgently to receive medication. This game became so poor that Stoke's fans started singing Bally's on the dole". They didn't realise how prescient their singing was about to be. With a poisonous atmosphere spreading through the club and onto the terraces, Ball's inept management came to a halt after this dreadful game, the small man with the funny voice throwing his checked cap to the floor in resignation. Whether he handed in the crinkled, sweat-stained shell-suit as well is still not clear. What was crystal clear was City were in a mess, soon to be magnified tenfold and to come back and bite us all on the backside when we returned to Stoke a season later...


 
below: 1997-98 STOKE 2 CITY 5
Anyone, who does not remember the gut-wrenching sensation at the end of this match, is a lucky individual. Most people's worst ever City moment and an event showered in tears and phlegm long before the final whistle confirmed that City were down in Division Three for the first time in their proud history.


Monday, September 2, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ: HULL home

One of those slightly-too-bright at the end of August Saturdays
Manchester City 2 Hull City Tigers 0
Negredo at last wallop, Touré identikit bosh
Att: 46,500 (with holiday gaps)
THE BEGINNING: A cloudless sky. A breathless audience. A joyless skirmish. Punt, stab, dip, flap and skittle. Poke, pat and flail. Individuals wonder how long they can politely leave it before telling Mr Pellegrini to "give it good a shake".

Hull's jet-heeled Aluko is through on goal, but turns into a clump of thistles at an inopportune moment. He spends an intimate moment studying the crop circles around City's goal.

THE MIDDLE: A gong sounds. A death knell for Gareth Barry? Edin Dzeko is removed and reappears dressed as a teenage skateboarder within minutes. Alvaro Negredo has a tatoo on his forehead. It reads "hungry as hell". He is fed by the game's first accurate home cross -a loopy one from Zabaleta's right foot - and in it goes under the star-shaped 'keeper McGregor.

Joe Hart, hair immaculate, offers the gallery a slideshoe dummy shuffle, sending a Hull forward the wrong way. Not at all risky when the whole world is watching for patches of misplaced miscalculated youthful arrogance. It is an attempt to draw the thousands of pairs of eyes feasting on Huddlestone's superior barnet, a mesh-effect electric swan's nest, back onto his own lovely pimple-spiked blond bonce. In capeli proelia superbia hackitoff.. 


THE END: Yaya wafts his right leg, the ball curls in an unforgiveable arc. Elmohamady, for it is he, joins his 'keeper in an inexplicably beautiful dance under the cross bar (like great crested cranes in courtship ritual south of the Serengeti), as ball evades head and hand. Elmohamady heads the bar instead and joins ball in the back of the net.

City finish the weekend in a dismal 3rd place. Vultures hover, the sky darkens and a large flock of crows flies into a tall building en masse. 


THE STAT: This is the first ever Premier League clean-sheet against Hull City. Negredo has scored 3 in 3 substitute appearances. Hungry.

THE QUOTE: "Have we ever had a player with a ponytail before? That's what really worries me. Lift it up & there's usually a horse's ass underneath..." LongsightBlues on Twitter
Forget David Seaman at your absolute peril, young man.

THE LIST:        Semi final i Hull 2 City1
                       Semi final ii City 2 Hull 0

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