Monday, September 21, 2015

REVENGE OF THE REDHEADS


Mark Lillis plays with damaged nose + cheek
In 1986 the streets of Rusholme looked a little like a scene from a low-budget cop series. Sirens howled, busses chugged to a stop in front of packs of meandering kids. Feral eight year olds with snot encrusted faces asked you if you had a car to mind. The smell of curry drifted everywhere. (That was the good bit). Slate grey skies dribbled their corrosive rain all over you and glass-eyed dogs barked a cacaphonous welcome in the distance, ready to tear you to bits if you lingered too long while having a leak against the chapped red brick walls of the alleyways that criss-crossed the area. Sooty little back yards separated poverty from squalor, poverty from squalor. Terraced houses with off-colour net curtains hid a thousand little secrets of Rusholme.

In 2015 things are tidy, modern, clean and sharp. There are few who harbour thoughts of the bricked-up tobacconists on Lloyd Street or the faintly threatening doorways of Claremont Road. City are long gone from there. Glass and steel meet the smarting eye of the modern match goer. Car dealerships and swing bridges, apartment complexes aimed at you the aspiring young city dweller and gusty tow paths meet the eye. The gales still blow chip paper onto your trousers, but the odour on the air has changed. All you can smell now is well varnished ambition.

Dank, heavy, drizzly, misty Manchester. 1985-86, a season back amongst the big boys for City. There is the red hair of Jim Melrose, standing out in the gloom like a beleesha beacon. He juts his ginger bonce in the way of a deflection off the West Ham defence to equalize at 2-2. A lucky deflection! How City would have liked one of those last weekend, when every single loose ball ricocheted out of the Londoners' defence and found an area of space and peace that wouldn't have been out of place by the duck pond at Tatton Park.

There will be no deflection and no 2-2 for City on this occasion.

Back in September 85 a topsy turvy, rain drenched game at Maine Road does finish two apiece, however. This is the 9th game of what will be a dreary season of rehab, City's first back after relegation. West Ham, upwardly mobile and jetting towards their best finish ever, have McAvennie and Cottee, style and pace. They have Scottish defenders called Orr and Stewart plus a midfield of Ward and Devonshire, lungs and artistry.

I turn for the exits, mounting the old Kippax steps, darkened and malodorous, and head down from the back of the old stand and into the relentless drizzle outside. The view is familiar, across the school yard and beyond into those mysterious alleyways, the death runs of away fans daft enough to escape the police corden and make their own way out of the darkening precincts of Moss Side.

**

Modern day West Ham seem less flexible, with the prowling protagonist Slaven Bilic sporting the face of a thousand Balkan conflicts. He lopes around the technical area, flicking his arms with the air of a man wearing a tie as a punishment.  

Soon, Mangala is airborn like a falling tree but Adrian has brought his business gloves. It is quickly clear he has forgotten his clock, however, as the keeper slows everything to a dawdle. The reason for this has happened at the other end: Moses, a left footer, a three times discarded Chelsea misfit, uses his right foot to leave Hart grasping grubby air with his fingers. City are flat on the floor after only 6 minutes.

It is City's first league goal conceded. Midweek there were two other first goals conceded, but that was v. Juventus, that was Champions League. Three in two games. It feels like the floodgates are opening suddenly.

Was this early sledge hammer anything to do with the back four? Sagna-Otamendi-Mangala-Kolarov. You wouldn't have got away with that eight months ago, when Zabaleta-Kompany-Demichelis-Clichy was the chosen barrier. Otamendi, a giant Argentinean with lop sided hair, seems to settle well, as he quickly shuts out Jenkinson, who will later have more cramp than a double marathon runner.

Goalkeeper Adrian turns up his fists to deny the lively Navas, whose smouldering unblinking eyes suggest a man on some kind of mission, as yet ill-defined. Adrian, meanwhile, is beginning to enjoy himself much more than his visit here in December 2013, when six Capital One Cup goals flew past his ears. He has since tightened up his game somewhat, as have the Hammers.

The time wasting continues. We are 25 minutes in. Bilic nods as his strategy -- one he has used before -- is put into practical action. City are way too slow to destabilise this West Ham anyway, playing it across, playing it wide, playing it back.

2-0 at Arsenal, 3-0 at Liverpool. Surely not again?

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” Hunter S. Thompson, with a word about refere Mr Madley.               

Sakho is flattened by Mangala, a brilliant block, as Aleksander Kolarov falls asleep again. His good start to the season, apparently thanks to the darting progress of Raheem Sterling in front of him, has been suddenly lost in the wind, perhaps as a result of Sterling's own problems. The ex-Liverpool man is ineffectual here, a shadow of the electric-heeled start to the season.

306 passes is double West Ham's total after 45 grinding minutes, but this has been of little use. West Ham have claimed a second and City just one, a De Bruyne shot as precise as that of Moses early on. De Bruyne and Melrose, twin red haired scorers, separated by 30 years and a broad expanse of skills. Only 22,000 of us watched Melrose's feat that September day and wondered why we had bothered. There are an incredible 30,000 more in the Etihad now, a stark reminder of where football has taken us all.

CITY 1 WEST HAM 2 HT -- 10 shots to 3, 66% possession
It is the first goal conceded away from home in the league by West Ham, but not everyone is satisfied
Half time wisdom comes from Blind Man Buff correspondent Duncan Castles on Twitter: "Not entirely sure De Bruyne caught that shot as well as he wanted to, but his team badly needed the goal." -

As Alex Shaw of ESPN retorts, "I think he wanted to smash it in the net, which is what he did...".

City start the second period like the 5:15 express bound to Santiago. We are treated to Twenty Minutes With Yaya Toure, who shaves the post twice and carries all before him almost like the old days. On days like this, sepia images of him bulleting through the middle ranks with a full set of Aston Villa players hanging off his surging shoulders spring to mind. What a player he could be before he had the cake and ate it.

85-86 Melrose gets his head on the end of a deflection. 2-2
The question is asked, "How many centre back partnerships can one team have before it becomes embarrassing" as the hole left by Mangala appears to have been filled by Martin Demichelis. His lack of hair does not hinder him and City are immediately more composed, thrashing into West Ham like there's no tomorrow. Bony is also on for the meak Sterling, but Navas, brave, blind or confused, continues down the right, with an absolute torrent of crosses straight into Reid's shins, which must look like the twin pillars of Corynth to the dashing Spaniard.

He will end the match with the bewildering stats of 2 successful crosses out of 18 attempted. It's not all about statistics of course, you could also see for yourself what he was up to.

City are in the Classic 442. Sadly City dont do classic 442, but it's there for perusal and visual enjoyment anyway, proud as punch, with Bony's muscles accompanying Aguero's oddly out of shape performance in a fox trot around ten visiting defenders.

Hammers captain Noble eventually tires of his own team's time wasting tactics and pulls the once more prone Jenkinson to his feet. How must the lumpy full back be feeling to have this visited upon him, infront of a live audience? The shame, the shame. Mr Trouser Suit, the pig-headed referee, has not a single gram of wit to tell the visitors to halt their time wasting. Noble of name and noble of nature is doing it for him, as City's captain - Yaya? - doesn't seem to be mentioning it in passing either. The rest of us are left to go bog-eyed with frustration, as the match turns into an exercise in growing old extremely fast.

City lose/Chelsea win; losing at home to West Ham is much more than that though. Losing at home to West Ham is like dropping an anvil on your foot and having to walk home in the driving rain. Its like being splashed by the last taxi on the streets when you still have 8 miles to go. Its like losing your front door key, climbing a tree to get in the upstairs window and slipping from your foothold. You end up swaying by your parka hood from the branches of a sycamore. And you stay there swinging until Carl Jenkinson's imaginery injuries have healed, one by tedious one.

Slaven Bilic in tie-less days of yore
Good luck to the new look, fit for purpose Hammers. They have often been supine opponents in the past and have defended doggedly here. City will not play another half like the one just finished without hitting the target, we all tell ourselves. Beaten by Juventus in a match that could have been won, beaten by West Ham in a match that should have been won. Good for the game but not for the nerves. And, as if that was not bad enough, the Blues follow that little lot up with an away game in the League Cup at Sunderland. That promises to be one for the collectors.

 

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