Writer: Johnny Baguette
Date:Monday March 2 2009
THE VITAL CITY ZEN - BEWARE THE SIDES OF MARCH
So this is it. March has dawned with another wretched away defeat and City are now staring down the barrel of a season defining month thanks to consistently erratic form...
This could go either way in the Premier League. Mark Hughes, his management team and squad only have themselves to blame for too many missed opportunities and non performances bringing us to this crossroads.
March's tough league fixture list will decide whether we will be able to make an end of season push for a UEFA Cup qualifying place or nosedive into a relegation battle. Statistics, form and facts suggest it will be the latter as we face two top four sides inside 11 days and are currently only 6 points clear of what was an unthinkable relegation zone back in August.
There is of course what amounts to a successful UEFA Cup campaign to be continued. The side have ridden their luck frequently but have hung on in there doggedly. Quite why that success rate cannot be translated into the Premier League remains a mystery. Aalborg are going to be one hell of a tough side to crack and Hughes will need as many of his squad fit, ready and able to meet their challenge head on, let alone that of the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Villa.
At the time of going to press there is concern over the fitness of key players Richards, Bellamy and our erratic superstar Robinho. Add these players to long term casualties Benjani, Johnson and Petrov and our squad begins to look thin again.
Moreso, should suspensions kick in for the likes of Kompany and Ireland who have both been booked 7 times each in the league, we're running the risk of being in trouble.
In essence, Mark Hughes has a mountain to climb and the hacks are readying their knives in hope of finally seeing him off as City's manager should his side fail to get important results this month.
Were City's hierarchy to press the panic button as other sides have done this season should we drift into the freefall the team have occasionally threatened, then the upheaval and further instability doesn't bear thinking about. Their steadfast support of Hughes suggests they will remain calm.
However, if the side can finally gel and consistently deliver the rich promise that they have also shown on occasion this season, then there is still time for Hughes' job to no longer remain in question.
But he's running out of games and although this is a time when City fans must not lose the plot and everyone associated with the club must remain focused on fighting for the cause, ultimately Mark Hughes fate rests in the hands of his inconsistent players, whatever his repeatedly questionable tactics.
More than any month of this frustrating season to date, Mark Hughes must beware the sides of March.
CITY's PREMIER LEAGUE RUN IN - NO HIDING PLACE
This is the nasty looking run in that the City squad face and must conquer if they are to turn around a currently forgettable and thoroughly disappointing league campaign.
Up against opposition battling for European qualification or battling against dreaded relegation, there's no hiding place for Mark Hughes' beleaguered squad now.
Wed 04 Mar 19:45 Aston Villa H
Sun 15 Mar 13:30 Chelsea A
Sat 21 Mar 15:00 Sunderland H
Sat 04 Apr 15:00 Arsenal A
Sun 12 Apr 16:00 Fulham H
Sat 18 Apr 15:00 West Bromwich Albion H
Sat 25 Apr 15:00 Everton A
Sat 02 May 15:00 Blackburn Rovers H
Sat 09 May 15:00 Manchester united A
Sat 16 May 15:00 Tottenham Hotspur A
Sun 24 May 16:00 Bolton Wanderers H
UEFA CAMPAIGN UPDATE - 'ISTANBUL WE ARE COMING?'
Here are all the important dates as we prepare for the decisive clashes with Aalborg:
THE STORY SO FAR
First qualifying round
17.07.2008 v EB/Streymur (A) 0-2 W
31.07.2008 v EB/Streymur (H) 2-0 W
Second qualifying round
14.08.2008 v Midtjylland (H) 0-1 L
28.08.2008 v Midtjylland (A) 1-0* W * City won 4-2 on penalties
18.09.2008 v Omonia (A) 2-1 W
02.10.2008 v Omonia (H) 2-1 W
06.11.2008 v Twente (H) 3-2 W
27.11.2008 v Schalke (A) 0-2 W
03.12.2008 v PSG (H) 0-0 D
18.12.2008 v Racing (A) 3-1 L
Group A Final Standings
City P4 W2 D1 L1 GF6 GA5 Pts 7
Twente P4 W2 D0 L2 GF5 GA8 Pts 6
PSG P4 W1 D2 L1 GF7 GA5 Pts 5
Racing P4 W1 D2 L1 GF6 GA5 Pts 5
Schalke P4 W1 D1 L2 GF5 GA6 Pts 4
Round of 32
19.02.2009 v København (A) 2-2 D
26.02.2009 v København (H) 2-1 W
THE STORY TO COME
Round of 16
12.03.2009 v Aab Aalborg (H)
19.03.2009 v Aab Aaalborg (A)
-Draw for the Quarter-finals, Semi-finals and Final: Nyon, 20th March 2009 @ 1300 CET
Quarter-finals: 09 and 16 April 2009
Semi-finals: 30 April and 07 May 2009
Final: Istanbul's Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on Wednesday 20th May 2009.
LISTEN UP, ROUND UP
As mentioned previously we are all waiting anxiously for the news of Bellamy, Richards and Robinho's fitness levels for the visit of Aston Villa. Bojinov is on the right road back but Hughes must handle him carefully in order that the the lad does not break down again. Our very own "Shaun Vital-Phillips" makes a timely return from the pointless Rory Decrap suspension.
Well, we've won something! City's Match Programme has been voted 'Programme of the Year' for 2008-2009. I must admit it's excellent bog reading material. Especially if you look at the league table...
Don't forget Saturday's FA Youth Cup Quarter Final. City's reigning champions will take on Norwich City at 1400 GMT.
WHAT'S IN A WORD? THIS WEEK'S QUOTES
'Goals change games, it's an old cliché but it is absolutely true. If we had scored first West Ham would have had to come out at us, which is when we can pick teams off. But when we concede first we find it difficult to put pressure on. Overall the performance was fine but we are very disappointed to lose away from home again.'
- Mark Hughes tries to explain yet another depressing away defeat.
'We can give the Manchester City game everything as we have a ten-day break afterwards when we go to Dubai.'
- Massive Villa forward Jon Carew gears up for this Wednesday's Eastlands crunch game. Ned and Dunney are going to have their work cut out.
'Bellamy shouts a lot and is hot-blooded but so am I. After a defeat I get very upset. I'm happy for team-mates to say what they want to me. The coach spoke with us and everything is sorted out. In the City dressing room we get on okay.'
- Robinho backs up Craig Bellamy's assertion that although crossed words have been said between the pair of them, it's all sorted out now. The question is, who is leaking these stories to the hacks?!
'It's a great opportunity, our only one of winning a trophy this season. We have to believe in ourselves, that we can win it.'
- El Capitan Richard Dunne dares to dream of lifting the UEFA Cup. Inexplicably, City are favourites now that some of the big guns have been knocked out. We could do without being labeled favourites, nevermind mega rich!!
WE WEREN'T REALLY THERE? THE FINAL SCORE THIS WEEK 10 YEARS AGO
Football League Division One
Maine Road, 6th March 1999
City 0 (0) - 0 (0) Northampton Town
City: Weaver, Crooks, Edghill, Wiekens, Morrison, Horlock, Brown, Bishop, Taylor, Goater Dickov,63), Cooke
Subs not used: Tiatto, Vaughan
Sent off: Horlock,30
Attendance: 27, 999
@ The City of Manchester Stadium
FA Premier League
Wednesday 4th March 2009 @ 1945 GMT
The Citizens Last 6 PL games: WLWLDL
The Villains Last 6 PL games: WWDWLD
Internet: www.astonvilla.vitalfootball.co.uk/ www.avfc.premiumtv.co.uk
Johnny On The Spot?
And so to our latest must win fixture. Villa have top quality in all departments and City will need to rediscover the mettle they showed at Liverpool in order to beat them. A hell of a lot hinges upon what happens injury wise as we wait for news of 'The Upton Scott Parkered three...'
Yet home advantage is going to count for a hell of a lot and Villa are on a shaky run having thrown their UEFA Cup campaign in favour of a 2-2 draw at home to abysmal Stoke. We must win this if we are to have some sort of points cover heading to Chelsea. You know and I know we can. If we hit them hard early, we'll beat them.
Keep an eye out for Mad Professor Martin O'Neill going mental on the touchline. Excellent entertainment.
CITY 2 Villa 0
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Date:Monday March 2 2009
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