There we go then. Another season up and running, and not the easiest of places to start it at – but, despite coming away with nothing in the way of points, we have learned an awful lot about our manager and our squad. City might have won, but it was a real squeeze for them, and with £160 million of new “talent” available since last season against our £8million, their fans should really be screaming for better than that. They were screaming for a lot, but most of it was stuff that should have been dealt with a lot sooner, and more effectively, by the stewards. Those on the blue side of the fence spent 89 of the 90 minutes facing us rather the home fans, their one piece of action being to eject a tubby chap in his fifties who’d been acting like a drunken fourteen-year-old since kick-off.
Anyway, back to the action. As is the norm these days, we’d checked in at the Trackside in Bury for cocktails, mingling with the trainspotters (a strange-looking bunch) and a stag party watching a re-run of Murder On The Orient Express as the steam billowed around the platform and the staff confirmed that, yes, the bar had recently been moved and that we hadn’t gone mad. If it isn’t a 3pm kick-off, things tend to get a bit radged, but we coped well and managed to get back to the bus and to the Etihad in plenty of time. More intense searches (the poorly chosen words of the WPC explaining things to the queue) were conducted, which is perfectly understandable, and we were inside in time for Final Score on the tellys and the usual first game “alreet, marra?” greetings.
Then came the surprise, with the team selection.
Love Kaboul Kone PvA
Rodwell O’Shea Gooch
Borini Defoe Watmore
After all the nonsense regarding Kone, it was good to see him in the side, and with injuries to Kirchoff and Catts, and the continuing Russian exile of M’Vila, young Gooch was given a run out ahead of Khazri. Moyes had obviously been taking notice of the way the Lad doesn’t give the ball away, and trusted his judgment. Donald Love made his debut at right back, and kicking away from the packed away end, helped us break forward and win a free-kick. PVA goal, we thought, but he couldn’t beat the City keeper Caballero, who, unburdened by hair products, pushed the effort away from his right hand post. City came straight down their right, with Sterling doing what he should have done in the Euros and baffling his fullback. PVA’s challenge was clumsy and the ref had no alternative but to give the penalty. Bang, Aguero, four minutes, one-nil.
Bugger, this could be a long evening.
Gooch put in a couple of crosses, one being headed high and wide by Borini, and the other being too far behind Defoe to be of use, but our speed up front was causing the home defence a few jitters. Defoe was giving Stones a lot to think about, while at the other end Kone showed that if he does what he’s good at (playing football rather than trying to do what his agent says and engineer a pay rise/transfer) he’s worth hanging on to. One run upfield and (almost) pass to Defoe had us singing his praises, and he and Kaboul were instrumental in City’s vastly superior possession ending on the rocks. As with Swansea a few years back, we could let them have as much of the ball as they wanted, but they weren’t getting in our box. Gooch lost the plot a little bit and was booked for pulling his opponent back, but quickly recovered his composure to continue his hard work. We duly held City at arm’s length, and tried to hit them when the chance arose – and it almost happened five minutes before the break. Kone head a corner back into the danger area, and Defoe saw his effort well saved. Shame, but that was is for the half. Despite being a goal down, we’d not been effectively outplayed by City and their admittedly impressive possession stats –but it’s not use having the ball for that amount of time if you do nothing with it. Goals win football games, not tricky stepovers and flashy one-twos without a shot on the end of them.
We spent the break mulling over how we could turn our few chances into something tangible, and wondering what, if any, changes, Moyes would make.
None, as it turned out. O’Shea and Rodwell spent a good deal of their afternoon as third and fourth centre halves, which is what at least one of them was on there to do, and it meant that, as in the first half, we could admire the home side’s neat midfield interplay while not so secretly giggling at their inability to give Vito much to do. After Aguero should have done better, De Bruyne found himself in a good position, but foundered on the rock that is Kaboul and the chance was thankfully gone. Twenty minutes into the half Gooch made way for Khazri, and Watmore, who’d run hard but mostly into brick walls, was replaced by Januzaj – sparking a flurry of quite inventive songs that we’d obviously got from Man U fans’ CD “Now that’s what I call Stone Roses based football chants”. Anyway, he quickly showed that he’s got neat feet, which we kind of suspected from his goal-scoring nonsense at the SoL a few years back, and the pair added a bit of sparkle to our game. You can’t ignore deliveries of the quality that Khazi provides, and a couple of them did have City working hard, but a loose pass to Love almost ruined our afternoon. Almost, as Donald shouted “England, Hodgson” at Sterling and he duly got his feet in a tangle and lost out.
Just as we were thinking that, for all City’s clever passing, we could get something out of the game, Januzaj passed to Rodwell, who showed that there really is a footballer in there by threading the ball through to Defoe. Make a smell, and Jermain will sniff it out – all of a sudden there he was, in the box, with only a baldy keeper between him and his expectant fans. You know the rest. You can argue all you like about City having so much of the ball, but the fact remains that, penalty aside, we’d had three good chances to their one, and that their keeper had been forced into more saves. Ha’way, Lads, we can get another in the remaining fifteen minutes, and really spoil their day. Moyes responded by replacing Defoe with McNair to shore things up, and Janusizj moved inside alongside Borini to keep City on their toes.
Then, as we continued to attack when the opportunity arose, the football Gods decided that they’d had enough and City deserved something for spending all that cash. They crossed from their right, the ball seemed to rattle off a few players, but finally off Vito’s glove onto McNair’s face and into the net. Cruel, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. In the three remaining minutes McNair almost had a chance to redress the balance but couldn’t get the better of the bounce, and Vito came up for a corner, but couldn’t get near the ball. In amongst all this, City messed up a chance to kill the game, and then the whistle went and it was all over.
Considering that, even by our standards, ours was a makeshift team, we put in a hell of a shift. The records will show that City got the three points, but if I were a Sky Blue, I’d be wanting to see so much more from a squad so expensively assembled. Their win was less down to the tactical genius of Guardiola than a moment of daftness and an unlucky ricochet – but such is football. Spend enough cash and suddenly you deserve everything.
We saw enough of Love to see that the Lad’s a decent fullback, enough of McNair to see that he’s a decent defender or defensive midfielder, and enough of Januzaj to see that he can produce moments of magic to unlock a defence. Gooch we’d seen tiny glimpses of before, and the way he doesn’t give the ball away was key to our holding our own when we did wrestle the spherical object from the home side. There were enough positives on show from those in red and white to give us hope that the season won’t be a struggle, and the team selection and substitutions showed that the manager knows his stuff and has had a good look at the players available to him.
Another highlight, albeit a personal one, was the congratulations our Ian got, from more than one person, for pointing out the inadequacies of the stewarding. No idea where he gets that attitude from.
Man of the Match? Probably Gooch for his tenacity, but well done Mr Moyes for a brave selection and effective changes.
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