Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Tuesday December 27 2011
An unlikely result deep in the darkness of the Black Country, where West Bromwich Albion achieved what by many is perceived to be the impossible task of nullifying the most potent attacking force in the Premier League at the Hawthorns, yesterday. A team not known for its Boxing Day exploits were a real thorn in City`s side as the Blues looked to keep up the pace at the top.
A slight shuffle of the deck by Mancini produced a team well capable of putting paid to the Baggies, but in recent years the Throstles have divvied up unexpected results, as they did at Old Trafford last season and indeed at home to Manchester City yesterday.
The match began in predictable fashion with City comfortable on the ball and Albion seemingly happy to sit deep, but in their first attack, their midfield stormed out to support the strikers getting Brunt open at the edge of the box only for his well struck shot to clear Hart`s right hand post. Warning served especially as Kompany and Kolo were slow to close down.
At the other end Milner should have made more of Clichy`s excellent cross but his header was weak and didn`t do enough to trouble the Albion keeper.
Chances fell also to Aguero and indeed Silva who blazed over a glorious opportunity. It was a sign perhaps that City were going to be profligate all afternoon. Fluency was a problem and for a while I thought Yaya had his boots on the wrong feet with the ball going anywhere except where it was expected.
But City had them penned in for a while and their midfield four slid left and right to close off the channels. A foul by Mulumbu on Balotelli produced a free kick for City which Mario took himself but it was deflected wide with Foster rooted.
Balotelli then had a goal chalked off just ahead of half time where it looked as though both him and Aguero were offside with Foster flapping like a dodgy penguin as the ball went in.
Was this going to be the catalyst? We certainly hoped so but despite intense City pressure orchestrated by Silva, and an elbow by Odemwingie which took out Balotelli, the Baggies got themselves to the break with their lines intact.
As we entered prime City scoring time expectations were that a goal would come eventually but the "We`ll score when we want" song sounded a little hollow as Albion ran and closed and mixed with equal passion and for once the keys were with the gaoler and not with David Silva.
The second half went pretty much the same as the first with City patiently going about their business clearly confident that something would happen and that a team who has only mustered sixteen goals this season would not really trouble Joe Hart.
A fantastic shot by Mario hit the bar with Foster nowhere, but the minutes were starting to tick away.
It is said around the seating decks of the Etihad that the only time you miss Gareth Barry is when he`s not playing and this could be said for yesterday`s match. Milner took a few steps back with wayward passing, although his tackling was robust enough.
Odemwingie, for Albion`s part was starting to look lively whereas in midfield Scharner was more like by step-niece`s staffy of the same name. Long should have scored with a free header - the chance City always gives - with Kolo in the wrong slot and offering a free header.
The ineffective Nasri was first to see the illuminated board indeed to be replaced by Barry and it was to be hoped that he could put in the performances of the last few weeks and get the team ticking. This meant Yaya could advance into the hole and almost immediately this should have paid dividens with a neat move involving Yaya, Aguero and Silva but Foster was for once equal tp it. Next, McCauley thwarted Aguero who had sprang the offside trap and we were starting to feel the game was up.
Having said that City kept on the pressure but simply couldn`t find their way in. Roy Hodgson`s men were well organised, worked hard, closed off the channels and competed with City in the key areas. Indeed a screamer from Thomas beat Hart but struck a very kind post and the Blues were grateful that the ball bounced to safety.
Even then City had chances especially Silva who for once took on an improbable shot with Dzeko in attendance and open. The game was stretched but neither side could make the lethal break .
And it was the "Lord`s my shepherd" that was ringing out at the end as the boing-boingers were happy to have held City to a goal-less draw and not have suffered as so many teams have this season.
So what is the verdict? This game was played in very narrow fashion by City and to an extent this played into Albion`s hands. Albion used a sliding midfield of four to great effect largely because City had nobody to force them to hold position. Clichy was getting wide on the left, but in the absence of Richards the same wasn`t happening with Zabaleta on the right.
For me the match was crying out for Johnson and his introduction to proceedings was too late for him to make the impact that Mancini was seeking. Sometimes it is about crosses and headers. It may an alien concept these days to City as they weave their mesmeric patterns around the division`s unsuspecting defenders. But Albion`s defenders did their jobs and frustrated the likes of Balotelli yesterday.
The starting point for a good result is always a clean sheet. Again we had that yesterday . But if the back line keeps their end intact it is up to the lads up front to stick one in. The forwards have great confidence in that if this shot doesn`t go in then the next one will. For once today that philosophy didn`t happen and City will pay for that by allowing the Stretfords to creep onto their shoulder with only a few goals now dividing the teams at the top of the league and with Ferguson no doubt being delighted to play Blackburn at home on his 70th birthday and putting them top for his special day.
It is amazing how those who have hid under their stones for weeks have suddenly emerged and started getting giddy again. Maybe there is something in global warming. You know the type..those who refer to United as "we" and they`ve never even been to the ground.
There are days like this and the Blues will have to tuck this behind them as the head for Sunderland on Sunday. That is another tricky venue for City especially with Liverpool in the wings for Wednesday. No doubt Mancini will reshuffle again, but City must keep their eyes on the prize and not look around themselves. As the man said…take each match as it comes.
Date:Tuesday December 27 2011
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