Showing posts with label Aguero. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aguero. Show all posts

Thursday, February 7, 2013

OF LEE AND KENNEDY

Liverpool, until quite recently, were more of a full-blown Friday the 13th hoodoo to Manchester City than a mere boogey-team. At the height of their pomp and glory years three decades ago, they managed 85 unbeaten home games on the trot. That astonishing feat occurred between January 1978 and January 1981. That's three whole years unbeaten at Anfield, a period during which City got tanned a few times, too.

- Aguero brilliance rescues point

Liverpool supporters would probably accept the offer of a month unbeaten these days, but Sunday's performance at the Etihad gave this correspondent a view back on many years of anguish and embarrassment, as Liverpool rolled back at least some of those years to produce a surprisingly fluid and dominant display at the home of the champions. 


The clown and the sorcerer
So resolute and chipper did they become, in fact, that a rare home defeat looked in the cards until Sergio Aguero played the angles to score a sumptuous equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw. It had been a game chock full of mistakes, mislaid passes and flying, mistimed tackles but was decorated with four beautiful goals. Once again, the English Premier League laid on an error-ridden slide fest that, by the end, had everyone glued to its every hop, every skip and every bump.

It had already become evident Tuesday at Loftus Road that City were not on the brink of any great breakthrough of form or cohesion, as they struggled to get around the bottom club's pedestrian defence. Down Hill and around Derry, there had been no way through to a goal ably marshaled by Julio Cesar. Liverpool's defence presented an altogether different prospect, with Daniel Agger looking like the leftover from a biker fistfight and Jamie Carragher older and wiser in the dark arts of mugging than the hills themselves. Behind them, Pepe Reina trained his sights, slapped his enormous gloves together and checked his angles. 


You can read the full article here via ESPNFC 

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

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 
 

Monday, November 26, 2012

TO ABSENT FRIENDS

Dave Sexton brought Chelsea success in the early 70s

October 1971. 52,000 people watched Dave Sexton's Chelsea draw with 2nd placed Manchester City. Then as now the immediate reaction to exiting Stamford Bridge with a point should have been positive and upbeat, but left a sour taste in the mouth. Almost exactly 41 years later, the point gained on this frenetic, mistake-pocked afternoon, felt strangely like two less than City might have secured.

For a side that, until very recently, could count 0-5 and 0-6 thrashings as the sort of things that "happen" when visiting the King's Road, surely a point is a rare thing of beauty? True, it represents the fifth draw of the season already, matching last season's grand total. True it came on the back of quite a lot of solid defending and not much else, but it also came against a Chelsea side badly out of sorts and still adapting to this month's manager. City may have had the edge in possession and in shots on goal and also, for that matter, in decent goal-scoring chances, but the ball did not look remotely like going into Cech's net, even when dispatched plum off Aguero's head towards the goal from six yards.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

WINNERS AND WINNING

Today might not be the very best moment to wax lyrical about Lance Armstrong, but there are plenty of other strains of professional sport that carry solid examples of people, who know how to win at the top and keep winning. Every dog has his day, some might say, but how do you harness all that is good about what you achieved in a one-off situation and do it again? And again. How do you sustain this when all around you are busy sussing you out, improving their own efforts and wanting to occupy your space?

Because every first time victory runs the risk of being a one-off, unless you can capture the magic ingredients and reproduce them when the adrenaline flow is not rushing like a torrent. For Manchester City, this has become an interesting test. When your first trophy comes after a wait of 44 years and is followed by your first League title in a manner so unique, so unbelievably raw, it might just be a slither beyond you to recreate the circumstances necessary to repeat the performance.

Or not.

                                                            
Murtaz Shelia: no lack of physical toughness ...

Anyone living in the North West in the last 25 years will be aware of what has been achieved at Old Trafford. Much to the disdain of City supporters, the juggernaut driven by the Scottish cup thrower, has kept thundering forward despite challenges from all points of the compass. Say what you like about Alex Ferguson, and many of us do on a regular basis, but he has instilled an unbreakable spirit in five, maybe six, different United sides down the years. Look at the names in some of the more recent sides he has built and you will be hard pressed to be impressed: Bardsley, O'Shea, the two hobbits, Gibson, Phil Neville, Anderson. City fans have taken special pride in laughing out loud whenever any of these hove into view, but they have all played their part in winning games for United that most other teams would have lost, given up as dead long before the final whistle sounded.

How long and hard we studied, re-studied and then complained about all those late winners. Soft refs, bent refs, a manager bullying everyone from the sidelines, tapping that bloody watch of his and looking like a kettle about to go off. It seemed to happen every single week, starting with Ferguson and Brian Kidd, now happily and ironically ensconced in the comfy chairs alongside Robert Mancini at the Etihad, doing the fandango six metres inside the Old Trafford touchline when Steve Bruce scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday in the 6th minute of added time to draw United ever closer to their first Premier League title in 1993. Ferguson was tapping his watch that day too, first to send the clear message to the referee not to stop the game before United had done the business and, when they had done it in such late and dramatic circumstances, to tell him he was now allowing too much time. You marvelled at the bare-faced cheek. They won the league and we spat feathers. Then they did it another 11 times and the place went dark. 

(Of 45 clubs who have competed for the Premier League since its inception ("the beginning of football") in 1992, only five have won the title: Man Utd (12); Arsenal (3); Chelsea (3) plus one each to City and Blackburn Rovers....)


I have long stopped marvelling at stuff like that. It gave me stomach ulcers in the nineties and turned me prematurely bitter in my 30s. I still wear a smile like a man who has been kicked in the groin by a llama every time I am introduced to a surprise United supporter. If I have no time to prepare myself, I can become a bit of a mess. "Oh, you follow the (cough) reds? Aha (spills drink)...".


They didn't exactly ruin my life, only Colin Schindler can get away with statements like that, but they have changed it for the worse on countless occasions.

Kidd and Ferguson rejoice in Steve Bruce
"The champion DNA of Manchester United has been infected by City's triumphant emergence."

And then, a little while back, something quite invigorating happened. Something odd and unusual. Something that made my 35 years of bitterness evaporate in 20 seconds flat. I kept the disorientation. Indeed that became quickly and stupendously worse. I kept the giddiness and I kept the surreptitious dark humour that anything that could go wrong will do just that, but in the light of what I had just experienced, it was plainly complete rot. With a confident smack of his right foot, Sergio Aguero had banished a lifetime's worth of attempted full-on misery and gleeful masochism. I had been building it, layer upon intricate layer, like some giant self-propelling trifle, for practically all of my life, as tearful non-comprehending child (thank you Kenny Hibbitt and Gary Pearce), sweary adolescent (take a bow, Paul Hendrie, Sammy Chapman, Peter Willis, Alf Grey), inebriated student (yes, you, Jimmy Sirrell, and you, Raddy Antic and you, John Benson) through to the gleefully morose days of full adulthood (Jamie Pollock, I'm looking at you, Jason van Blerk, Alan Ball, God and all his witnesses, the seven riders of the apocalypse, Nayim, Peter Swales, Barry Conlon, Andre Kanchelskis, all of you, all of you).

And now it came tumbling down in a cloud of brick dust and flying bottles. As did I and all around me.

Since that moment, life has not been the same in football circles in Manchester. There is no longer much hope of a belly laugh from Manchester City jokes. It is better to take them seriously. As for Ferguson and his stopwatch. Well, he still taps his forearm, but the confident gestures have gone and the powers are on the wane. he taps and he taps but those late goals are not so plentiful anymore. They still occur of course, as do the comebacks, but the champion DNA of Manchester United has been infected by City's triumphant emergence. They see someone else, their neighbours of all people, making good the same philosophy, the same metal toughness and organisation that has brought them such success. This sows doubts. The seeds are sprouting.

City meanwhile are collecting in the crop. Look at these figures:

Season 2012-13 so far -

12th August 2012 CHELSEA (Comm Shield) - 1-0 down, come back to win 3-2
19th August 2012 SOUTHAMPTON (h) - 2-1 down, come back to win 3-2, Nasri winner 80th minute
26th August 2012 LIVERPOOL (a) 2-1 down, come back to draw, Tevez 80th minute
1st September 2012 QPR (h) Pegged back to 1-1, win 3-1, Tevez 90th minute warps it up
15th September 2012 STOKE (a) - one nil down, come back to draw, with Dzeko's 93rd minute lob cleared miraculously from the line by Shawcross to avoid a City comeback win
18th September 2012 REAL (a) twice taking the lead in the Bernabeu before falling to dramatic 3-2 loss
29th September FULHAM (a) one down, coming back to win against defensively set up team, Dzeko's winner in 86th minute
3rd October 2012 BORUSSIA DORTMUND (h) 89th minute Balotelli equaliser saves up and down game 
20th October 2012 WEST BROM (a) one down to defensively set up side, Dzeko's goals in 80 and 91 turn it around again for City

In practically every game so far this season, the Blues have either turned a defecit into a draw or a win or have scored late in the game to seal things. Even in the stroll against Sunderland, Milner's goal came on 89 minutes. This is a team that does not know when it is beaten; it is a team that keeps going in the face of lengthening odds. Wonder of wonders, I am not talking about Ferguson's troupe but the new teak tough Manchester City, with a mentality of champions.

"The players and staff of Manchester City have now arrived in a completely different place, one where they can marry, in a team environment, the rational and physical with the emotional and make this marriage work regularly and reliably for their own advancement."

Brian Kidd: part of 4 different Manchester dynasties

The mind drifts back to last season's blur of tear-stained action. Last gasp winners v Chelsea and Spurs as Nasri skipped home and Balotelli banged in yet another ice cool penalty; at Arsenal in the League Cup with that sumptuous counter by Dzeko, Johnson and Aguero; the late flurry of activity at Old Trafford; then there was strange old day in May to cap it all off. By that tumultuos denouement, City had hoisted themsleves not only into first place, but also to the top of the rankings covering late winners. More goals, in fact, scored after the 90th minute than any other side in the division. Who would have thought we would be saying that about City ten years ago?

I well remember several games, two versus Birmingham in the late nineties in particular, where the club had managed to cultivate the exact opposite to waht we see today: a deadly ability to concede in added time. Dele Adebola. A name I will never forget. I remember the unlikely bulk of Murtaz Shelia giving us the lead at St Andrews in some God-forsaken, mud-splattered second division game. It was the 88th minute when the lolloping Georgian netted. We lost that game 2-1. Birmingham's goals came in the 94th and 97th minutes. The rot set in so deep that the club's decline to the third tier of English football felt in many ways inevitable. The resurrection since then has been nothing short of remarkable.

That trophies now sit proudly on the Etihad mantlepiece is one thing. That we use the word in the plural, without fear of being hit by a barrage of belly laughs is quite another. The players and staff of Manchester City have now arrived in a completely different zone, one where they can marry, in a team environment, the rational, and physical with the emotional and make this marriage work regularly and reliably for their own advancement. As Lance Armstrong would tell you, only a dope throws that sort of gold away. 

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Psychology of sport - Further viewing: Dr Steve Peters, Olympic consultant, gives as good as he gets on BBC World's Hardtalk, on the subject of our "inner chimps" here:



 

Brian Kidd joins his boss on the pitch after Steve Bruce's 96th min winner v Wednesday

 




Wednesday, May 16, 2012

IN OUR LIFETIME

The season that started with a rocket off the right foot of Sergio Aguero against stubborn promoted Swansea City finished with a rocket off the right foot of Sergio Aguero against stubborn promoted Queen's Park Rangers. Perfect symmetry in a 10 month period that felt anything but planned out.

What passed in between and particularly what passed in between minute 46 and minute 95 of the very last game of this never-to-be-forgotten trail of emotional carnage, will go down as simply the most heart-rending, coronary-inducing second half of professional football that even the good and battered folk of Manchester City have ever witnessed.

Letter for Mr Lost Hope of Manchester
I kept the shoes that I ruined at Wembley in 1999, ripped and stained from leaping through twelve rows of ancient wooden slatted seats and the airborne cocktail of a thousand and one drinks, as a badge of honour that I had been there the day the world went mental. That my beloved Manchester City have now outdone even those moments of tragi-comic farce is quite simply beyond belief. Through the shredder one last time, but this time a proper shredding, a proper mangling of the senses to the point that your brain, your soul, your entire crumpled body cannot take any more punishment.

This was not simply an attempt to rid ourselves of 44 years of hurt and exasperation; it was not simply a long awaited moment of glory in the sun; it wasn't just getting monkeys, little (red) devils and the inexorable weight of history off our bent shoulders: this was a battle made in Manchester, against the old enemy, an enemy who has rubbed our noses in the dirt, ridiculed us at every opportunity and, right up to the very last opportunity (for that is quite clearly what this was) written us off as a music hall joke and a bad taste in the back of the mouth. Suddenly, with a sonic bang the size of a meteorite storm, the mockery of three decades exploded in the faces of our tormentors. Just as the final ignominy of defeat in the cruelest possible way stared us all squarely in the chops, as the mockers prepared their grandest trumpeting of all, the world tipped swiftly on its axis and emptied them all into the car park at Sunderland.

How had it come to this? With an unorthodox goal from the foot of Zabaletta meant to calm the frayed nerves, our beloved City suddenly returned to its Benny Hill roots. We had seen it all so many times before, but here was a custard pie being prepared for us by Chef Fate that would drown the lot of us. We would surely cease to breathe under all that blubber and slime.

We had an unlikely equaliser (when did Lescott last do one of those?), a pantomime villain, whose shameful antics actually helped tot up the injury time that would later on come in pretty useful) and a familiar twist of the knife that transported us all back to the days of Raddy Antic in a split second.  Mackie's downward header was perfect. I was back in my youth immediately, a time when anything that could go wrong at City generally did and in a way so spectacular, it was always impossible to shake it away.

Time moved on in its own comforting way. The agony would soon be over at least.

When all seemed lost in that blurred, tear stained 92nd minute with the deathly fingers of despair gripping coldly at our hearts, a twist of the giant familiar frame of Edin Dzeko brought our attention snapping back to the pitch, littered with tired and wasted bodies. Minds numb, legs turning to jelly, the confused noise of despair and anger and heartache echoing around the ground. A helicopter hovered above to take bird's eye shots of our horror (a sparkling new angle on despair) or, as Gareth Barry wondered quietly to himself, to lift the trophy off to the North East. Enter Edin Dzeko, the man ill-served by City's delightful chicken tikka taka silver service football. The man who feeds off crosses had finally been given one, served on a plate direct from the corner quadrant by that little left foot genius David Silva. In the tumult, there was no time to feel sorry for Dzeko, to wave farewell to a player possibly banging in his last meaningful action in a City shirt after a stalled sky blue career. We were all still far too busy feeling deeply sorry for ourselves. What was this last tremulous insult to our battered senses? A meaningless injury time goal just to make it even more painful when the final whistle went? One more strung out tease for us all to choke on?

Mancini, an increasingly ragged, forlorn and spent-looking figure on the touchline, waved his arms like a threshing machine. Go forward, get up, go again, move your legs even if your brains are saying "get me out of this pit of hell". He swore blindly in Italian, then in English, unsure whether he was still in control of his mind. Run one last metre for the cause. As with Kevin Horlock in 99, most of us just sat, rooted, cemented to history, locked in with our tin drum and our tattered banner reading "Manchester City: Cup For Cock-ups, winners 2012, Winners yet again. Winners For All Time.". We were set to keep the trophy this time. My mind, a confusion of wild thoughts and diminishing hope, raced from Horlock to Goater to Dickov. It seemed so long ago, yet so fresh, now that City were revisiting Pandemonium County and skipping about reacquainting themselves with the furniture of disaster. We had reveled in our Jamie Pollocks and our Jason van Blerks before kick off. Thank God, never to see the likes of that again. Gone but not forgotten.

But here they were, knocking loudly on the front door, shouting through the letter box, "Hey it's us, Jamie and Jason. Let us in! We've brought cakes and everything!"

I could hear knocking, certainly, but it turned out to be my knees, my teeth and my heart. there was no Jamie Pollock at the door. No cakes. Maybe not even custard.

Got
Meantime, the game in Sunderland had finished. Happy clappies were beginning to get down to the serious business of the biggest piss take in British football history. There was even an old man with half a teddy bear on his head. It was all happening. Ferguson meandered half clapping, half looking around, that face of disbelief at the never-dared-trust-in-it news. More out of habit than need, he tapped away at his watch, as if he might also bring a game 200 miles away to an immediate close too.

Two-two with ten man QPR, who'd have believed it possible? The team with the worst away record in the league, led by good old Sparky Hughes, leading at City, with their pristine home record. The words must have skipped through the head of Ferguson, preparing for for the sky interviews: the lack of class, the no-history, the noisy neighbours put a sock in it, the endless endless jibes about never recovering from a screw-up like this. Fergsuon it had been, who had spoken of Devon Loch and of hoping that something funny would happen.at the Etihad. Well here we were, all dressed up for a party, staring down the gullet of the biggest choke in football history. It was going to be funny but as usual not a single soul in the ground would be laughing. The joke, yet again, would be on us.

What occurred next defies proper description, but Ferguson will only have considered it funny, in the manner of strange, but not amusing. Not a chuckle will have passed those claret coloured lips, not a toot on the bordeaux-coloured hooter. Nothing. What occurred next scorched images into our subconscious that we will take to the grave with us. Every one of us, blue, red or neutral. For once the fates looked down on the heaps of pitiful, wrecked hopes, the old men staring glassy-eyed, the children blubbing, even the kid trying to dismantle his seat with a rolled up tshirt and the world tipped again. It tipped De Jong forward, dragging the legs of a man who has made a thousand and one meaty tackles to guide the ball carefully into the path of Aguero. It reached the Argentine, who had run himself into the ground, the superstar with the ego of Joe Bloggs. He touched the ball forward, backed by the primal screech of 48,000 lost souls. Once again, the wall of opposition defenders reared up in front of us like the breakwater at Devonport Docks. Ten men or twenty. It mattered little. There was and had been no way through QPR's sumptuous 15-0-0-0 formation all day long.

The ball jittered forward to Balotelli, a peripheral figure in these final excruciating weeks, but now came his moment. Like Dzeko, Balotelli now stood up to be counted. The apparently flaky, untrustworthy party boy with the penchant for bathroom barbecues, stood tall in the middle of the heaving scrum and played his part in the unfolding miracle. Falling off balance from a rugged knee to the backs of his legs, the Italian managed to prod it, staggering, back in to Aguero's path. The noise and the heat and the clamour gripped the whole place one more time. Minute 94 on the clock. Hearts not in mouths but somewhere on the floor, in the gutter, under our shoes. There was still a wall of red and white to pass. Nedum Onouha, of all people, standing firm like a brick barrier. The crowd sucked Aguero past the ex-City defender's outstretched foot, one twinkle-toed touch pressing the ball past the ends of Onouha's desperate flapping boot laces.

Time stood still. Darkness, light, darkness light, darkness, light. The very eye of the storm. The tumultuous noise was funnelled down into a vortex of tight emotion, into a tiny neat cube the size of an ant. Silence. Darkness, light, darkness, light. A trembling shadow cupping its hands over its ears and eyes. The scene blurred and flickered, as if the Gods themselves were preparing to batten down for one last seismic jump. Aguero steadied himself, looked up and unleashed an arrowing shot past Kenny's flailing left hand. And.       In.                             To.
  
The.                


Back.                     Of.                                                                                      The.


Net.

+

Cue uproar
Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. LIGHT! White light. ferocious white heat and light engulfed us all like a fireball. Blazing, eye-piercing light, dazzling tumultuous light. A feral scream that had been building for 44 years. Floating, screeching, running, pedalling, paddling, flying, soaring, roaring incredulity. A bees nest. A time-lapse of a giant heap of ants the size of Kilimanjaro. A mosh pit, a giant heaving mosh pit of crumpled, exhausted humanity, dragging out whatever they had left inside and spluttering it, coughing it, vomiting it out. Bubbling fizzing incredulity. Bodies everywhere, on the pitch and off, in front rooms and bars, horizontal, climbing the walls, leaping, flying bodies.

How could they do this to us? Again.

The whistle went almost immediately. City's 44th goal attempt, in the 94th minute of the last game of the season to win the title on goal difference. Ahead of Them. And Him. The heroes stacked up in my flying mind: Zabaletta of all people with the first goal, his first goal of the season, a man of the old school of hit get hit dust yourself and move on; Yaya Touré, that giant galloping foreman in midfield, reduced here to a limping pedestrian and still popping the pass through for Zabaletta to score. On one bloody leg! Gareth Barry and his eternal bridesmaid's role, mopping up, mopping up, hoovering up, watching the big bird in the sky come to take his trophy away; David Silva, playing on through loss of form and shattered limbs to set up Dzeko's equaliser; Dzeko himself, discarded and ignored but bearing no grudges; Joleon Lescott breathing the biggest sigh of relief; the little thief Tevez, not at his best here, but what an impact he had made in the miraculous six-win streak that had seen us home; Clichy the unsung hero down the left engulfed in the giant safe arms of Joe Hart, that man of iron; and then the two main men: Kompany the rock at the back, strangely beaten here by Traore for the stunning second QPR goal but a fist pumping marvel all season long; and Aguero, for ever to be remembered for the goal that brought the house down, the goal that changed the course of football history just when we were resigning ourselves to More Of The Same.

And there was poor Brian Kidd. On the pitch again, just like that other time. And Mancini, the orchestrator of this grande festival of the insane, dancing into the arms of his staff like a marionette suddenly freed of its strings, wobbly legs and electric arms thrashing at the air. When he had stopped, he looked to the stands, maybe searching out his frail father, patted his heart and made a very Italian gesture, which Mancunians will translate as "I nearly shat myself there".

But it is a different world we wake up to today. One ripe with possibilities. Gone are the mocking voices, the brickbats, the music hall jokes, the pitiful droning of the Terry Christians of this world. The world has woken up to Manchester City and its wonky DNA.

It finally happened. In our lifetime and in his and its manner of deliverance has only served to make the wait all the sweeter. For those a little long in the tooth and those new to this drama alike, a cathartic moment of release from all those demons chasing us up hill and down dale.

Thank you, City, for carrying us all through such a sweet sweet hell.

Sergio approaches the Mosh Pit


Friday, March 16, 2012

THE WILD BUNCH

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour...". In that case someone just stole my bruschetta.

Having cantered a lethargic Iberian kilometre or two and fallen asleep under a cork tree, those fine fellows in blue finally decided to wake up. Just in time. Or ever so slightly too late. That depends on your view of Joe Hart's slowly diving header, his shirt being held firmly by the desperate panting figure of Daniel Carriço, as he lurched towards the ball and his unerring date with destiny. 

"The Lion King"
So, it's goodbye cruel Europe, goodbye strangely attractive Europa League and goodbye oddly plastic Champions League. We can't quite say it's been a ball. Things are too raw for that, but we've had our moments. Our first bite at the Champions league could not have been more sour, departing with ten points, a feat not achieved by anybody for seven years. Instead we left with memories of the Munich Oktoberfest, the flare-lit Naples sky, the birth of the David Silva song in a concrete Spanish precinct. We swayed and chatted on the tree-lined streets of Lisbon and down by the river in Porto. The "craic" on occasions was as epic as any of us could manage. We rearranged the plastic furniture, banged the tin trays had quite a time.

Until now that is. Last night, we had so many moments, we could have opened a clock shop. Still Signor Mancini tells us this morning it is all his fault: "After Porto, maybe we thought Sporting will be easy," he says, echoing his remarks after underestimating Everton too. How so. Do we not do our homework anymore, so sure have we become of our own dizzying powers? Nobody in their right mind thinks a visit to either Goodison Park or Lisbon can be deemed an opportunity to pick daisies.

Back to the maelstrom. Quite how City had plugged the holes and dragged themselves back into it is unclear. A misfiring David Silva (so this is what it looks like when its batteries have gone), transparent Adam Johnson (is he there? I can see straight through to the other side!) and a wide-eyed David Pizzaro left the field and the come-back began almost immediately. Dzeko the totem pole, such a figure of fun these last few weeks, wound the whole place up and we charged back into a game we had already cast to the four winds.

We all know what momentum does in football, both during games and whole chunks of the season, but this City side - if it has a weakness - is sometimes a bit slow on the uptake regarding how to make it work for us, preferring one more little sideways pass back to De Jong or one more little dink into space for Savic to lope back towards his own goal and chase. The goal and indeed our goal is at the other end, however, and, once we had re-tuned Yaya's direction-finder, we were off and running. If Dzeko was the catalyst, Aguero was the little metronome, who delivered the gifts.

A City Moment
So quiet in the first leg, the little Argentine suddenly got those tree trunk thighs pumping down the right, the immaculate ball control backed by the foul-me-if-you-dare runs into the box, swerving, jettisoning defenders in his bubbling wake. In went the first one, a marvelously hooked snapshot. In went the penalty, a slightly dubious award (outside or in, a foul or a breath of wind?) as Aguero again came flying into Renato Neto's view and out again. In - amazingly by now - went the third one, Aguero again, marginally onside thanks to substitute Carillo's positioning, displaying his uncanny ability to trap, deaden and dispatch the ball in one fluid blur of that stout left peg.

But we needed four by this time. Matias Fernandez's peach of a freekick and Van Wolfswinkel's cool finish after Iszmailov had outfoxed Kolarov (surely not) and swept a teasing, curling, arching right foot cross to the far post, meant Sporting were already in heaven, or at least standing proudly on Cloud Nine, preparing to push the bell on the big golden gate post marked "the Kingdom of Dreams: Europa league Quarter Finals this way. Mind your head". 

The truly injured Pereirinha
Yet, nobody had gone to heaven yet. Five minutes of Pereirinha time (it's my ankle, no it's my calf, ow my leg, no it's my arm. My arm!! oh, look ref, it is my calf after all*) was announced. Time to think of Gillingham and the seven minutes that Mark Halsey bestowed upon us that time, just enough to die and be resurrected. In the fifth and last of those minutes came The Joe Hart Header. Having burst up-field, as often happens in these hair bear bunch moments, the ball fell to the goalkeeper and as he made decent contact with his head, Manchester went into slow motion. A Paul Dickov shivver eased its way down spines from Lisbon to the North West and back. As Hart fell to the turf, on his knees, watching his handywork dip towards the goal, we watched too, the ball arcing slowly round Rui Patrício and.... And. And?   

To be continued....

Decoration:  Matias Fernandez, Kun Aguero
Foulplay:  Pereirinha (
Curtains:  Sá Pinto
Supporting Cast:  Dzeko
Limping man:  Balotelli
Storyline: Mickey Mouse
Visual Effects:  Sam Peckinpah
Grip:  Rui Patrício
Stunt department: Joe Hart
Disclaimer - Characters and incidents portrayed and the names herein are fictitious, and any similarity to the name, character or history of any person in reality involved in the technicolour dream sequence that is Manchester City FC is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

* The Portuguese press later reported that Pereirinha had fallen awkwardly in a challenge with Dzeko and had had a dislocated shoulder popped back into place on the sidelines. This does not explain his other "injuries" that occurred beforehand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FORM & SHAPE






The Balotelli Incident now means that Roberto Mancini enters yet another critical phase of this season of critical phases with diminishing prospects upfront. Whilst many are gnashing their teeth and rubbing their armpits in anguish (some perhaps even reduced to Roy Hodgsonesque temple-agitation) I believe this is an opportunity for City to put down a serious marker. Clubs at the top are obviously being forced to take the Blues seriously, but a positive outcome at Anfield would really underline the fact that, despite all the water seeming to flow in the opposite direction at the moment, we can canoe with the best of them.

Shorn of our captain, the best central defender in Europe at the moment, without our most influential midfielder bar one in Yaya Touré and with a mounting press campaign to get the likes of Balotelli and Lescott removed from the playing fields of England, City have come through a period of form loss and massive disruption with a three point lead at the top of the Premier League.That's some slump.

Monday, August 29, 2011

RAPTURE

Three games in (four with Wembley's game of two halves) and we have a picture of incredulous beauty at the top of the table. Spoiled only by the fast-withering Arsenal's act of total down-tools at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon.

That's the way to do it
Often have been the times that City have sat atop the table after one or two games, less frequently after 3 and, beyond that into the meaty part of the football season, well, more like the frequency of the appearances of a laughing Colonel Gaddafi looking for a cool glass of lemonade and a goat sandwich at a late night Tripoli coffee bar.

It has quickly become apparent that this season's incarnation of the great shambling bulk known as Manchester City is nimble, wily, forceful and precise. No more stumbling. No more lofted balls into the highstreet. This is Chicken Tikka-Taka at its most effervescent. In all three league games to date Mancini's class of 2011-12 have played the type of controlled, fast intricate passing manouevres that gives defenders a headache merely trying to watch the ball, never mind keep up with it. The eyes slowly cross.

Nasri's immediate addition against Tottenham made for even more slick, laser-accurate passing. Little one-twos, feints, touches, turns, flicks and moves into space to receive and set off again. Spurs were quickly and irretrievably tied into little tidy knots, the cumbersome-looking pair of Kaboul and Dawson having no answers to the light-footed acceleration of City's mini dynamos. Even the gutsy but hardly Maradona-esque Zabaleta was moved to perform a little arabesque in passing Modric in the second half. The mood, it seems, can be catching.

If Swansea put up brave opening night resistance and Bolton never quite gave up the race, Tottenham had a torrid time even getting to the edge of the City box. In their own stadium. When was the last time City set foot on the green grass of one of the recognised elite teams and wiped the very floor with them? You will have to go back longer than my memory will carry me to find an answer. If this were the media's favourite phrase " a statement of intent", then it was written in bold capital letters and hung high from the biggest oak tree on the village green.

The irony of all this mesmerising one touch trickery by the midget maestros Aguero, Silva and Nasri is that the biggest benefactor up to now has been the beanpole Dzeko, now displaying the full towering range of his attributes, as seen week in week out in Wolfsburg down the years. For all those laughing at his efforts last season, there is only the sound of the wind whsitling in the bushes now. Discerning as ever, the City support has picked him out for special praise already and he is fast turning into the goal machine that we thought we had bought earlier. Dzeko offers so much more than goals, though. What a pleasure to see the big man shielding, trapping, taking part in the chicken tikka-taka and banging in such a rich variety of classily dispatched goals that nobody knows what is coming next. A tap in, a thunderous screamer, a twisted backwards header, a gently flighted lob?

And Aguero? Darting urgent powerful. His light-footed performance is an obvious foil for the big man next to him, but the twist and swift flight from dawson for City's 4th, culminating in a rasping shot whilst holding the heavy-breathing defender off, smacks of wonderful artistry mixed with significant force. That low centre of gravity and tree-like thighs are not unlike his father-in-law's after all. If there are more similarities, by all means feel free to display them, Little Man.



In any normal season, we would have been looking at City already comfortable in the driving seat after three games, but Arsene Wenger's odd behaviour down in Islington has assured us of a start to the season anything but normal. That, as ever, has allowed the old enemy to steal our thunder once again, but the feeling remains that this City side has wheeled out some pretty enormous drums to bang this season. That throbbing insistent beat calls a very different tune this time out and the message is more than clear: We're coming to get you.

Here are City's opening games from the last 40 years:

70-71 15 Aug Southampton 1 CITY  1
71-72 14 Aug CITY 0 Leeds 1
72-73 12 Aug Liverpool  2 CITY  0
73-74 25 Aug CITY 3 Birmingham 1
74-75 17 Aug CITY 4 West Ham 0
75-76 16 Aug CITY 3 Norwich 0
76-77 12 Aug Leicester 2 CITY  2
77-78 20 Aug CITY 0 Leicester 0
78-79 19 Aug Derby 1 CITY  1
79-80 18 Aug CITY 0 C. Palace 0
80-81 16 Aug Southampton 2 CITY  0
81-82 29 Aug CITY 2 WBA 1
82-83 28 Aug Norwich 1 CITY  2
83-84 27 Aug C. Palace  0 CITY  2
84-85 24 Aug Wimbledon 2 CITY  2
85-86 17 Aug Coventry  1 CITY  1
86-87 23 Aug CITY 3 Wimbledon 1
87-88 15 Aug CITY  2 Plymouth  1
88-89 27 Aug Hull  1 CITY  0
89-90 19 Aug Liverpool  3 CITY  1
90-91 25 Aug Spurs 3 CITY  1
91-92 17 Aug Coventry  0 CITY  1
92-93 17 Aug CITY 1 QPR 1
93-94 14 Aug CITY 1 Leeds 1
94-95 20 Aug Arsenal  3 CITY  0
95-96 19 Aug CITY 1 Spurs 1
96-97 16 Aug CITY 1 Ipswich  0
97-98 9 Aug CITY 2 Portsmouth  2
98-99 8 Aug CITY 3 Blackpool 0
99-00 8 Aug CITY 0 Wolves  1
00-01 19 Aug Charlton 4 CITY  0
2001-2 11 Aug CITY 3 Watford 0
2002-3 17 Aug Leeds 3 CITY  0
2003-4 17 Aug Charlton 0 CITY  3
2004-5 14 Aug CITY 1 Fulham 1
2005-6 13 Aug CITY 0 WBA 0
2006-7 20 Aug Chelsea  3 CITY  0
2007-8 11 Aug West Ham 0 CITY  2
2008-9 17 Aug Aston Villa  4 CITY  2
2009-10 15 Aug Blackburn 1 CITY  2
2010-11
Spurs0CITY 0







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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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