It wasn’t pretty or overly entertaining, but in the end it was enough as Manchester City ambushed Hull’s Tigers and bagged three vital points, putting their title ambitions back on track.
Wounded by the rabid criticism following the Cardiff defeat, City were expected to return to winning ways against Premier League newbies, after all, it had been three years and 106 games since the men in sky blue suffered back-to-back top flight losses.
Nonetheless, an anxious near capacity Etihad crowd, had to wait until the dying seconds before Yaya Toure’s exquisite 20 yard free kick eluded Allan McGregor in Hull’s goal to confirm the victory.
With new City boss Manuel Pellegrini still getting to grips with the demands of the PL, this was a win lacking the fast flowing fluency of the annihilation of Newcastle.
No, this was entirely different as a somewhat staccato City stumbled past a vigorous Hull who, surprisingly, came to play. Credit to Hull manager, Steve Bruce – the ex-Manure skipper loathed and duly taunted by the City faithful – for leaving his bus parking manual on the team coach.
The evidence could have been damning by the interval because the Humbersiders could and should have been 2-0 up.
Nigerian international striker Sone Aluko missed a sitter after completely wrong-footing Joleon Lescott, bursting through the centre of City’s fragile defence and bearing down on Joe Hart, only to scuff his attempt.
Bruce buried his head in his hands and City fans breathed a sigh of relief. The much maligned Hart deserves great credit for narrowing Aluko’s options having sped from his goal line.
Aluko’s strike partner, Danny Graham had a ‘goal’ correctly disallowed for offside but the on-loan Sunderland striker was only marginally so. City’s third and final escape of the first 45 minutes came when Robert Koren’s well struck 20 yard drive was an inch the right side of goal with Hart well beaten.
With Nastasic and Kolarov selected ahead of Garcia and Clichy, City’s defence continued to look less than resolute.
Lescott is the new Kolo Toure – capable of brilliance and blunders in equal measure. Admittedly being played out of position on the right, Joleon is a Jekyll and Hyde character at present.
Having given Aluko the earlier opportunity, he so nearly went from villain to hero as McGregor finger-tipped a bullet-like header over the bar. Lescott was everywhere – centre back, centre forward, right back, left back – even right winger – but, at times, worryingly vulnerable.
City’s ineffectual play stemmed from Pellegrini’s puzzling deployment of key players in arguably the wrong roles.
Why, for instance play Yaya as the holding midfielder and Fernandinho behind the front pairing. Surely the Brazilian was bought to release Yaya upfield to optimise his tendency to steamroller opposing defences?
Silva was suitably subdued out wide left, whereas he wreaks havoc from the centre of the park. There was palpable disappointment at Dzeko’s selection ahead of Negredo and thus the first half was instantly forgettable from an attacking City perspective.
Above all else, why do City persist in playing at a pedestrian pace, thereby negating the fundamental weaponry in their armoury? It was obvious last season, as it is obvious now, when City deliver dynamic, fluent, precision passing they can tear opponents apart – Negredo’s 65th minute goal being the perfect example.
The swift four man inter-play between Silva, Aguero, Navas and Zabaleta, created the opening for City’s Player of the Year to send a right wing cross onto the Beast of Sevilla’s forehead and the resultant 1-0 advantage.
The goal came 15 minutes after a horrible howler from the Spanish forward when he displayed the heading technique of a 50p coin. The words banjo and cow’s backside spring to mind!
But – and it’s a big but – Negredo is the type of player who will get up, dust himself down and go again and again and again.
He looks perfectly suited to the PL and don’t be surprised if he has a 20+ goal haul by next May. This contrasts with Dzeko who, despite decent looking goals-to-games statistics, simply is NOT top drawer.
His first touch, close control and all round contribution will, I fear, be forever found wanting.
The fact City were able to gain a measure of control and eventually win the match owed much to Pellegrini’s change of tactics in the second half. Negredo replaced Dzeko and Silva moved – productively – to centre stage, opening up the supply lines with great aplomb.
Sergio, for all his obvious enthusiasm, industry and tenacity, was still holding onto the ball a fraction too long and being stifled by a swarming Hull defence in their orange and black stripes.
When substituted for Milner, Aguero seemed downcast, but the Argentinian pocket battleship will have far better days than this and be integral to City’s successes.
Nasri, brought on for Silva, was instrumental in securing the victory. The Frenchman’s surge forward saw him unceremoniously felled by ex-Man Utd defender James Chester on the edge of the Hull 18-yard box.
Captain Toure produced an almost carbon copy killer of his goal against Newcastle in the season’s opening match. It was a thing of beauty that belied another sub-standard performance from the big Ivorian.
So that’s maximum points, six goals scored and none conceded at Fortress Etihad -all well and good. Pellegrini knows his team needs to improve and there’s every reason to believe they will.
Defensive signings are imminent. Argentine veteran Martin Demichelis is coming from Atletico Madrid and rumours persist of a big-money move for Porto’s young French centre back Eliaquim Mangala.
A fit Matija Nastasic and the prospect of Kompany’s return in time for the Manchester derby will stiffen City’s wobbly resistance to incoming fire.
Up front City fans have still to see the introduction of the exciting Stevan Jovetic, so there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
As Pellegrini explores his tactical options and player permutations, logic suggests City will become more cohesive at the back and more potent up front. All will be revealed starting at Stoke when a malevolent Mark Hughes would love nothing more than inflicting damage on his former employers.
At the risk of dedication overdrive this report falls on my son, Jack’s, 24th birthday, and the day after my 28th wedding anniversary, following marriage to Debi back in 1985. It comes two days and 17 years since my Dad died, so every year we have a three-day emotional rollercoaster.
I love Debi for so many reasons, none more so than for the creation of Jack, and for giving me the two happiest days of my life – the Aguerrrrrooooo moment comes a close third!
City don’t play next week, so Read But Never Red readers will be spared a dollop of ‘puppy love’ and a doggone dedication to Mollie Zaba – cockapoo Cityhound who has the ‘Big 1’ year celebration a week today
By David Walker