Writer: Johnny Baguette
Date:Wednesday April 15 2009
THIS FAR AND NO FURTHER?
A terrible week was sealed as Fulham's journeymen put The Blues to the sword last Sunday. Can City defy the odds and salvage something from this chaotic season..?
With only six daunting looking Premier League games and a shoot out with Hamburg at the UEFA Cup last chance saloon remaining, this season can at best be summed up as erratic, at worst, shambolic.
The Vital City Zen has suggested that Mark Hughes' team's current league and cup standing flattered to deceive and that was borne out by chastening defeats to Arsenal, Hamburg and Fulham.
On occasion, the side's fire has burned brightly but increasingly that flame has been reduced to a flicker which is in danger of being snuffed out altogether unless for the first time in 49 competitive games under Hughes' leadership the team can find a consistent will to win mentality and much needed back to back victories.
The current form of 5 defeats in the last 6 suggests that City will limp to the end of the season without inspiration. As the side's shoulders collectively sagged against The Cottagers and once again Hughes' substitutions continued to confound, the Eastlands faithful began to turn on the manager knowing they were witnessing our 16th league defeat of a gruelling season. And it must be said, with good reason. They deserve to see a side giving the impression that they are at least trying for their manager for all their financial commitment. His Highness Sheikh Mansour would be fully justified in thinking the same.
The statistics, let alone tactical failures, are piling up against the Thaksin Shinawatra appointed Hughes as each week goes by. Having lost exactly half of their league games, his City side have won only 20 of his 49 games in charge. Take 8 of those wins out of the equation which were against a combined EB Streymur, Omonia Nicosia, FC Midtjylland and FC Copenhagen and Hughes' record becomes all the more alarming.
City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has flown in from Abu Dhabi to assess the situation alongside Simon Pearce, Sheikh Mansour's envoy. Nobody can deny that serious analysis of the squad's performance will be uppermost in all discussion.
To their credit, the Abu Dhabi United Group have lived up to their reputation as men of honour and given tremendous support to Hughes in the face of firstly appalling treatment from football hacks then growing fans criticism which has threatened to reach fever pitch at the time of Hamburg's make or break visit to Manchester.
ADUG have backed Hughes heavily in the transfer market, yet his strengthened side has not delivered his promised strong second half of the season and continue to pick up training injuries at an unusual rate.
Furthermore, the almost obsessed pursuit of the injury prone Craig Bellamy, Blackburn's increasingly ineffective Roque Santa Cruz and now an alledged chase for Peter Crouch must surely concern the Chairman.
In Hughes favour, he has had to often make do with a side depleted by long term injuries, particularly in the first half of the season and brought in some excellent signings such as Kompany, Given, SWP and Zabaleta. Also, some of the players have let him down badly and their efforts at times this season have been nothing short of disgraceful.
Yet the club scraped through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup thanks to goalkeeping heroics and have managed to stay out of the Premier League drop zone thanks to home form alone. Domestic cup humiliations at the hands of Brighton and Nottingham Forest must also be called into account.
In the final analysis, although desperate for Hughes (who by many accounts is a right good bloke) to succeed, I believe that his time is perilously close to being up as Manchester City manager.
The fact that he has spent so much money and with 32 games played the side is not yet assured of it's Premier League status is a grim one indeed. Particularly as sides below us are fighting for their lives.
Repeated failures on the road compounded by their questionable containment - counter attacking tactics and a mystifying use of substitutions threaten to be his downfall.
His repeated assertions that his team are tired and the side's clear lack of backbone or siege mentality belies the reputation that Thaksin fanfared Hughes' arrival with.
In my opinion, it is highly possible that the only way Hughes and his sizeable backroom staff can save their jobs is for them to not only secure City's top flight status with reassuring wins, especially on the road, but also to win the UEFA Cup. Both look to be seriously tall orders right now with the odds piled against them. UEFA Cup qualification through the league looks beyond them.
I truly hope that the Chairman's arrival will encourage the side to raise their level of performance against Hamburg but they turned in a turgid defeat at Stoke the last time the shrewd Al Mubarak came to town. - That was a failure symbolic of a good number of defeats to similar technically poor sides this season.
At the clichéd end of the day in this mentally draining season, my biggest fear, and I mean fear, is that if we go down badly to Hamburg, our young side's heads will drop further having seen a 16 game long European campaign come to nothing. We could end up fighting for Premier League survival as the side is already playing with a marked lack of verve.
Essentially, Hamburg and then West Brom on Sunday now represent City's two biggest games of the season. All Blues going to the games must be ready to give it everything in a last ditch attempt to help turn this season around with our team currently staggering, seemingly punch drunk towards the finishing line.
In all honesty, I certainly would not be prepared to question any ADUG decision to fire Hughes should the season's pattern of form continue. Yes, following Thaksin's sacking of Sven-Goran Eriksson there is a need for stability at the head of team affairs but the stakes are far higher now than they have ever been in the Premier League and the very fact that Hughes was not appointed by ADUG could well swing the issue come the final reckoning. It is also noticeable that Executive Chairman Garry Cook has been considerably less vocal in recent weeks.
Would I pull the trigger were I the Sheikh? If abnormal service is resumed in these next two games which I see as something of a trial, then yes. It would be a sad case of this far and no further with a lot of lessons learned.
THE RETURN OF THE 80's BANANAS
In an effort to get Eastlands rocking on Thursday night, City have announced that they are making masses of inflatable bananas available for a suggested donation of £1 to the New Children's Hospital Appeal. The club will also release special City European flags to mark the occasion. Let's hope these admirable efforts have some effect.
KIT BAG MATTERS
The Etihad Airways and Umbro rumours persist. Standby for an official announcement shortly as City prepare one of, if not the most expensive kit sponsorship deals in Premier League history.
Hard to think that 10 years ago this week The Blues were running about at Gillingham in the Kappa/brother look. What chance of a return to the famous diamond sleeve trim? Oh my Hartford, Donachie and Tueart so long ago.
THE FRANK YEAR IN FIGURES
Much as Thaksin Shinawatra's purchase of Manchester City transformed a side of relegation dead certs into top half finishers, the reality of the financial situation and lack of the funds he promised Sven-Goran Eriksson after an early transfer blitz is slowly coming out.
Manchester City Ltd, the parent company of City, posted a pre-tax loss of £32.6 million to May 2008, almost triple the £11 million loss posted in the 2007 season.
Turnover for the year was up 31 percent to £82.3 million but City realised a dramatic fall in asset value, from £57.2 million to £24.5 million. This was due to the initial splash out of £50.6 million on new signings that Svennis had a short time to realise.
The Blues media revenues meawhile grew from £ 24.2 million in 2007 to £43.3 million.
All things considered, including a terrible footballing week for City, Frank's rapid sale to Sheikh Mansour and the continuing serious unrest in Thailand leave us a hell of a lot to be thankful for.
RAG BIAS PART ONE
Before any rags out there hang up too much bunting over City's on field troubles whilst getting the street parties ready for their next assumed trophy winning celebration, they might want to consider their own club's status which is growing ropier by the day.
In a week where the points deducted Luton Town lost their football league status and clubs like Southampton remained mired in the financial brown stuff, the rags announce that they are now a staggering £699 million in debt.
So where are the sanctions, the points deductions or the damning statements from the likes of the City slanging UEFA President Michel Platini?
Manchester united's perilous financial position at the hands of chancers like the Glazer family only serves to underline the fact that the elite G14 group of clubs are untouchable. It absolutely stinks.
PFA ALL THE WAY
Stephen 'Superman' Ireland's 'Rocky style on a Kung Fu tip' absolute dedication to transforming his career across the hills around Glossop last summer with a punishing fitness regime continues to pay off.
Not only is he by a country mile City's most consistently sound performer this season and has 11 Vital MC Match winning polls to his name, he has now been nominated for the Professional Footballers Association Young Player of The Year award.
A fitting tribute to a player whom were we without, we'd be in a far darker place than we are now.
RAG BIAS PART TWO
There is a catch to our hopes of Stephen Ireland being named the PFA Young Player of The Year. The 22 year old midfielder is up against two rags in the six man shortlist.
Sir Taggart's superstars already have five out of six nominees in the senior awards and knowing your average football hack's penchant for all things Evil Empire, the campaign for a 'PFA Double' should be getting underway at the formerly Fleet Street liquid lunches any day now.
WHAT'S IN A WORD? THIS WEEK'S QUOTES
'Tiredness was a significant factor, we were missing key senior players today and we needed some energy because of a lot was expended on Thursday. We made a few changes to protect some other players as well with the next game coming up.'
- Mark Hughes disappoints again with another dreary excuse that his side were tired after the capitulation to Fulham. Boy, does he need a couple of wins this week.
'We tried to do our best but in the second half it all went wrong. I'm gutted, we all are - two wins in a row and you can be seventh, so it's tough when you lose that kind of game at home.'
- Nigel De Jong, woeful against Fulham, worryingly confesses City did what they could against a far from impressive Fulham side.
'For me, one of the best strikers in The Premier League is Wayne Rooney. He runs into space, supports the side and scores goals. That is my style of play, it is what I want to do for City. I want to score against Rooney and United in the derby at Old Trafford. That is a big ambition. A big dream.'
- City's Raging Bulgar Valeri Bojinov, slowly making what is becoming a steady comeback declares his admiration for Potato Head at The Swamp.
'It takes time for a new culture to evolve at a club. Some will embrace it and thrive, some won't and will fall by the wayside. Mark Hughes has tasted winning and he doesn't suffer defeats or fools gladly. We know the owners will not accept mediocrity. Demands are greater and the mentality has to change. If a player comes here with the wrong mentality then they will fall by the wayside. It is our job to either remove them or change. Players should want to be remembered for what they achieved in the game and not for the cars they drive or the mansions they live in.'
- City First Team Coach Eddie Niedzwiecki calls for a change in City's mentality. Who's he hinting at, then?
'In years to come I think this will be a great club to be involved with, but Rome was not built in a day. People automatically feel we are a top six team because we are one of the richest clubs in the world. They are comparing us to Chelsea when Roman Abramovich took over, but they were already a top four side who just added more quality to make them champions. It is going to take us longer. Everybody is impatient and wants us to be there yesterday but we have got to put the building blocks in place.'
- Shay Given, perhaps our most important signing this season calls for patience.
'Anything is possible. If we go out there and play the way we know we can on Thursday, it will be difficult for Hamburg. Everyone is confident, we've spoken about it already and we have got the belief that we need.'
- The effervescent, yet currently crocked Shaun Wright-Phillips talks up City's chances for the Hamburg showdown. We know he'll be up for the battle, but will some of his team mates?
WE WEREN'T REALLY THERE? THE FINAL SCORE THIS WEEK 10 YEARS AGO
Football League Division One
Priestfield Stadium, 17th April 1999
Gillingham 0 (0) - 2 (1) CITY
Scorers: Cooke 31, Horlock 64
City: Weaver, Crooks, Vaughan, Wiekens, Morrison, Horlock, Brown(Whitley,67), Bishop, Dickov(Gareth Taylor,80),Goater, Cooke
Sub not used: Allsopp
10 Year Match Facts: This game was notable for a southern based rag representing the smug smarmfest of a fanzine that is "United We Stand" hiding amongst City fans in order to write bile about The Blues support. The ref was none other than Rob Styles.
@ The City of Manchester Stadium
UEFA Cup Quarter Final Second Leg
Thursday 16th April 2009 @ 19:45 GMT+1 BST
The Citizens Last 6 UEFA Cup games: LDWWLL
Hamburg Last 6 UEFA Cup games: WWWDWW
www.hsv.de/index.php?id=9431 (Official site in English)
www.hsv-sc.de/typo3/ (Supporters Club)
'Exclusive: Hamburg Fan4s View Of City Cup Clash'
- The Hamburger lowdown from the man who got the first leg score prediction spot on:
Johnny On The Spot?
Well, we all know what's required and we know for sure that Hamburg are a top quality side who can handle pressure, admirably led by Martin Jol.
Despite the 16 league defeats and 5 defeats in the last 6, it would be, dare I say it, 'typical' for City to win tomorrow night.
My head says Hamburg will stroll it, but my heart says The Blues will win with more shredded nerves all round!
CITY 2 Hamburg 0
NEXT OPPONENTS BUT ONE:
West Bromwich Albion
@ The City of Manchester Stadium
FA Premier League
Sunday 19th April 2009 @ 15:00 GMT+1 BST
The Citizens Last 6 PL games: LWLWLL
The Baggies Last 6 PL games: LLDDLD
Vital MC aims to bring you our Magnificent Seven Fans Q&A with Vital West Brom before the game.
Johnny On The Spot?
West Brom are fighting for their lives, 13 points behind The Blues, but hope of remaining in the top flight is fading fast despite their best recent efforts.
As we have seen already this season, much will depend upon what happens to City on Thursday night. Certainly a City side turning out with the same fragility and lack of belief will lose the way it did against Fulham.
But we need to make sure of three points from somewhere before we travel to the rags, Spurs and Everton. This should be it.
CITY 2 WBA 0
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Date:Wednesday April 15 2009
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