Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Sunday January 22 2012
As the day dawned with high winds and driving rain in north east Manchester, City were once again asked to play against their main title contenders in inclement weather.
The match approached and there were mixed messages around the outside concourses where fans were expecting everything from a 0-0 draw to 4-4 via every stop in between. The two teams playing the best football in the country were not going to let another record crowd at the Etihad down.
City lined up on a "best available" basis once again and pretty much in predictable fashion although not quite as expected by the Pedmachine yesterday. It was certainly a case of City determined to restore Fortress Etihad onto the skyline.
Spurs were also asked to re-shuffle with Adebayor unavailable and looked to have a strong team who would attack wide and quickly with Lennon and Bale out wide and the lightning Defoe down the middle. Parker was to provide the steel in midfield and Modric the creativity.
City too had mobility and energy in the shape of Silva, Aguero and Milner plus the no-nonsense approach of Barry and the robust Dzeko up top. Savic was the stated weakness with the rest of the backline being first choice.
The early exchanges were of two teams intent on not losing, feeling each other out and the patterns of play were much as expected, Spurs raiding down the lines, City coming back with ball retention, possession and probing. It flowed end to end with chances limited.
Parker was lucky to avoid Howard Webb`s pockets after grabbing Aguero twice in the same movement and then cutting down Silva. Richards was a constant pain to Spurs pushing back Bale and pushing the Blues forward from a wide position. The interchanging between him and Milner was superb with one covering the other. Milner`s tackling was exceptional.
City had a couple of chances with Silva, Dzeko and Aguero going close. They also forced a number of changes to Bale`s point of attack. He was getting little joy down the left against Richards. He tried right and centre also with little joy as his runs were read.
Getting to half time at 0-0 probably suited both teams.
As the second half got under way we enter "City time" and it duly happened with 2 goals in 3 minutes and City were home and dry. City weren`t going to let a lead like that slip away…or were they?
First a magnificent pass from the Magician found Nasri`s run and he for once hit it first time past Friedel and into the net. In the next attack City won a corner. Nasri delivered this right on the money. Maybe Dzeko got a slight touch but in fell into the melee rebounding off Lescott into the Spurs net.
The Etihad was in raptures and clearly shared my view but as the "Mancini" anthem got under way a punt out of defence by Spurs following an easy give-away by Dzeko found Savic caught underneath the ball, only got a back head to it and set the poacher-in-chief, Defoe, clear. If anything, Joe Hart came off his line too quickly, giving Defoe a route to goal which he took with aplomb.
Okay, City, time to regroup and keep the ball, and this is what they tried to do but Spurs once again sprang out down the left with Lennon. Richards cut off the route to the by-line so Lennon squared it infield to Bale, once again hunting in a central position. His first time shot curled beautifully out of Hart`s reach and the game was won and potentially lost in the space of 10 minutes.
Cue a Spurs onslaught for a while when it looked as though the next team to score would be the visitors. Bale did finally get clear down the left, looked up and played a delightful ball across the six yard line to the unattended Defoe. You would have put your house on him to complete the fightback but inexplicably he slid the ball inches wide.
There were then a couple of incidents which had the TV pundits drooling. Messrs Neville, Souness and even 'Arry himself found Balotelli guilty of "kicking Parker in the head" and are calling for another TV assisted ban for a City player. Parker had been systematically leaving a foot in around the field and yes he got a yellow card but by the time Webb brandished that it should have been of another colour. So my sympathy cannot lie with Parker. And what was Mario supposed to do with his feet? Risk injury?
Then there was a challenge at the defensive end when Lescott tackled a Spurs player robustly which included contact with his face. Red card? Sorry guys I`m not with you there. Neville is now coming out in his true colours. From eulogising over City before Christmas he has now joined Fergie in his attempt to do anything that gives the Stretford`s an edge and this includes abusing his position to put questions in the minds of the FA and future referees at City matches. Gentlemen, Howard Webb is not my favourite but he was the referee in the World Cup Final, so, is well thought of in the football universe. He didn`t see anything wrong there, so build a bridge and get over it. The same goes for 'Arry. You lost - move on.
And what a way to lose. A neat interchange on the edge of the Spurs box saw a wonderful twist from Mario, for once leaving the impressive King flat-footed. In he slid catching the Penalty King in a scissor movement leaving him only one place to go - to ground. Well even `Arry agreed with that.
With Silva and Aguero showing interest there was only going to be one taker, this time against one of the best goalkeepers in the division. Indeed Brad must be eight feet long diving full stretch.
Up stepped Balotelli. His run faster than usual but still including the stutter while he assesses which foot the keeper is standing on. He drilled the ball hard and low to his left and it was too close to the post for Friedel to get across to and City were 3-2 up with seconds to go.
There was still danger. From the kick-off Bale set off for goal and got as far as the City penalty box before it was taken off him.
The nailbiting was finally over and once again this fixture, once it got going, produced a wonderful match delicately poised until the 94th minute. Once again the dice fell in City`s favour and for the next two hours they were six points clear. Yes that was cut back to three points following the afternoon result, but City end the day three points clear at the top of the league.
Hart was disappointing with Defoe`s goal. I thought he could have herded him wide and narrowed his scoring opportunity. The two full backs both played well giving the flying wingers little joy. Lescott was tough and Savic played well except for his first goal blip.
The midfield carried the day with Barry and Milner at last playing well together as a duo up and down the field. Milner covered well for Richards and the result was that Silva got back to creativity. Dzeko grafted hard and Aguero still scares defenders with his mobility and pace. And when you take Dzeko off you bring on Balotelli.
Man of the match was a hard call, but it must come from the triumvirate of Englishmen - Richards, Milner or Barry. Nasri might have been in with a shout with a goal and assist, but for me didn`t contribute for the full ninety. And Barry`s back turn for Bale`s goal certainly didn`t impress.
An acceptable performance from the Blues. We would have taken a win at 1.30 so at 3.30 the record crowd at the Etihad was delighted. The 20000 empty seats that Stretford`s most disgusting sing about were as imaginary as a Mancini red card. I think it was the third time this season that records have been broken - and none of them against the dark side. Tick Tock.
Date:Sunday January 22 2012
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