Writer: Johnny Baguette
Date:Tuesday November 6 2007
Svennis will know that City will have to raise their game a good deal if we are to get anything out of the clash at Fratton Park next sunday.
It's often said that the secret of a top side is to win when playing poorly. The rags early season form was testament to that fact. City certainly have not provided any fireworks after that mauling at Chelsea, but have managed to scrap their way to two important 1-0 wins that have got our season back on track.
Last night our team were worryingly lacklustre, particularly in the first 30 minutes where we allowed a physical Sunderland side to effectively dictate the game. It was one of those nights where we just could not string passes together for any decent period of time and could only impose ourselves in flashes over the visitors.
I thought we looked lightweight in some areas and that needs addressing in January if we are to sustain what has become a pleasingly realistic push for European football.
Sun Jihai, in for what would have surely been the inclusion of the injured Onuoha was woeful at right back and Garrido on the other flank, although performing much better than at Stamford Bridge worries me positionally.
In midfield, the injured Johnson strived hard, but ultimately could not get going and for this long season I think we are going to need an experienced ball winning distributor to compete with Hamman as elder midfield statesman. Rumours persist from Italy that Patrick Viera could move to Manchester in 2008 and I would welcome his signing.
Petrov had just about his worst performance in a City shirt and he was not alone in his inability to cope with the slippery surface following the fine rain that soaks you through that swept across town in the afternoon. Elano meanwhile, was stifled.
On the positive front, Vassell gave it a right go as ever and his persistence rewarded us with the scintillating cross that set up Ireland for a sweetly hit volley that saw Eastlands explode with relief.
In total contrast to the unfortunate yet not quite at the races Mpenza, Bianchi, his replacement, won every single aerial challenge presented to him and got in amongst the previously unflustered Mackem defenders. He seemed right up for it. But I wasn't alone after the final whistle in witnessing him head straight for the dugout to drop off his shirt with someone then head down the tunnel while the rest of the team remained on the park. Answers on a postcard for that one.
The Maine Man for me was Corluka. He is a cool character, plays sensibly and slotted in alongside The Captain imperiously. I would like to see him hold that position and give Richards a go alongside Hamman in midfield for Pompey. Any takers?
On the 216 bus afterwards we were debating how far we had come in such a short time. Flashback to February and the disbelief of losing 2-0 at home to Reading in the icy fog of the Pearce and Wigley nightmare. As the last firework flashed over a November Manchester skyline we found ourselves third in the Premier League on merit and have scored more goals at home than we managed all last season.
There is little doubt in my mind that last night's physical encounter, requiring a lot of hard work to win, was one we would have surely lost last season.
So to sum up, we are still flying high despite the lack of free flowing football last night. We have still been relatively fortunate with injuries and if we can get through to January in the top six, then Svennis and his staff will have performed something of a miracle at Manchester City if they haven't already!
Final word gives respect to the Sunderland supporters who brought a sizeable following to Manchester for a monday night televised game, but no respect whatsoever to Roy Keane who felt the full force of our disgust at his presence.
Date:Tuesday November 6 2007
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