Monday, December 31, 2012

ANNUS MIRABILIS

2012, like a glittering unicorn, decked out in bejewelled clothes, galloping along a prairie thick with trees bearing sapphires of the deepest aquamarine, appeared to us all shimmering in its splendid and acute beauty. It stamped its feet a couple of times, lifting a fine dust of gold and silver, snorted loudly and cantered away with us all hanging breathlessly to its waxen mane, as it cavorted across a landscape pocked with the defeated and the slaughtered. Champagne Supernova. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. 2012 was when all our dreams came home to roost and Manchester City, proud bearers of the largest and most impressive array of Cup For Cock-Ups medals ever seen in the history of British football, became winners.

Holders of the FA Cup, City followed this in the New Year by being crowned Premier League Champions, following in the footsteps of Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea as select members of a small bunch, who have sealed the title in these modern times of money and more money. The Greed is Good League, as the doyen of football writers Brian Glanville likes to call it, is extremely picky when it comes to choosing its champions. Football followers decry its inability to open to the field, its singular interest in the moneyed few, but in dragging the title away from the serial boasters of West London and Salford, City were seen to do football a service of kinds. 

Neutrals the length and breadth of the country seemed pleased with the outcome, or at least found in City the lesser of a small number of evil options on offer to them. Who will forget the cries of delight from the QPR section at the Etihad or the impromptu Poznan conducted by Sunderland's supporters in front of the United away following that day? For Blues supporters, carried away in the delirium of how this long-awaited prize had been delivered, it hardly seemed to matter what others thought of us. For so long ridiculed by the great and good of the game, here was a moment - after 44 long years of sitting on our hands and weeping - to crow and cry, scream and fly. The seemingly impossible, unreachable dream had been realised after all and in a way which would leave an indelible City-style mark on the subconscious of every football follower on the planet from Qatar to Queensland and Sun City to Sunderland. Manchester City, Champions of England, but in their own inimitable way.

To those of us long in the tooth (I have been watching City in various forms of discomfort since 1973, for example), it was a particularly poignant moment. The obvious thing to do was simply to start blubbing at the magnitude of what had happened, at how long we had suffered, how long we had put up with the gnawing embarrassment, the riveting slow-motion car-crash that our club had developed into during the 80s and 90s and its modern day struggles to actually be somebody other than an also-ran.

The year had started with the apocalyptic thunder of a 3rd round FA Cup Manchester derby. What a way not only to start the New Year but to commence the defence of a trophy hauled in for the first time since 1968 in another tear-drenched emotion-packed occasion at Wembley the year before. The man, who would end the season holding aloft the biggest prize of all, was sent from the field within twelve minutes of the game starting. Referees would come into sharp focus during 2012 and here was a grand start by the infamous Chris Foy dispatching Vincent Kompany for a daring and expertly executed sliding tackle in the Manchester rain, reminding many of the performance by Mark Clattenburg, who had sent off Craig Bellamy for being tackled at Bolton the previous season. Foy and Clattenburg, like all poor referees, would be high profile on many more occasions in 2012. The good ones, of which there are still mercifully a few, go about their jobs largely unnoticed. Clattenburg could not do more for his self-promotion if he wore a belisha beacon for a hat and brandished a steel mace as he ran around.

City's form slump included exits from both cups, as Liverpool surprisingly found the form to take them past the Blues in the two legged League Cup semi final, a cup that had so surely been there for the taking that the ailing Scousers only had the winners of a Cardiff-Palace semi final to beat in the final. A golden opportunity to win another cup had been lost and, whilst other clubs turned up their noses at this "third ranked" trophy, it should not have been hard for Mancini's men to concentrate given the interminable length of the previous drought on this front.  Who were we to grumble?

City's form rallied and results improved too after a wobble in January. In an article called Form & Shape it was noticed that "The gap to 3rd placed Tottenham now stands at eight points. Chelsea in fourth, are thirteen points adrift and 5th-placed Arsenal eighteen points behind. We are eighteen points ahead of Arsenal. With a goal difference of +42, you might as well add a point to each of those figures. We can clearly see that, whilst the marauding goal form of September has settled a little, there is still oil in the tank."  Whilst City's form returned, their luck remained out, helped it seems by the gods of fate.

Results in January looked like this:
  • Sunderland 1 City 0
  • City 3 Liverpool 0
  • City 2 Man Utd 3 FAC3
  • City 0 Liverpool 1 (CCSFi)
  • Wigan 0 City 1
  • City 3 Tottenham 2
  • Liverpool 2 City 2 (CCSFii)
  • Everton 1 City 0

Having disappeared early from the domestic cup competitions, City set about trying to do themselves justice in the dreadful, lumpen Europa League, a sad, time-consuming and energy-sapping successor to the old UEFA Cup. In its attempts to become a mini Champions League, the drawn-out format of UEFA's secondary tournament had turned it into something that many clubs, having fought tooth and nail through a domestic season to reach, then tried their utmost to be eliminated from in the Spring. To their credit City professed a serious interest in winning it and set about the job in fine fashion with a tub-thumping win in Porto which laid down a marker for others to think about. Within weeks, however, City had been turfed out of this competition by weaker opposition from the same country in the shape of a bedraggled looking Sporting Lisbon. 

As the season wound itself up for the final stretch, City remained out front, chased by an increasingly desperate Manchester United, who started a sandstorm of media "incursions" by the great and good, from Paddy Crerand to the guileless Terry Christian in an attempt to rock the leader's boat. A swathe of press articles regarding "mind games" started to appear, as if the childish fibs and prefabrications being uttered into the microphones by Mike Phelan, Ryan Giggs, Ferguson and indeed Roberto Mancini, should be considered some kind of eerily piercing art form. Unedifying as it was suspect, all that it would serve in the end would be to leave one side or the other looking totally foolish come May.

When that month broke with City suddenly trailing United by eight (8) points, having been well in front a matter of weeks previously, it looked like it would be the blue hordes who would once again be wiping the custard from their trousers. A dreadful loss at Swansea reduced one media friendly supporter to tears in the front rows and the press were ready to pounce. With the annual defeat at Goodison and United's spurt of good form, the tables had been turned at the most crucial moment of this fast-moving campaign.

By now the crowing had become deafening. Everybody had an opinion on why City had lost out: no bottle, poor, effete, foreign, card-waving, hair adjusting manager, mercenary players, no team spirit, a side -in short- patched together by oily money. A club held together by the individual greed of its myriad parts. The rightful and righteous balance had been restored just in time, with Mr Ferguson's veined nose edging back in front at the top. Arsenal's late winner against City at The Emirates had been hailed with particular gusto by elements of the southern press and all those thousands of Gunners fans, who suddenly felt a bond developing with United, their fellow rich aristocrats in peril. But as the stands in North London heaved to 57,000 cavorting United sympathisers, a strange thing happened.

Release.

The ensuing run-in will never be forgotten. The most deliciously balanced Premier league finale ever, indeed one of English football's most well scripted endings was about to break over us all in its simple and savage beauty. 

United, suddenly cocks of the north and champions designate, now lost inexplicably at Wigan, whilst City, "out of the race" according to their own manager and his home-recipe mind games, beat West Brom easily. Buoyed, City travelled to Carrow Road and smashed six past Norwich, with a hat-trick from the reintegrated Carlos Tevez, lacking neither paunch nor punch. When United threw away two 2-goal leads to draw 4-4 at home to Everton, the title race that had run its course was suddenly open again. With a win at Wolves on the Sunday, City could make it mathematically possible once again. That game, won two nil by the Blues, led us straight into the lion's jaws of a home Manchester Derby deemed the most important ever. Another critical turning point arrived with Ferguson's team selection and subsequent tactics. 

The champions-elect and reigning title holders talked the talk but failed to walk the walk, coming for a draw, when bravery was called for. Their stacked defence ended up with precisely what it deserved: a 1-0 defeat with a towering headed goal from the man unfairly sent off in the same fixture at the start of the year, captain Vincent Kompany. With the stadium in a complete tumult, Mancini's job was suddenly to get his super relaxed players to focus on the two games that would define their destinies. Win at Newcastle and at home to the team with the worst away record in the league and your names will be written in gold leaf on the highest pillars in the land, never to be erased. Lose and you will have lost this title not once but twice, and to your sworn enemies, on top of this. This delirious stress, as Daniel Taylor named it in his Guardian report, was what now washed over every pore of City's players, administrators, fans and sympathisers. Well wishers hoped for the best. Die hards awaited the biggest embarrassment in their club's history. Ferguson called up the Ghost of Devon Loch.

Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2

Manchester City 3 QPR 2

In these two simple results sit a lifetime of stress and trouble and their release to the four winds. Seven goals found the net. Seven times voices roared and bodies jumped and shivvered, but a story as long as the Bible is contained within. City crawled over the finishing line tugging the dead weight of a million distraught, overwhelmed, disbelieving onlookers with them. When the final whistle blew on that sunny May afternoon, the football world shuddered a little on its axis, as it took in what Sergio Aguero's clinical 94th minute skip, swerve and slice actually represented. The mosh pit that greeted it took many minutes to straighten itself out. The repercussions are still untangling themselves half a year later. 

A season that had ended in such utter pandemonium had the beautiful symmetry of starting and finishing with the final goalscorer of each match making the headlines (Aguero had burst into our line of sight against Swansea with a lethal smack of his right foot too, way back in August 2011).

The first repercussion only became evident some months after the summer break, in which Roberto Mancini was tasked with the fragile job of boosting a squad that had just achieved a Herculean objective. How to build on that, one asked? Instead of securing the early signatures of the few stellar talents (De Rossi, Ibrahimovich) that might just have upped the ante, Mancini became embroiled in a behind the scenes struggle with Brian Marwood. Over pounds and pennies. As the big fish slipped away downstream, City hooked kippers. Worse still, Robin van Persie, league top scorer, went to Old Trafford.

An understated pre-season gave way to full-blooded passion in an impressive curtain opener against Chelsea at Villa Park. For a spell in the 2nd half, City seemed unplayable, as the European champions leaked three quick goals. Little were we to know that, by Christmas, that twenty minute spell would remain the best passage of football witnessed by City fans all season so far.  

2012-13 has proved to be difficult viewing. The challenge of "beating that" has indeed proved a tough one. Mancini, looking in turns detached, disatisfied and disinterested, has cut an increasingly lonely figure. Behind the scenes, management recruiting makes a tilt towards Pep Guardiola look more sure as the days pass. The feeling grows that Mancini's days are numbered whatever the outcome of this largely unfulfilled campaign. Yet hope remains. City enter the New Year in 2nd place, backfiring and spluttering, but ahead of the rest of the pack. They do this without having produced one single 90 minute display that would bear decent comparison with the multitude of shatter-and-splatter wins from last year. The goals have largely dried up, the width has gone, the impregnable defence leaks. Yet hope remains and, whilst Manchester City supporters remain true to their history, hope will always be the last man out of the door.

Happy New Year.



 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

QUESTIONS QUESTIONS

For Manchester City's annual defeat on Wearyside, this year's embarrassment avoided last minute offside winners by little known South Koreans and instead opted for the more prosaic pattern of off-form important players, stumblingly predictable tactics, a winning goal from an ex-City player and bizarre substitutions to keep us all warm with the glow from our blushing cheeks. If you had sworn not to touch another drop of the hard stuff after hitting Christmas at full pace, then you'd have been swigging from the nearest bottle of spirits before the players had cleared their lumpen forms from the Stadium of Light pitch on this occasion.
- Heneage: Doubts creep up on Mancini’s City
- Mancini blasts 'soft' City

By the end of this truly exasperating game, we had the unedifying sight of the live-wire Carlos Tevez giving way to be substituted and City playing out the last few minutes with that well known and world-class strike partnership of Joleon Lescott and Joe Hart. Truly one had to pinch oneself and check that it wasn't Frank Clark down there in the dugout with his guitar and his mouth organ.

Mancini indeed stated afterwards that, "next year we don't come". He might, after this, be closer to the truth than he imagines. The malfunctioning blob that passed for City's shape in the last 30 minutes did nobody any justice, least of all those tasked with putting some shape and production into the play. 


You can read the remainder of this article here on the ESPNFC club blog page

 

READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Nicky Shorey ducks, Gareth Barry flies. 1-0, at last.
It is October 1998. I am getting wet. It is cold. Bitingly cold. I have just watched a game that has stretched my patience, my non-believing eyes and my love for Manchester City football club. Reading, playing in bright red and yellow, have just left the Maine Road pitch having won 1-0. 24,364 others are grumbling their way through the exits into the wind and rain outside on Claremont Road. Christmas is still a way off but I am considering cancelling it anyway.
- Blog: Royals effort all for nothing
- Late Barry header snatches win

Fourteen years later in similarly cold and wet conditions, Reading are about to emerge from a tangle in Manchester with an unexpected point. Then something funny happens involving the unlikely Christmas Figure of Fun and Jollity, Gareth Barry, who launches himself over Nicky Shorey's attempt to block him, connects with the ball and sends it rocketing past Adam Federici for a 92nd minute winner. 


You can read the rest of this article on City's pages at ESPNFC

DER DER DER PABLO ZABALETA

That august publication The Mirror sent a correspondent, as you would well expect, to last weekend's dustup between Newcastle and Manchester City at St James' Park. It is not a newspaper for delicate tastes with its lurid spreads of teen pop stars and picture specials of reality television people getting out of taxis without putting their knees together first, but the football coverage occasionally pleases and, a little less frequently, also informs.
It was with fleeting interest that my eyes fell to the bottom of the page devoted to the match in question, where the learned scribe in question put his mind to awarding marks - out of 10 - for the day's performers. This is always a scene of carnage and disagreement, where folks are either one-eyed or "weren't watching the same match as me".  It is done, I imagine, for reader entertainment and to provoke argument and discussion. Good old-fashioned harmless fun, I was busy thinking to myself, as I perused the inoffensive little numbers.

Sergio Aguero, for his darting, slightly directionless performance had been awarded a man-of-the-match nine, followed swiftly by compatriot Carlos Tevez and the little magician David Silva on eight. I had already subconsciously made the Spaniard my own outstanding performer - I am a sucker for his eye-catching diagonal passes, unexpected pirouettes and deft how-did-he-do-that through passes - but was in no mood to quibble anyway. Both the Argentinian dynamos up front had been excellent too, I thought.


You can read the rest of this article on ESPN's MCFC page 
 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A DISH FIT FOR A KING

King of the Kippax was the nickname given to Colin Bell, so named for his peerless displays of stamina, skill and selflessness in the great City side that eventually won the title at St James's Park one unforgettable afternoon in 1968. Until last season, nobody in the famous sky blue of City had emulated that feat. Now the deed has been done; thanks partly to a heroic win in Newcastle last May, the mantle of champions sits snug on the broad shoulders of the young men in blue. However, up to now, it has also sat heavily on those young shoulders in 2012. 


It is a big deal. A very big deal. For opponents, for the press, for the supporters. Everyone likes to take it out on the best team in the land.
The Kippax may have disappeared, buckled under the wrecking balls and dynamite sticks, but St James's Park remains a bastion of proper football support and so too do midfielders in sky blue, who do the good name of Colin Bell and his lofty team-mates justice in this age of easy fame and flexible morals.

On Saturday, one in particular really excelled himself.


You can continue reading this article on ESPN's Manchester City pages

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

DANCING WITH DEVILS




Pablo Zabaleta, his battered form slumped against the far post, slithered slowly down it to the ground like an uprooted plant. His immense contribution, full of guts, will-to-win and indomitable spirit, typified the fight City had carried to their neighbours during a second half so full of energy and urgency that it felt like the walls were coming down. 

Zabaleta and his countrymen, Tevez and Aguero, had revealed just the characteristics we attribute to professional footballers from this part of the world: fight, technique and courage, coupled to a seemingly never-ending stream of spirit and lust for the ball. It was quite something to behold, quite something to fix your eyes upon. The raw meat of the Pampas in the bearpit of a Manchester derby. 

Ultimately, once more so cruelly late in the day, it had not quite been enough.

Such are the vagaries of football that a performance of such delightful controlled aggression as we saw in the 2nd period at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon would surely see off every team in the Premier League, but this intensity comes at a cost and, with big perfromers, it sometimes comes only in extremis

Only the very best bring out the best in players, who know they can coast against Norwich and put in a 70%-er against Wigan and the likelihood is that they will survive the experience intact. Against the old foes from across the city boundary, only 100% will do. When we were finally delivered just that in a second period of mounting effectiveness, the signs were clear that we can not only match this season's pace-setters, we can peg them back and get the result, a result that, in this case, looked more and more like being a win as the clock ticked round to 90 minutes. United were shredded, tired and their hitherto admirable organisation and shape was beginning to unravel before our eyes. 

But football is a cruel beast and it turns on a sixpence if you take your eye off it for a second. Suddenly the red shirts were back up the other end. City, left open by the incessant pressure in the opposite direction from the preceding 35 minutes, were suddenly exposed. Clichy, with the will to risk, took one too many. Tevez, the marvellous catalyst to the 2nd half pyrotechnics, nicked the advancing heels of the shorn Hobbit and he tumbled. Confusion ensued. Three men in the wall? Four men in the wall? Mancini's hand signals did not match Hart's and an ominous nervousness gripped the crowd at the South Stand end. Sure enough, as Van Persie struck the freekick left footed, Nasri, suddenly looking for all the world like something that had just been deposited on the Etihad turf from La Grande Revue at the Moulin Rouge, waved a gartered thigh at the passing ball from his place snug behind Edin Dzeko. The ball clipped his foot and arched the extra five centimetres needed to carry it around Joe Hart's outstretched fingers. Those same fingers that had asked for men in the wall, a minute earlier. Men, not showgirls, cowgirls or schoolgirls.

City, undone yet again by a post-90 minute United winner, collapsed en masse to the grass. Shades of Michael Owen, of Wayne Rooney and of Paul Scholes and of several others i am trying now to block from my mind. On and on it goes, this agony with no name, this terrible stretching of time until it twangs back and smacks you full in the face. 


Nasri prepares to join the end of the wall
Long ago, in the shadow of an era long past, The Guardian's Northern football correspondent Eric Todd wrote this: "Four players booked, two others sent off, 45 fouls, a break of five minutes whilst the survivors calmed down, not one goal and only about five minutes of genuine football, in the closing stages. These melancholy events summarised one of the most atrocious games ever played by Manchester City and Manchester United. The only consolation - if that be the word in the circumstances - was that there was no invasion of the pitch by spectators."

In today's anodyne settings and picture postcard political correctness, you get looked at in a strange way if you stand up to adjust your clothing in a football stadium, so this derby's raw edge, which became more jagged as the afternoon wore on, was a bit of a throwback to the times when Doyle and Macari traded punches and insults, players refused to leave the pitch after being red carded and crowds bubbled with such unrest that - within a couple of seasons - fences were going up all over the ground. By 1975 the Kippax was divided from top to bottom by a great mesh of chicken wire as the warfare spread around the ground. A lone pitch invader wearing the sort of headgear Paddington Bear might have baulked at is not in the same league. The throwing of coins, however,  is a repugnant throw-back to the worst excesses of the eighties, when golf balls came with nails hanging out of them and beer bottles flew the barbed wire space that was no man's land.

Todd wrote those words after a tight ugly scrimmage of a derby in 1973 had ended goalless and without much cheer for either City or United. The irony would not have escaped him, had he still been alive, that the 2012 version was packed full with everything that the 1973 version palpably lacked, but with the added irritant of the unruly crowd alluded to in his poetic descriptions. The more sanctimonious members of the Twittersphere told us shortly after the end of the game on Sunday that people's behaviour at derby matches emits a dark unwholesome stench, revealing an aspect of human nature that is best kept covered up, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of tension, a bit of aggression, to wind up the atmosphere a notch or two. Derby matches are no places for the trembling neutral, although the front rows of the Etihad seemed richly populated by half and half scarves (the most inappropriate garment ever to be worn at the Manchester Derby since Alan Ball's shell suit and flat cap combo in 1995 and dear old Brian Horton's aggressively checked jacket), flasks, biscuit tins and the now usual array of Canons, Nikons and Blackberries clicking away at anyone who comes near them, be they red shirted or blue. Who'd have thought this Sky-clad glue would attach itself to little old City in the modern era, after all that bare knuckle stuff at Bootham Crescent and the Racecourse Ground?! There were no coach parties from Hong Kong taking pictures of Jamie Pollock, that's for sure.

Would you wear this garment?
Derby Day in Manchester was always a day for raw steak, raw eggs and raw nerves. The city that gave birth to the industrial revolution may have once manufactured biscuit tins, but you don't expect them to show up full of almond tarts and cream cake on an occasion like this. Two powerful sides going at each other like a pair of enraged buffalo is enough to hold the attention away from these fripperies for 90 minutes, surely? As for taking pictures, hands were either clapping or shaking too much to hold a camera. Our game has been tidied up and rebranded for a new world audience bigger than the denizons of Gorton, Blackley and Salford can imagine and the television juggernaut now sets the agenda for Britain's football-watching public. No surprise then, that - as soon as things livened up beyond Sky's Super Sunday prettiness, the cameras steadfastly refused to show the lively-hatted City fan trying to get at Ferdinand and Joe Hart threatening to box his ears if he did. 

Once upon a time, it wasn't a derby match without a few hundred flared trousered philanthropists hammering around the centre circle. Whilst Sky thought more of it, the television viewing public were left to wonder why everyone was running off camera to the right, leaving the tv screen showing a rapidly emptying centre circle. 

So the dust settles and the emotions, having been given a good old fashioned shredding for the first time since May 12th last year, settle too. United, with admirable shape and energy, came away with the spoils on this occasion. Through gritted teeth we congratulate them for this. they played well, using the forward outlets of Young and Valencia to maximum effect. They kept their shape under increasingly robust pressure in the 2nd period and got lucky at the end. But luck had also removed a legal goal and a possible penalty, whilst at the other end, David Silva's shot was put onto the bar by De Gea's left ear. It was that kind of game. The kind of game that brings us back to this much-changed, much.tampered with sport of ours, because, in it's purest most furious form, it is unlike anything else we know.



Friday, December 7, 2012

CRYING FOUL

It would be less than magnanimous of me if I did not start this piece by congratulating Manchester United on their 20 years of almost complete Premier League domination. It has been quite something to behold, from its pantomime birth with plain old Mr. Ferguson and his sidekick Mr. Brian Kidd (shame on you, Brian!) doing the Chicken Jerky 5 yards inside the touchline after Steve Bruce's stopwatch winner against Sheffield Wednesday. It all just seemed to roll from there, didn't it? I'm sure, however, many reading this will join me in confirming how glad City supporters are that the dark period is finally at an end, brought to that unforgettable close by Sergio Aguero's nod to history after our red cousins had turned -- in the space of 30 unrepeatable seconds -- from champions-elect once more on a dreary afternoon on Wearside to the quietest of quiet neighbours.

You can continue reading this article on ESPN's City pages 

KEVIN REEVES nods in at The Scoreboard End in 1981



BRIAN KIDD. seen it all on the Manchester scene



City still have some catching up to do on the penalty front


The Bad Old Days



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NO FLOWERS PLEASE

 Manchester City's European campaign passed quietly away on Tuesday night. It left 3,000 bereaved souls in northwest Germany, cold, in a state of disrepair and in growing disorientation, plus many other family members scattered around the north of England and thereabouts.

It was just three months old. It will be sadly missed by many thousands of well-wishers who asked to be remembered to the bereaved on their way out. It leaves 47,000 souls with nothing to do on a Wednesday night..(.......)..


You can read on, if you are in a fit state to do so on ESPN's City pages, here  


A night City caught a dose of Monchengladbach. The Simonsen seizure suffered may have triggered later palpitations.......

 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A STRAITJACKET CALLED EVERTON

In the late '80s and early '90s, it seemed that Manchester City and Everton were intent on trying out each other's entire squads. They shared two managers (Joe Royle, Howard Kendall) and more players than seemed polite. At one point. there was almost certainly some kind of left back bet on between the respective boards, as Terry Phelan, Neil Pointon, Paul Power, Andy Hinchcliffe and Earl Barrett all swapped sides. Leighton Baines, the current incumbent, might one day continue the trend, but today, replete in his Frodo Baggins wig and face fuzz, he played a significant part in stopping City's home juggernaut from continuing along its merry way.

- Report: Everton hold Manchester City to draw
- Blog: Bogeymen Everton continue to trouble City
- Tyler: City's James of all trades


And so, Everton's hypnotic hold over City maintains its icy grip. A point here was the least they deserved for a clinging, athletic, clever performance against a City side that was never able to find second gear for spells longer than five minutes or so at a time. This has been a curious season so far. Way off the form and vitality of last year, City are still unbeaten, and sat top of the league at the end of the 3 o'clock kick-offs. This is a team that has been changed, some say unnecessarily, had reinforcements introduced that have not strengthened the unit, been tinkered with at many a junction and yet still sits seven points ahead of Chelsea at the top of the pile. 

 
YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE ON  ESPN'S CITY PAGES 
 

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Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; bitter, confused and maladjusted. Watching City since 1974 with fluctuating amounts of disbelief.

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