Monday, January 28, 2013

DOWN AT THE BUSH

A retrospective of past fixtures at QPR (and - needless to say - there have been some absolute belters).

City head to Shepherd's Bush for their next premier league engagement against a side tanned at home by MK Dons at the weekend. Manager Harry Redknapp was obviously seriously displeased with both the outcome and the manner in which it was secured. Can City expect something of a reaction? History suggests a game of sweeping entertainment, plenty of goals and plenty of noise.

Brian Kidd tries to force the ball in but Masson and Parkes flap it clear in 1977

One of Steve Coppell's "Magic Six" games in charge of City came at Loftus Road in 1996 where he "coaxed" and coached a stumbling Blues side back from 2-nil down to earn a draw.
Utterly enthralling game in the League Cup in 1994, with first minute goals in each half, unstinting action from end to end and a veritable avalanche of goals. Just when the excitement couldn't get any more intense, up pops Peter Beagrie with a sideways flying volley right in front of the away end. Pandemonium Tuesday. City have also won two other League Cup ties at Loftus Road, 3-1 in 1991 and 3-0 in 2003, plus a storming FA Cup 4th round tie in 1993 (see below)

1985-86 and a rare goalless encounter, with Billy McNeill's tactics seeking out a point in a season of difficult consolidation back in the first division. Loftus Road's ridiculous bouncy pitch not helping the silky skills of Gordon Davies and Nigel Johnson. 

City are beaten by young debutant Billy Hamilton in 1978


Danny Granville goes in hard in 1999 as City's rise through the leagues brings the clubs together again in the old second division.




Sunday, January 27, 2013

MAN OF IRON

When I made a comment last week that Pablo Zabaleta had been constructed chiefly out of spare parts from Apache helicopters, I was quickly and clearly corrected. It is in fact the Apache helicopters that are made of spare bits that have fallen off (or been chipped off) Zabaleta. My apologies for the schoolboy error. I should really, at my age, have known slightly better. As if to prove the point once and for all, here was yet another game that showed why this is true, as the Argentine workhorse continues to build a bond with the City faithful to match those enjoyed by Shaun Goater, Uwe Rosler, Ali Benarbia, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Georgi Kinkladze and other A class City stalwarts from years gone by.
- Match report: Stoke 0-1 Manchester City

Stoke away in the cup is a good place to fill your side with storm-troopers in any case, and with Zabaleta, Joleon Lescott, Javi Garcia and Aleksandar Kolarov all present, the feeling was that City were ready for any size fight the locals wished to inflate it to. Giant Costel Pantilimon filled the goal, block-of-flats-sized Edin Dzeko took his place up front. For all the talk of City's pocket rockets, Roberto Mancini is also capable of putting out a formidably physical side too, when needs must, and here was just the occasion to roll out the six-footers. In midfield we were treated to the Gareth Barry-Garcia axis, giving City solidity, nous and the breaking speed of a 1967 Morris Minor.

The first effect of the fabled Magic of the Cup appeared to be that it had made the Stoke fans disappear. While the away end was packed to the rafters, gaping patches of red seats were evident in the home support on all three parts of the ground they were supposed to be occupying. Perhaps next time City come to town, they can lend us a side instead. Still, the atmosphere was what you would expect, and City, backed by the noise of nearly 5,000 Mancunians, tore into the home side from the start. 



The complete article can be read on ESPN's Manchester City pages

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kilns and Pots

Time then again for the FA Cup.

City revisit the Potteries on Saturday for a match with a Stoke side bristling with intent after a recent run of poor results. Tony Pulis's bitter comments after his side caved in at the Etihad in the league on New Year's Day still resonate and his team will no doubt be more of a match for his "expensive" opponents when playing on its own patch.

Stoke represent the kind of elbows and knees experience that the Blues might have experienced from a typical away tie in the early rounds of the competition anyway. That the pointy body parts come with the experience and guile of Premiership footballers makes them worth watching even more closely.

Not at the Britannia does Pulis's fabled 220 million pound difference often exist. It is one of the mysteries of football how this can happen, but happen it does, time after time. Stoke at home do not display any great economic deficit, while Stoke away are often pretty close to bankrupt.


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



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MOCKING THE AFFLICTED



City's fulsome support squeezes into the Moss Rose

Bradford City’s considerable achievement in knocking out Aston Villa to reach this season’s League Cup final brings out differing emotions for followers of Manchester City: mirth at the haplessness of a fellow top flight side is always a good place to start for football supporters, but this is tinged with sympathy, as many of us have been in similar situations and – in the case of City followers – it brings back plenty of painful memories of times not so long past, when our delightful club would have had modest difficulty beating its way out of a wet paper bag.



City may now be looked at as one of the big guns, locked into that cosy cartel at the top of the tree. Indeed, even fellow Top Four merchants are ganging up against the sky blues in a thinly disguised bid to tip the playing field back in their direction. Led by that charitable institution Manchester United, these grandees of English football, amongst them the paupers of Arsenal and Tottenham, are trying to curb City’s spending for good by implementing England’s very own FFP measures. As many have already said, if United think it’s a good idea, then it’s probably worth taking a good close look at the small print at the bottom of page 49.


20 years ago, Manchester United had bigger fish to fry and took great glee in reminding City supporters that their neighbours did not feature on their radars at all. Ignoring somebody can be far worse than insulting them sometimes. City were a speck on the horizon and were about to get a lot more distant in the ensuing decade....


This article can be read in its full form on ESPN's MCFC pages here

Monday, January 14, 2013

ARSENAL: ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH


2011 - May 14th. Manchester City win the FA Cup at Wembley against Stoke. It is the first trophy since 1976, a period of 35 years
2012 - May 13th. Manchester City lift the Premier League trophy for the first time ever and are champions of the top flight of English football for the first time since 1968, a period of 44 years.
2013 - January 13th. Manchester City win a league game at Arsenal for the first time since the autumn of 1975, a period of 38 years.
2013 - January 13th - Manchester City players are encouraged to visit the away end and applaud long-suffering fans who have "paid 62 quid over there" by the linesman.

Truly, we live in strange times and I leave it very much to you to decide which of the above is the weirdest, but my money is on the removal of the banner that you see below by the Emirates Thought Police before Sunday's match. Surely, Arsenal cannot be so ashamed of their ticketing policy that they demand the police remove any public mention of it? And obviously, in a democracy, the police would never dream of removing a banner containing neither abuse, nor defamation, unless they felt it disturbing for the public to read the contents? But they were right, whoever they were, to take it away. It does make disturbing reading. Meantime, the authors have found far greater publicity for their message because of the club's actions. Another ball in the back of the Arsenal net then. 

This banner was removed by the police at The Emirates Stadium.

++++

Some would say an entrance fee of £100, instead of the much talked about £62 that the away fans were charged on this occasion, might still have been a bargain in the circumstances. If we knew what was coming, it would make things so much easier, wouldn't it?

With the pre-match furore over Arsenal's choice of ticket prices, you just knew this would be the occasion - with damn near everyone missing for one reason or another - that City would finally put their biggest bogey fixture to bed. Tucked up, lights out and away you go. May Arsenal away never present such a problem again.

After all, we have long since bounced around the Anfield Road and at White Hart Lane and even Old Trafford a couple of times, so it really was more than time to bury the Great Arsenal Jinx. And bury it we did. In truth, with a little more composure in front of goal from Tevez and Dzeko, with a little more luck, this game would have been well beyond Arsenal by the time Kompany received his marching orders with a quarter of an hour to go.

What a treat was served up for us all. As the records keep tumbling, some of us have to keep pinching ourselves. A trophy drought so long it would have made the Gobi Desert look like a mangrove swamp has been followed by something of a flood. We seem to have unwittingly entered the Land of Milk and Honey in a canoe. A win at Arsenal, which has eluded City sides for so long most there yesterday will not remember it, confirms almost as much as the three shiny pots City have gathered in the last three years: this club has arrived on the big stage. How long City stay there is open to conjecture, with the unusual and complex brotherhood of the hard done to gathering their support behind the scenes ready to put up the barricades and syphon off the proceeds for the good of the game.

For the record, Asa Hartford, Joe Royle and Rodney Marsh were the scorers on Saturday 4th October 1975 at Highbury. Only 24,928 watched as Arsenal pulled back to 3-2 through Alan Ball and Alex Cropley. One wonders how many of those present made it to the match on Sunday. City fans have seen so many goals go in at the "wrong" end since then that it is a wonder there are still 2,000 of us prepared to put themselves through the mangle each season. Hope springs eternal, however. We forgive and forget. The pastings, the humiliations, the screamers from Henry and Bergkamp, the tricks and flicks of Wiltord and Pires, the punishment of watching Paul Dickov bounce continually off Steve Bould and Tony Adams, it all sinks gently into the dark recesses of the mind to gather dust. All accept Alan Kernaghan. I just cannot seem to get rid of that.

Steve Bould was the much heralded addition to the Arsenal coaching staff in the summer and, initially, everyone was ever so pleased with the effect of his defensive teachings. "This will make the  difference" everyone chirruped. "This is what Arsenal have been missing," they shouted, before falling quiet again, as The Gunners resumed their relationship with the unnecessary concession of avoidable goals, a habit continued in this game. For the first, the defence went to sleep as a quick free kick was taken; for the second Zabaleta made yet another less-than-50:50-ball his and the regained possession led to goal number two.

Indeed, even before the breakthrough, Arsenal were playing with fire at the back: Laurent Koscielny's affectionate tackle on Edin Dzeko after 10 minutes of the contest had a little of the "they shall not pass" of the Arsenal of old. Koscielny is a native of Tulle in Limousin (pronounced "Tool"), a region of France famous for its love of rugby and for its funny-shaped cows, which speaks volumes for his slightly agricultural style. Tulle's local fly half could not have done a better job on this occasion. The town also started an ambitious policy for sport in the region, we are told, allowing it to be voted Most Sporting Region in France in 2008. Whether Koscielny's unsporting attempts at putting an early dent in City's attacking at the Emirates will spoil their chances of success in the 2013 contest is not recorded and, to be perfectly honest, who cares?

The red card, awarded correctly by Mike Dean, who also managed to deliver one less clearly deserved to Vincent Kompany for a clean but robust tackle on Jack Wilshire, certainly tipped the balance towards City very early in the game. Mercifully, Kompany's card came late and had little effect, other than to make City shut up shop at two-nil. What transpired in between these two cards was a festival of swashbuckling tackles, clever possession and intelligent use of the ball by City. Gradually Arsenal's reserves of energy were frittered away by the constant switching of play from one side of the pitch to another. For this, Milner, Barry, Zabaleta, Clichy and Garcia must be congratulated. The ball pinged from player to player, with red shirts covering extra yards to try to recover it.

The fulcrum for all of this possession was once again the 'Little Magician' David Silva, who had an absolute field day in the acres of space left by Arsenal's ten men. Add to that the slightly puzzling presence of the lumbering Diaby, who never got near to providing a block on City's forward movement, and you had a stage set for the little Prince of Passes.

One lost count of the times a move of 15 or 20 passes looked like coming to an end, only for the ball to be funnelled through to the diminutive Spaniard and for another outlet to be located almost immediately. Where others see a forest of trees, the little man sees wide open pastures. He can thread it, ping it, slide it or dink it. He can punt it, caress it, slip it or drag it. He can reverse it, tuck it, flick it or strike it. In fact the only thing David Silva cannot do with a ball - and we must try not to hold this against him - is make it disappear altogether, although Wilshire and Ramsey might want to argue even that point.

Indeed arguing was what Arsenal seemed to do best on this occasion. There can be little doubt that the early decisions got their goat, but seldom can a Wenger side have badgered the referee so thoroughly and so frequently as today. Kompany's "red card tackle", a clean attack on the ball, arriving well before Wilshire, and playing the ball not the man, might not have been punished with a sending off had the Arsenal players not reacted as if their team mate had been rugby tackled, for instance. Giroud, Wilshire and Vermaelen in particular spent most of the afternoon wearing expressions which suggested painful constipation. Perhaps the players out there on the pitch were aware that they would go down in history as the first Arsenal team to concede on home territory to Manchester City for 38 years. Funny as it may have seemed 10, 15 or 25 years ago, that in itself is no longer anything to be greatly embarrassed about.

 A shorter version of this article featured on ESPN's City pages

 Other ESPN links:
- Mangan: Gunners lose it in the first half
- Brewin: Arsenal masters of their own downfall
- Man City to appeal Kompany red card


Michael Cox breaks down the tactics in The Guardian 

Friday, January 11, 2013

ARSENAL: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

The title of this piece is a little misleading. We are not descending into more foul words about the price of tickets. Many more erudite than me have been there, boycotted this and sworn at that several times already. Now we're back on the football, the actual matter that glues us all together, for good or bad and, in the case of City's visits to North London, it has been indescribably bad almost all the time for a very long time. 38 years is a long time to wait for a league win at Arsenal, I think most people would agree. Since then, a few million gallons of water have passed under the bridge. Where were you in 1975?

Deep breath, then, and let's see if we can avenge *some* of these little mishaps down the years:

1996, with a flying back four of Summerbee, Symonds, Kernaghan + Frontzeck, a miracle it was only 1-3 really.  Here Alan Kernaghan, takes off in the vague direction of John Hartson in a season of text book defending, but only if your text book happened to be a collection of cartoons about The Misadventures of Betty Boop..


Ali Bernabia sees red at Highbury in 2002. Score 1-2.





Tony Coton about to see yellow in a dull 0-0 draw in 1993

Fitzroy Simpson struggles to no avail in 1992. Scoreline 0-1

A home game, this one, so it doesn't really count. Still, memorable for the ovation the Gunners were given at half-time by the Maine Road faithful, as we watched our men trudge off 0-4 down. One-all draw second half, mind you.

One of City's better days at Highbury in ahem recent years. This is 1991 and a stirring 2-2 draw. Seems like only yesterday.
Nicklas Jensen gets the better of Sylvain Wiltord in 2002, but City lose 1-2

1981: Rafael Meade, anybody? Another reverse, this time 0-1

If there is one that needs avenging more than most, it is this shocker from 1983. Three games before the end of the season, a demoralising pasting at Highbury. Three weeks later, the unthinkable had happened and City were relegated.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ALL GOOD FRIENDS AND JOLLY GOOD COMPANY

Let's start this piece by saying I wish to be as charitable to Arsenal and its cherished history as I am sure Gunners fans would be towards Manchester City and its equally sumptuous past. After all, the legacy of Richie Powling, Gus Caesar, Trevor Ross, Alex Cropley and Willie Young still warms the cockles of the heart on cold winter mornings like this.

All is well in the sweet-smelling world of the Barclays Premier League
Arsenal, you see, have given us a lot of things that we should be glad for: the marble halls and proud flagpoles of Highbury, those Archibald Leitch latticework facades to the stands, the Clock and its famous End, Alan Ball and his squeaky voice, Stroller Graham, Charlie George flat on his back at Wembley, Peter Storey in and out of jail, Alan Sunderland's bubble perm, not to mention the modern-day wonders of Bergkamp, Vieira and little Sylvinho.

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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

THINGS YOU DON'T...PART 65

Manchester City versus Watford in the FA Cup. Before nobody wanted to know the Cup That Cheers. Before Sky only televised live cup ties between United and Someone and Chelsea and Someone. Match of the Day cameras are present. Bit of John Motson on the video after the pub and The Leadmill if I remember to set the thing properly.

The Kippax is bubbling with expectation. Watford arrive with Elton John, Graham Taylor, Kenny Jackett, John Barnes and Tony Coton in tow. City supply Gordon Davies and a Jack Russell terrier for the fun. 

Halcyon Days. Boys in Tacchini clobber; away support dwarfed by the mass of slatted seats in the Platt Lane. The smell of wet burgers and fags everywhere. Simple Minds on the tannoy. Cracking football match, only partially ruined by the sight of Davies and Mark Lillis doing the hokey kokey to celebrate City's lead. Lillis's shorts ending just under his armpits. Scoreboard in the North Stand saying "H--p! boooo:y Tim f.*m Sale".

Mick McCarthy assuring the ref it wasn't a penalty with calm words and bristling moustache. Kenny Jacket's left foot swipe into the corner. Lillis tries the same and smacks the post. A replay at Vicarage Road the next Tuesday affording time enough for the local police to collect their helmets and the rest of us to day trip to Hertfordshire. Far too complicated these days.

A second replay the week after. Queues as long as the Great Wall of China in the freezing sleet and snow. Good job I slipped the sheepskin coat and the Ellesse trainers on. Hoping it's been worth the effort. How come it takes so long to put 27,000 in the ground? 15 minutes gone by the time we get in. Tch, that's paying on the gate for you! Mercifully we've not missed a goal. Kippax seems pretty full. Must be Swales and his tax avoidance schemes. No way the crowd's only 27,000. 

Watford score three in the 2nd half. Wish I'd not bothered now. Even the little dog on the pitch is faster than our attack. Reading or Bury in the 5th round. Could have been a cup quarter final. Ah bugger. And then there's Steve Kinsey. There'll be a fight about that on the bus back to Piccadilly.

Unreconstructed football experience. Still snowing outside. Huddled figures dart off down Claremont Road. I take a last look back at the towering floodlights, the rolls of barbed wire and pointy bits of glass on the tops of the perimetre walls. Brilliant. See you on Saturday for QPR.

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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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